Our schools are likely the greatest social cohesion-building force in Guyana. They are likely more potent than other significant forces such as residential proximity (how close together people of different groups live) and shared beliefs (for example, a common religion). It therefore caught my attention, when attending recently the passing-out ceremony at the BV-Quamina Primary School, that there were only a few Indo-Guyanese pupils in the graduating Grade 6 class. Looking at the names on the class list, I counted 5 or 6 students of Indian parentage out of a class size of 45.
I compared these numbers to my own passing-out class in the mid-1970s at the old BV Primary school and, from memory and class photos, confirmed that Indo-Guyanese students were then in the majority. Most of them lived in Triumph, immediately east of BV.
I have no idea of the enrolment catchment area for the now BV-Quamina Primary School. In the early 2000’s, the school was established through the merger of the old BV Primary School and the Quamina Primary School, the latter having an almost 100% Afro-Guyanese student population. While the merging of the two schools may explain a decline in Indian students in relative terms, it would not explain their decline in absolute terms. Adding to the puzzle, there is no primary school in Triumph to pull Indo-Guyanese students away from the BV school.
Whatever the explanation, there seems to be a marked increase in segregation by race at the BV primary school, judging by the racial breakdown of its 2019 graduating class (13% of Indo-Guyanese students), especially when viewed against the background that the 2012 national census puts the Indo-Guyanese population in Triumph at 46.5%. If this case serves as a representative sample, then, on a national scale, several questions arise for the Ministry of Education and the several regional education departments.
First, do education officials in these agencies recognise the importance of lower schools as spaces for the fostering of inter-racial contact and building social cohesion? While true that the higher up our school system one goes, the more racially mixed are the schools, promoting healthy inter-racial relations is proven to best start when children are very young.
Second, how are school zones and districts drawn up, bearing in mind that Guyanese still live in racial enclaves? BV and LBI, for example, are respectively about 70% Black and Indian. Is nearness to home the main factor? Is mixing of student populations considered?
Third, are there deliberate teaching strategies to promote inter-racial cooperation and understanding among kids? Teaching strategies could include, for example, cooperative learning, where students are placed in mixed groups and given small assignments to work on collectively. Or, could also, include the light-handed supervision of children’s play time by teachers to foster more interaction across our social divides (by gender, race, religion, etc).
Building and maintaining social cohesion in Guyana require strategies at such fundamental levels.
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