(Excerpts from an address by HE David Granger)
Indigenous Heritage Month celebrates not only the history of Guyana’s indigenous peoples but, also, their destiny. History is important but no one could change what is past. Destiny, however, is in our hands and it is for this generation to make the correct choices to ensure that the next generation could enjoy a future that is more pleasant than the past.
Development taking place in indigenous communities is cause for hope. Development is about long-term progress, not a short-term process. It involves integrated planning and implementation – for education, the economy, society and security – to achieve change everywhere.
Education, next to food, clothing and shelter, is essential to nurturing the next generation. Measurable progress is evident in the field of public education. Plans are on stream to continue improving hinterland education over the next ten years in what I have dubbed the ‘Decade of development’, from 2020 to 2029.
The path and pattern of public education in the hinterland were set in the immediate post-Independence period, fifty years ago. Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, addressing the Amerindian Leaders’ Conference in 1969, promulgated a policy aimed at ensuring the efficient delivery of public services to the indigenous population. Education is the main instrument towards ensuring that objective.
Hinterland education was dominated by the churches at the time. They had performed commendably during the colonial era but were limited in resources, capabilities and vision. There was need for more modern schools and trained teachers, particularly for secondary, technical and vocational education. A drive was launched to expand access to education for hinterland students.
New primary schools were built, some by self-help, at Aranaputa and Monkey Mountain. Eleven new government-aided all-age schools were erected at Maruranau, Sand Creek, St Ignatius and Yakarinta, in the Rupununi; Kamarang in the Cuyuni-Mazaruni; Matthew’s Ridge, Port Kaituma and Warmuri in the Barima-Waini and Orealla in East Berbice-Corentyne Regions.
Residential schools were established, first at St. Ignatius in the Rupununi and Hosororo and Mabaruma in the Barima-Waini. A modern multilateral school was built in Pomeroon-Supenaam. Educational access was facilitated further by the award of scholarships which allowed students free education, at government’s expense, in Georgetown.
Teacher-training, including the training of indigenous teachers, was intensified. Houses were built to accommodate teachers and to encourage coast-landers to take up hinterland teaching appointments. Investments were made to strengthen hinterland education in the early post-Independence years in other fields.
Hinterland education, indeed, did receive its first great boost fifty years ago and the task continues today. Education is the cornerstone of government’s plans to ensure greater equality between the hinterland and the coastland, to reduce poverty and to provide greater economic opportunities for indigenous communities and peoples.
Hinterland education is being repositioned to help to eliminate inequalities and to ensure that ‘every child goes to school and that no child is left behind. Educational policy aims at ensuring that every child has access to education, attends school, and achieves the level that allows her or him to graduate from school with the knowledge, skills and values to become a happy citizen.
The government inherited a public educational system with many problems. Some hinterland schools and dormitories were in a deplorable state; substance abuse had penetrated a few schools; allegations of physical violence and sexual abuse were being made and, sadly, students had lost their lives.
No government could be happy with so many, so frequent and such serious, reports. Hinterland education, still, is far from perfect, but we have come a long way from those grim, grisly days, and progress has been made.
Parents and residents no longer need to protest against the conditions at hinterland dormitories and schools. Students now feel safer and are more comfortable, because of the interventions and improvements which have been made over the past fifty months.
Hinterland educational infrastructure is being renovated, repaired and rehabilitated. Hinterland schools are among more than 100 educational institutions which have been built and upgraded.
Investments in infrastructure and information technology, the expansion of the school-feeding scheme and the provision of transportation and scholarships have helped to reduce the number of hinterland school drop-outs from 10 primary school students per week in 2014 to an average of 3 students per week in 2017. An average of 17 secondary school students dropped out weekly from hinterland schools in 2014; this has declined to an average of 5 per week in 2017.
Hinterland education will be prioritised over the next ten years – 2020-2029 – which have been designated, the Decade of Development. Education will be a cornerstone of the ‘Decade’ which will continue the task of repositioning education which commenced four years ago.
Education is now moving on the correct path. More than G$170B have been expended on education over the past four years. Expenditure on the public education sector moved from 14.8 per cent of the national budget in 2014 to 17.0 per cent in 2017.
The ‘Decade’ will protect citizens’ right to universal primary, secondary and tertiary education. Guyana’s petroleum profits will be deployed, in part, to improve education, including and especially hinterland education. Primary education is a basic entitlement of all children. It is the foundation for advanced learning.
The ‘Decade’ will restore free education as an entitlement. Free education is mandated by the Constitution [at Article 27] which states: “Every citizen has the right to free education from nursery to university as well as at non-formal places where opportunities are provided for education and training.”
The ‘Decade’ will help to eliminate the educational inequalities between the hinterland and coastland by devoting more resources to hinterland education. It will allow the training of a greater number of hinterland teachers; offer improved student accommodation and transportation; and establish more hinterland schools and other educational institutions.
Indigenous people can be assured that:
• they will not be left behind when petroleum production commences next year;
• the national, natural resources wealth will be developed in a manner to ensure greater equality between the hinterland and the coastland; and
• there will be adequate provision to strengthen hinterland development, particularly through greater educational investments, interventions and improvements.
Government’s creation of four ‘capital towns’ – at Bartica, Lethem, Mabaruma and Mahdia, which administer three-quarters of our territory – will ensure the establishment of a first-class secondary school in each capital town. A student no longer will need to leave his/her region of residence.
Hinterland residents should not think that they have fallen behind the rest of the country, in terms of access to public educational opportunities. Education is the great equalizer. It is the key to reversing hinterland underdevelopment. It will unlock opportunities for all and help to provide the skills for development.
Hinterland students have demonstrated, that once provided with educational opportunities, they are capable of the best performance, as proven by one of the country’s top performers at this year’s Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations.
Hinterland students are being given the best that Guyana has to offer. They have been provided with buses, boats and bicycles to help them to get to school. The construction and renovation of hostels is encouraging them to stay in school.
Students’ performance is being boosted by investments in better classrooms and laboratories and through information communications technology. Hinterland students are being offered more scholarships, including tertiary education.
Hinterland education is on the right path. This is a good reason to celebrate Indigenous Heritage Month 2019.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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