Feb 03, 2024 Editorial
Kaieteur News – The debate on the education provisions of the 2024 budget saw some back and forth between the government and opposition representatives. Their point of contention involved funding for the University of Guyana (UG) and the Guyana Online Academy of Learning (GOAL) programme. The former is set to receive $4.1 billion, and the latter $4 billion from the national budget in 2024. We will do our best not to get entangled in the war of words between the political adversaries, for we have our own ideas on what should be the priorities for the education sector, and which should influence how the funding is delivered.
GOAL has its positives, with thousands of Guyanese enhancing their levels of knowledge and their academic credentials. Recipients of GOAL scholarships, and those who successful complete their chosen fields of study make themselves more marketable, position themselves on the inside track in the job market. One conspicuous feature of the GOAL scholarship programme is that it has attracted a huge number of applicants and students, with 20,000 being one of the numbers that bear witness to its reach and appeal. The question is whether the billions invested in GOAL are helping Guyana to transform into a top-level education society, the kind that is needed at this time in the history of this country.
Guyana has billions of barrels of proven oil reserves. There has been much talk about capacity building, but the speed with which new projects are given clearance finds this country laboring to prevent the capacity gap from widening. We are woefully short of, and cannot provide enough, engineers, geologists, and other graduates in the hard sciences. There is an urgent need for these types of graduates to be present at the offshore oil operations to give us the best representation possible, to be our eyes and ears. The concern is that there is only a fraction of them. The same can be said of auditors and accountants, and those who have the kind of skills required to peruse the complex books and systems that are part of oil records. We slack off in this regard, and Guyana will be prone to slick scams that could trick and cheat, without us knowing. Guyanese are already handicapped and hemorrhaging from an oil contract with ExxonMobil and its partners that is nothing but a yoke to national prospects and prosperity. The bottom-line reality is that this country is suffering from a significant disadvantage with the quantity and quality of the skills that it possesses in oil-related disciplines.
This is where a bigger and broader focus must be on what to make UG into, what to provide it with, and what to expect from it. We believe that a vision to transform UG into a premier institution in the region must take precedence over all other educational arrangements. Nothing can be more vital than positioning this country to capitalize on its massive oil wealth by having the right people in the right places doing the right jobs. Money invested in UG in the technical and scientific faculties is sure to bring about the caliber of academic returns that should narrow the skills void, take aim at and reduce the lagging and catching up that is proving so challenging to do. The more money put into the institution, the greater the qualification return that can be anticipated, which is so direly needed. This truth has to be confronted honestly: Guyana should not want to become a nation of clerks and data processors (as vital and meaningful as those are) in this era of national existence. If there is insistence and priority in doing so through the monies allocated, then there would only be dependence on foreign experts and foreign workers to lead the way in this the most promising time in the nation’s history. It is a recipe for callous exploitation, one designed to maintain, if not expand, the knowledge and skills vacuum.
There must be a focused financial barrage on the Secondary School level, so that more raw materials are generated from Mathematics and Science fields. We need to build strength from there, and provide a quality feeder system for UG, from where the next generation of graduates and lecturers will emerge. UG deserves more, UG should get more. Guyana will be the biggest beneficiary, and better able to ensure that others do what is right with this oil wealth of ours.
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