On March 31, 2021, the curtain closed on an incredibly beneficial arrangement which saw thousands of Guyanese benefitting from free online courses available on Coursera.
According to statistics provided by the Ministry of Education, some 55, 348 persons residing in Guyana had registered for a variety of the certificate programmes offered by scores of Ivy League and other reputable universities and colleges in the United States and the United Kingdom. Within the last seven months, these institutions have collectively issued 54,348 certificates to Guyanese learners. Following the protracted 2020 General and Regional Elections, the newly elected People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government partnered with the Commonwealth of Learning to pave the way for Guyanese to have access to the courses offered on the Coursera platform.
The initiative, spearheaded by Education Minister, Priya Manickchand, has since come in for numerous praises from persons all across the country, especially since it addresses the unfortunate impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Guyanese learners. It is safe to say that not only were the opportunities welcomed, but they were fully capitalised on. So much so that at least 21 persons have managed to complete in excess of 100 courses, all free of cost. Statistics provided by the Ministry of Education show Maynawattie Tiwari leading the board of top achievers, having completed 1001 courses. Tiwari was closely tailed by Rohani Beeram, who achieved 493 certificates. Meanwhile, Dawn Lewis boasts of having 404 certificates.
The landmark ‘Coursera’ initiative, officially known as the Workforce Recovery Initiative, was also heavily lauded internationally, with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Coursera, Jeff Maggioncalda,singling out Guyana as an exceptional participant of the courses offered. This paved the way for an extension of the scholarships from December 31, 2020 to March 31, 2021.
In addition to successfully executing the project, Minister Manickchand and her team at the Education Ministry were quick to garner commitments from its public and private sector partners to ensure that the certificates acquired, though free, are properly valued and recognised by potential employers.
The Ministry of Education, the Ministry of the Public Service and the Private Sector Commission have even signed a Memorandum of Understanding to that effect.
“These certificates will be recognised for what they are worth, not for more than their worth but what they are … an enhancement, indication of someone who is personally motivated to study, as an indication of someone skilled for as many hours in a particular area; that is how it will be recognised in both public and private sector,” Minister Manickchand had said during the signing of the agreement.
She noted then that the ‘Coursera initiative’ sought to bring relief and address the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on critical sectors such as education and labour. Manickchand had also expressed hope that the signing of the agreement would help to secure and even create job opportunities for the graduates, thereby helping to curb unemployment.
“This presents an opportunity for the people who are doing this upscaling, registered and graduate from these programmes not only to self-develop, but possibly re-entering or entering the workforce,” the minister noted.
Nonetheless, as the initiative continued to gain momentum and international recognition and commendation, the efforts of Minister Manickchand did not go unnoticed. As a matter of fact, the Member of Parliament was bestowed the title of a Commonwealth Wise Woman, ultimately becoming a member of the Commonwealth Wise Women (CWW) Mentoring project, which seeks to promote positive change by empowering girls and women to become leaders.
Also a part of the empowerment efforts are Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth of Learning, Professor Asha Kanwar; Pro Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the West Indies Open Campus, Dr. Luz Longsworth; United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland QC, and Guyanese Dr. Paulette Henry.
Minister Manickchand had expressed plans to launch a Guyana Chapter of the Commonwealth Wise Women Mentoring Project, seeking to empower girls and women, assisting them to recognise their value and achieve their full potential. She had indicated plans to involve mentors from all sectors to help with the successful mentoring of candidates from all walks of life.