Guyana's push toward sustainable development can be achieved through initiatives in conservation, technology and policy-making, but it is investment in human capital through the provision of quality education, which will help to condition the minds of future generations and lead to transformative development for the country. Education sits at the very heart of an inter-connected plan toward the transformation of Guyana. Moreover, quality education is among the United Nations’ Development Programme’s Sustainable Development Goals, which serves as a global call to action to “end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.”
At the United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development held in New York in September last year, President Granger in his address, said that education serves as the mother of all goals, as it is the gateway to reduction of inequality. The president pledged that over the next five years, Guyana will make priority the provision of inclusive and equitable quality education and life-long learning opportunities for all Guyanese.
Investment in the human factor has been seen as the most important aspect of developing a nation. Where education is concerned, such investment can be seen with a $40.3 billion allocation, 17.5 percent of Guyana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), being plugged into education.
Education Month was observed this September under the theme “Each Child Matters: Stakeholders Unite for the Enhancement of Education.” At the launch of the month-long observances, Minister of Education, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, said that a concerted effort is indeed needed to provide equitable and quality education for the country’s young people. “I truly believe that if we are to inspire our children, if we are to provide them with the necessary energy and the necessary skills to make themselves productive and whole human beings, we have a lot of work to do, and this work is going to be best done, if we forge an active partnership between the schools and the homes,” he said.
The minister added that each stakeholder plays an important role in helping to mould the minds of our children, and further called on groups such as Parent Teachers’ Associations, Non-Governmental Organisations and other groups to come together and form active partnerships that will contribute to this goal.
Seeing the far-reaching impact on national development, education has been placed at the forefront of President Granger’s agenda, and this is illustrated by the simple but transformational initiatives that have been implemented within the last year. Chief among these is the President’s flagship Five Bs Initiative, which aims at providing boats, buses, bicycles, breakfast and books for schoolchildren across the country. The Initiative, which is coordinated by the Ministry of Social Cohesion, focuses on improving school attendance by solving the problem of transportation and the provision of resources and basic meals.
So far, 10 boats 12 buses and 450 bicycles have been donated to areas most in need, across the 10 administrative regions. The initiative is also testimony to a positive relationship between the private sector and the government as donations of the boats, buses and bicycles have been made possible through participation by corporate citizens.
First Lady, Mrs. Sandra Granger, has played an active role in the Five Bs Programme, and has also added another element of support with a donation of over 2,000 pairs of shoes to hinterland children under her “Shoes that Grow” Project. Other areas of focus that supplement the development of the education sector include the rehabilitation and maintenance of Guyana’s education facilities as well as the improvement of conditions and remuneration for teachers.
In fact, the focus on teachers forms part of the Government’s focus with regard to education, as they are tasked with imparting knowledge in the minds of our future generation in an information-driven age. Earlier this month, on the occasion of World Teacher’s Day, the President launched the One Laptop Per Teacher Initiative (OLPT). The OLPT is a revamp of the One Laptop Per Family Initiative launched under the previous administration. The idea for the OLPT has its genesis in 2011, when, during a visit to the Rupununi, President Granger who was Opposition Leader at the time, presented a teacher with a laptop which impacted her efficiency as an educator.
Responsibility for the OLPT falls under the Public Telecommunications Ministry. President Granger said that the future of education requires that teachers be equipped with fuller knowledge of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). ICT also enables Guyana to be on par with international standards of learning and performance. “The world has entered the ‘Information Age.’ Information, information technology and innovation are transforming almost every facet of human existence. ICT is revolutionising education. It is transforming the manner in which information is assembled, organised and disseminated. It is changing the way education is delivered in the classroom,” he said.
Technical Advisor to the Minister of Education, Mr. Vincent Alexander, who spoke on behalf of Education Minister Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine, said that this programme will greatly contribute to the improved delivery of education. “The laptops may be used for the purpose of accessing information, record-keeping and as a learning resource in the classroom. Any or all of these uses should impact the delivery and receipt of education and in so doing improve the quality of education,” he said. Mr. Alexander said that the OLPT initiative exemplifies government’s commitment to providing quality education through technology.
Since its launch, the eGovernment Agency has expanded the distribution of laptops to other regions around the country. The eGovernment Agency’s Secondary School Internet Connectivity Project helps to achieve the goal for greater ICT in schools. As of September, 100 education institutions in Regions Two, Three, Four, Five and Six were connected to the eGovernment network and provided with internet access. Plans to extend this network to communities in the hinterland have begun, and are expected to be executed next year. The eGovernment connectivity programme can be seen as a contribution to the implementation of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) which President Granger has said should be embedded in all levels of schools curricula.
Part of the President’s focus on education also lies in educational tourism and stems from Guyana’s vast potential in the area of biodiversity. President Granger believes that the Iwokrama International Centre for Rain Forest Conservation and Development (Iwokrama) could serve as a centre for educational tourism for local and international students. Paired with the University of Guyana’s Centre for Biodiversity, the two institutions further bolster the educational push toward sustainable development.
Yet, even with these developmental initiatives in place, the goal is not only to ensure attendance, but to improve performance at all levels of school. At the Opening of the 13th Annual Conference of the Caribbean Area Network for Quality Assurance in Tertiary Education (CANQATE), President Granger explained that the creation of a large pool of highly qualified graduates requires a strong framework of quality assurance in education at every tier of the education system.
The President said that Guyana and the Caribbean as a whole, cannot compete in the global market place unless its economies are populated by a sufficient number of qualified graduates. ”Quality Assurance at all levels of our education system, therefore, requires a fresh approach based on robust institutional frameworks and vigorous investigation and inspection. And institutional frameworks must be created in order to ensure that standards are established in which quality education delivery and performance can be measured,” the President said.
The CANQATE conference also brought to light the important role of quality assurance in tertiary education to the development of a Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME). Minister Roopnaraine said that quality education and the services of an accreditation council, which assures that there is quality, are critical to the development of the most important asset of a nation: its human resource and by extension the very development of the society, which relies on the human resource to spearhead its development. “The reason we can’t afford to fail in education is that if we fail in education, everything else will fail. It is that central and we take it that seriously,” he said.
Earlier this year, the government made clear its commitment to ensuring that necessary infrastructural and other improvements be made, so that the University of Guyana can produce quality graduates. Of course, the President’s push to enhance education does not go without acknowledging the social issues that affect school attendance.
The President has highlighted that an average of 4000 children drop out of school each year and of those who do complete school, many do not matriculate or achieve enough passes to make them employable. This occurrence is of major importance to our Head of State, and it is the need to bring about its reduction and ultimate eradication that drives the President’s vision to implement programmes and initiatives that aim to achieve this goal. The recipe to achieve the President’s vision is a simple one: students must have access to school, must attend school regularly, must be provided with the necessary resources, and must strive to attain the highest possible level of education. Investing in the country’s future calls for investing in our children, and presenting our children with the gift of education is the surest way to achieve the goal of sustainable development.