Ministry of Education, Guyana

Friday, 17 July 2015 09:02

The ‘Because We Care’ Education Cash Grant Review

We note with concern the opposition’s disingenuous campaign in response to the government’s decision to review and very likely not renew the Education Cash Grant, originally represented as a means to boost flagging nursery to secondary enrollment and poor student attendance under the previous administration.

As the then opposition, we supported the grant, via budgetary approval, on its professed merits as a one-off initiative intended to provide critical intervention into a significant problem in our education system. This support was offered despite vibrant criticisms from several sections of the society that the programme appeared ill-conceived though ostensibly well-intended, and that it would be turn out to be an electioneering gimmick on behalf of the then incumbent.

As evidenced by the kitsch branding of the grant with the ‘Because We Care’ slogan, and the mobilization of several senior government officials for photo opportunities at disbursement centres in the months leading up to elections, the latter criticism was in retrospect not unfounded.

More importantly, there have been three critical flaws with the Cash Grant approach, none of which the former government saw fit to share with the general public:

  • There is no monitoring and evaluation mechanism built into the system to ensure either effective use of the grant, or actual impact on enrolment and attendance. This means that there exists no plan to verify that the money was used as intended whether directly or incorporated into the budgeting for the child’s educational needs. It also means that there was no plan in place to measure whether the funds allocated resulted in increased enrollment and, more importantly, attendance.
  • It is inherently economically unsustainable with hidden additional administrative costs, and disproportionate real costs such as security. According to our unaudited figures, 85% of the grant target was reached while 93% of the budget was expended. It should also be taken into consideration $92 million of the amount budget for was allocated presumably for administration of the grant.
  • As executed, the project put tremendous strain on the existing human resource infrastructure of the Ministry of Education, resulting in lost man hours that should have been assigned to other tasks and lower efficiency in the way the Ministry functioned over the period of the disbursement.

Under this administration, the priority for education development strategy is measurable, cost-effective service delivery with a strong focus on monitoring and evaluation to ensure that programmes result in tangible benefits to those our public education system is intended to serve, the young people of Guyana.

The central challenge of optimizing attendance and enrollment has to be overcome by a targeted programme aimed at meeting particular individual and community needs as well as improving upon existing national initiatives, even as we ensure value for money in service delivery. Recommendations under active consideration by the ministry include:

  • The expansion and intensification of the school feeding programmes to include, for example, the provision of breakfast for targeted students. The provision of meals has been a proven and tangible method of increasing or sustaining attendance preceding the previous administration.
  • The provision of transportation services for targeted student populations, particularly those in Hinterland and riverrain communities. With the help of the business community, for example, a 40-seater boat has recently been procured to ferry children living along the Pomeroon River to and from school.
  • Increasing the voucher value for the National Uniform Programme to more accurately reflect what has been rising cost in related goods and services over the past few years.
  • The exploration of the establishment of a fund that will provide additional direct financial support for students in difficult circumstances.
  • The contextualization of education assistance within a holistic programme of poverty alleviation that includes a review of the taxation system and salary increase among other measures.

We cannot, as a government, afford to engage in grand fiscally unsustainably, irresponsible, politically expedient gimmicks when the core service of education remains under-served and public education teeters at the brink of a crisis. Deliberately emotive, simplistic and misleading appeals on social media cannot be a substitute for effective policy analysis, particular considering that the former minister is listed as a member of a parliamentary opposition that refuses to take its place in Parliament, the proper forum for incisive, accurate, and recordable debate on policy issues.

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