(29th October, 2015) His Excellency President David Granger: Thank you, please be seated. Madam Chairperson, Mrs. Evelyn Hamilton, she knows why she said that, “I believe the children should be in palaces” because she knows that several years ago we were at a certain institution together [and] I said that, “children are kings and they should be in palaces” She is quite right.
Thank you, Evelyn.
Minister of Education, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, Ministers of the Government, Members of the National Assembly, Chief Education Officer, officers of the Ministry of Education, students, parents, teachers, members of the media, special invitees, good morning.
Today we honour, at the close of Education Month, our outstanding academic performers for the academic year 2014-2015. We honour you, the awardees because of your performance, because you’re worthy of the acclaim of the entire nation. We congratulate you on gaining your achievements.
You exemplify the high standards [to] which our country’s educational system aims. Today, we speak mainly to students in the secondary school. We want our entire education system to function [so]that [it]will produce citizens of quality; citizens who will be happy to remain here in Guyana to build our bountiful, our beautiful nation. We want a system that will extend access to the information superhighway to support the education of our entire nation.
The Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana – our Supreme Law – prescribes in Article 27, and I quote from our Constitution “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. It is the duty of the state to provide education that will include curricula designed to reflect the cultural diversities of Guyana and disciplines that are necessary to prepare students to deal with social issues and to meet the challenges of the modern technological age.” We are guided by our Constitution, it is the Supreme Law.
Our education system, therefore, must aim at ensuring that students graduate with the knowledge and the skills, with the attitudes, with the values that will allow them to secure gainful employment and contribute to the development of society. Our secondary education system therefore, must ensure that our graduates are able to participate not only in Guyana but in a very highly competitive global economy.
We are [gathered] here today therefore, to commend, to congratulate those of you who excel in our secondary schools and as I said earlier this month, Education Month, I learnt from Mr. Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations that Usain Bolt doesn’t stop running at 50 metres. You too, although you’re qualified now in the secondary system, don’t quit. Just keep on; let us go to the third level.
Our education system, although we aim at universal secondary education (USE) is not yet universal. It is unequal and we have to remedy that inequality. It is a rebuke to our belief in equality, our belief in inclusivity, our belief in meritocracy. We need to correct the problems in our education sector. Every day, five children drop out of our secondary schools. What happens to them? Every year, half of the students who undertake to write our National Grade Six Assessment do not satisfactorily write those examinations in accordance with the standards which have been set by the Ministry of Education.
This means that from beginning to end, our secondary education system has not been producing the desired results. It means that half of the students who entered the secondary school system might not actually be qualified to be there. This performance impacts on the quality of the results that we see in the secondary school system.
Fewer than half of those who wrote English A and Mathematics secured passes in the 2015 Caribbean Secondary Education Examinations. The Ministry of Education itself described this as unsatisfactory; the performance of students in the core science subjects of physics and chemistry. This performance is unacceptable in the knowledge-based world in which we live.
Guyana simply cannot continue along this trajectory if it is to compete with our sisters in the Caribbean. Moreover, there are troubling disparities in the educational attainment between the coastland and the hinterland, between schools in Georgetown and the rest of the coastland.
When I was young – many, many years ago – the top five secondary schools were Queen’s College, Bishops’, St. Stanislaus, St. Roses and St. Joseph’s, all five of them located in Georgetown. Now that I’m old, the top five secondary schools have not changed. They’re still located in Georgetown. Maybe it’s good for those students, but as President of all Guyana I would like to see that every single region in this country has a secondary school that could be described as top. Not only top five, but top ten.
I am afraid that if we do not correct these faults between coastal and hinterland, between Georgetown and rural areas, we will develop a form of educational a-part-ness and to use that horrible Dutch word, that people of my generation are familiar with, an educational apartheid. It means the same thing, actually. We must avoid, we must avert the danger of children being separated along lines of gender, along lines of social class or along lines of geographical location.
A pyramid of educational provision has been erected, and what we see developing is a number of well-funded private schools at the top and many struggling local schools at the bottom. Of the 111 secondary schools which I believe exist in this country, 65, the majority, are already private and 55 are public. In other words, the private-public divide is already given the advantage to private secondary schools and the gap is starting to widen in terms of performance.
Too many parents of our country are left to scramble for their own places in this hierarchy, using whatever resources they have in their possession; be it money, be it religious faith, be it private tutoring, in order to overcome the gaps that are opening up in our education system. We want a system that erases inequalities; we want a system that erases inequities so we need to reshape our education policies and that is why Dr. Roopnaraine has been appointed as the Minister of Education because he’s a believer in educational access and educational equalities.
We have to arrest the decline in our education system; to reduce disparities in the performance between regions and between schools and to better prepare our graduates, particularly you, in our secondary schools system for the world of work.
Our education system must continue to reward excellence, but it must also strive to remove inequalities. If we do not reward meritocracy, standards will fall. We must continue to encourage our students, as we are doing here today, to strive for excellence, but at the same time we must ensure that those students who do not have access to the best resources and facilities are also given the opportunity to achieve excellence.
The success of a few should not be the sole defining feature of our secondary school system. We cannot judge the quality of our education system purely by the performance of the top one per cent of the population. We must assess the quality of our entire system to see how all our students perform.
There are over 70,000 secondary school children in Guyana, who many of them will be attending ceremonies like this, next year and in the years to come. Guyana aims at universal secondary education for all. We aim at ensuring that every single child, every one, receives a sound secondary education and last Sunday I was on the Corentyne, and I was happy to be present at a ceremony in which some schoolchildren in the East Bank Berbice area were being given bicycles to enable them to get to school.
Tomorrow, at this time, I’ll be at Charity waterfront, taking possession of another school boat to ensure that children in the Upper Pomeroon could get to school at Charity. This is what we were aiming at, to ensure that every child has a place in school; every child can get to a secondary school. It is the starting point towards ensuring that we reduce disparities and that we allow for greater equality in our education system.
We therefore need a system that ensures that every child attends secondary school. Education is the gateway out of poverty, out of inequality. Education will unlock opportunities for employment for our young people. Education will help our young people to participate in the local and in the global economy. Every child, therefore, must be in school if that child is to overcome poverty and inequality. Any child who does not have access to secondary school will be disadvantaged and too frequently, forever.
Secondly, every teacher must be university graduates. Not just a trained teacher, but a university graduate. And we hope that over the next fifteen years, between 2015 and 2030, during the SPGs, our teachers will all get the opportunity to be exposed to tertiary education. I cannot understand the concept of an untrained teacher. Would you go into an airplane with an untrained pilot? Would you allow yourself to be operated on by an untrained doctor? I do not believe in untrained teachers and during my tenure as President, and I’m sure during Dr. Roopnaraine’s tenure as minister, we want to ensure that every single teacher is trained and I think that would be a turning point in our education system.
So it is necessary to have properly educated teachers, if we are to have properly educated students. We will therefore, over the next five years or over the next ten years or over the next fifteen years-you can see that I don’t intend to go away – we will ensure that greater emphasis is placed on the education of teachers, not only at Cyril Potter College of Education but also at the University of Guyana.
And third, every school must have a well-equipped laboratory and a library. Your Minister of Education, your President, had the opportunity to go to secondary school with some of the best laboratories in the country and the best school libraries of its day. Every secondary school must have an adequately equipped science and computer laboratory; access to the information superhighway is no longer optional. It’s an obligation to an education system. It’s obligatory; every school must have access to the information superhighway. From the moment you enter school you must be able to connect to the internet. Every single school must have Wi-Fi.
Ladies and gentlemen, students, these promises:
• Every child in secondary school,
• Every teacher being university educated,
• Every secondary school being well equipped
These policies must be the foundation upon which we will fashion our education system; a system that will produce citizens of quality, citizens who possess the knowledge, skills and attitudes not only to gain gainful employment, but also to be competitive in the global marketplace.
I had the experience when I myself was graduating from university, I was sitting next to a colleague and literally he had his university diploma in one hand and a Caribbean Airlines ticket in the other hand. He said, “David, Monday I’ll be in Bahamas.”
I want to turn the tide. I want to show our educational diaspora; the people who used to go to Botswana and to Belize and to Barbados and to Brooklyn coming back to make Guyana an ‘education’ nation again. Universal secondary education is the foundation on which that education nation will be built. It’s the foundation of human rights. As I said before, our Constitution gives you that right. You are entitled to a certain education.
Universal secondary education is the basis for social cohesion; the coming together of our people- Indian people, Indigenous people, African, Chinese, Portuguese, mixed people. We can understand each other better, as a nation, through universal secondary education, through better health, and I do believe if children were better educated in schools we will not have some of the outrages that we read about in the newspapers every day. I don’t want to quote villages, but there are things which upset me every day. I do believe that universal secondary education will overcome some of those problems. We will have a better educated set of young men and women in this country. There’d be less trafficking in persons; there’d be less unemployment; there’d be less crime. And finally, and perhaps the best reason of all for education, you can get rich. You can get rich if you’re educated.
Ladies and gentlemen, young men and women: if Guyana is to survive. If Guyana is to keep abreast with the rest of the Caribbean, we must overcome the problems in our education system. The performance of our students, over the years, in regional examinations testifies that we have the ability; we have the talent. You are evidence of this, but there must be more of you, not only in Georgetown, not only in the top five schools, but in all 55, all 111 secondary schools.
You were the products of our secondary education system; you are the exemplars of excellence. You are the evidence of the great things which could be achieved by harnessing the intellectual capabilities of our Guyanese people.
We wish you continued success, those of you who would be granted awards today we congratulate you; we know that you worked hard but we hope that your thirst for knowledge never quenches. We hope that your desire for self- improvement never diminishes; we hope that your commitment to serving Guyana remains steadfast; remains unceasing.
We wish you success and may God bless all of you.