President David Granger: Thank you. Please be seated. It’s just my luck to come after Vanilla (what luck!) and then the rain start falling too besides, what a day! Thank you Madam Chairperson; Minister of Education, Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine; Honourable Nicolette Henry; Ms. Delma Nedd, Permanent Secretary; Mr. Marcel Hutson; officials from the Ministry of Education; teachers; students; parents; members of the media.
Today we had the wet and the dry; the sun and the rain, but I am happy to be here with you and I just mentioned to the Minister of Education that, from 2017, the second Friday of September will be declared Education Day in honour of you the students of Guyana. So this is your first Education Day – the second Friday in September.
You know children, there is a saying and I want to repeat it; I just want to repeat what Dr. Roopnaraine said, that, “We are in a race. We are in a race between education and catastrophe” and if we are not careful, we could end up in catastrophe; so you have to keep on running.
Last year, when I spoke to you I reminded you of what Ban Ki-moon said: “Usain Bolt doesn’t stop running at 50 metres” and you have to continue running because we are in competition against ignorance and in competition again catastrophe. You know children, there is another saying, that, “The proper time to influence the character of a child is about a hundred years before he is born”. What that saying means is that if you want to influence a child’s behaviour it is the parents; it is what takes place in the home, what takes place in the family, in the village, in the community, which will determine how that child behaves whether that child succeeds or fails.
So education is not just going to school for three or five years, education is not just having a good teacher, education is what takes place from the time you were born; from your mother, from your father, from your sisters and brothers; from what you see in the village and the community – that is what education is all about. It is a complete experience.
There is another saying which is from the Fanta people in West Africa and the saying goes like this: “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a nation” and that is why it is so good to see two women on stage here. They didn’t bring any male singers – you notice that? They brought two women to educate you. But that is why we must respect our womenfolk and you boys here respect the girls.
R. E. S. P. E. C. T. Respect your mothers; respect your sisters because one day those sisters will become mothers. One day your schoolmates will become mothers and they have to transmit values to their children. So the respect starts with you and according to that Fanta proverb, you educate the woman, you educate a nation and that’s what we want in Guyana.
Today, we celebrate the slogan ‘Each Child Matters’ and you must take that slogan to heart because each one of you is important. There must be over a quarter million school children in Guyana – primary and secondary level. There are two hundred and fifty thousand of you and each one of you is an individual, each one of you matters and that is what education is about.
Each one of you has a right to education. Education under our Constitution is an entitlement and we want to make sure that every child in Guyana goes to primary school and goes to secondary school and has a full education. It is only in that way that we can ensure that you fulfil your responsibilities to yourself, to you mother and father, to your community and your family and most of all to the nation.
We know that we have a responsibility under the Constitution, but education is a public good and all of us – in the business community, in the family, in the non-governmental organisations, in your churches, and your mandirs, in your masjids, in your families – all of us must be involved in ensuring that each child matters; that each child gets the best possible education.
The Ministry of Education has coined this motto – ‘Each Child Matters’ and I will supplement that motto by saying that it is not only a motto; it is a mandate, it is an instruction, it is a directive, it is a command- that is given to the Ministry of Education to ensure that each one of you would receive the best possible education.
But today, I want to invite each one of you to become an ‘A’ student and what do I mean by ‘A’ student? I mean that you must have access to education. I mean that you must attend school and I mean that you must attain the highest possible level of education- ‘A’ for access; ‘A’ for attend and ‘A’ for attainment. When I speak about access I mean that there must be sufficient schools all over this country so that students don’t have to travel too far to get to school; that each school must be equipped with the materials and utilities and the facilities to ensure that you get a quality education.
Each school must provide the environment for learning and that is why this year and next year and every year, this Ministry of Education will continue improving and repairing, schools, rehabilitating schools; some of them were built a hundred years ago by the Methodists and the Catholics and the Anglicans and the Presbyterians. Many of those schools need repairs; that is what the ministry is doing so that they could be modernised. In addition to that, the ministry will be building new schools but I want to assure you that every school is not just a matter of a building but we want to provide quality teachers, who are capable of delivering quality education. So as far as possible, we want to provide more schools, but better schools, more teachers, but better teachers.
We want to ensure that the school becomes an attractive and a pleasant place. We want children to want to go to school because that is where their friends are, that is where the computers are, that is where the sports facilities are, that is where cultural activities take place. We want to make sure that every single school in Guyana has an assembly room and that assembly room has a stage and every year you can put on dramatic productions, can stage plays.
Every school must have a dining hall where children can have their lunch. Every school must have a gymnasium so you could become fit and pretty like these dancers. You like that eh? Every school must have a playground because it is when you are young you develop your skill in sport and athletics. Every school must have a functional science and computer laboratory.
So these are the things we want for schools because each school is important and each student matters. We want also, each school to embrace our ‘green’ agenda. What I mean by this is that on the 1st of October, it’s a Saturday, but I want you to come out, I want your teachers to come out at your schools and plant something.
When I go to a schoolyard I want to see things growing. I want to see trees and plants, and flowers, and the 1st of October every year is already declared National Tree Day, just as I declared the second Friday in September – National Education Day, I want you to turn out for National Tree Day because I want your schools to be ‘green’; I want your schools to have electricity from solar panels. I want your schools to participate in sustainable development, waste management. So these are things you must do in your school compounds. Good electricity, clean electricity and the safe disposal of solid waste.
Schools must not be a place for debris. School yards must not be places for junk and broken furniture. They must be places for ‘green’; green trees, green plants, and of course free from litter and filth. We want each Guyanese child to go to school regularly. This is what the policy of ‘Each Child Matters’ means and that is why on my part and on the part of my wife and on the part of my government, we have started a policy of providing buses and bicycles and boats.
Some of you in riverine areas would know that we still have children who have to paddle one hour or more to get to school, but when they get to school they are tired and then in the evening they’ll have to paddle back home and they can’t do homework because they’re tired. We are providing boats for children. Right now there are boats in the Berbice River, in the Demerara River, in the Pomeroon River, in the Essequibo River and we will continue providing boats to make sure that children who are living in isolated communities can get to school.
Many of you go to school in buses. In East Berbice-Corentyne alone I presented two school buses; West Coast Berbice has two buses. Coomacka, in Region Ten, has a school bus. More and more buses will be provided so that all over this country, all of you will one day be able to get to school in a bus, a safe bus and I’ll ask Vanilla to send some music that you can play in the buses when you go to school. How’s that? (Applause.)
Unless you attend school regularly, you are unlikely to attain a high standard of academic education. The minister has already spoken about the 20-somethings. I’m not going to go there, but what I want you to have is a sound education but attendance in school will help you to develop your self-discipline.
You have friends and you must learn to respect your friends, respect their property. You must learn to get to school on time, to complete your assignments on time. That is how you develop self-discipline. Learn to obey your teachers; learn to pay attention to your lessons and your homework. If you don’t go to school you will miss out on these lessons. If you don’t go to school your peers, your equals, are going to get ahead of you.
So pay attention to attendance. The government is trying to make sure you have the means to attend school with all of these buses, bicycles and boats. You too must make the effort. We don’t want you to have to walk an hour and a half to get to school. We want to help, but you have to help yourselves too. So that is my programme for buses, bicycles and boats; but finally, students, I want you to focus on educational attainment, not just in terms of studies but a few weeks ago you saw in Brazil young people participating in the highest level of athletic games in the world. They are there because at their schools, when they were young, they were able to participate in sport.
Going to the Olympics is not a flash in the pan. It takes years of preparation. It takes years of rigorous training. Similarly, in your education studies you cannot suddenly get ten subjects, you cannot suddenly do well at CAPE and CSEC, you cannot do well at National Grade Six [Assessment] unless you are prepared to commit yourself to working hard.
And I’ve said it again and again – am I am not here to repeat the grim news – that there are too many children who are dropping out of school and there are too many children in Guyana who still cannot pass all four subjects at the National Grade Six [Assessment]. Schooling is not a matter of spoon-feeding children: you have to want to learn to read, you have to want to go to school, you have to want to succeed and you cannot succeed unless you have in your own mind the desire to do well in school. We will help you, but you need to want to help yourselves. So each of you, we would like to see graduate from school with the knowledge and skills that will enable you to get a good job and better still that will enable you to give yourself a job, to employ yourself.
Self-employment is good. It is not only necessary or desirable for you to find work with the government, but sometimes it’s more profitable for you to employ yourselves, to be your own boss. I was very happy a few weeks ago to attend what is called the S. L. E. D. – the Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurship [Development] programme, and there I saw young school leavers, one whom had left Onderneeming school, the New Opportunity Corps, one who had served time in jail and had been released from jail through an amnesty by the President, but now she has become a businesswoman. I’m not suggesting you go to the New Opportunity Corps, but what I am suggesting is that you adopt an entrepreneurial outlook so that you could employ yourselves.
So the rain has come a little harder and it’s time for me to stop, but I’d like to assure you that everything we’re celebrating today starts at home, at the family and particularly with your mother. The foundation of education is in the home, the foundation of education will take you through the rest of your life.
School is only the pathway between the home and that good job. The policy of ‘Every Child Matters’ is a sound policy which I recommend to you. So I extend to you congratulations on this Education Day.
I congratulate your teachers, your parents, the administrators of your schools and I pray that God may bless you and bless your schools and bless Guyana.
May God bless you all!
I thank you.