President David Granger: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s an honour to be here this evening to join you at this important ceremony: the launch of the 13th Annual Conference of the Caribbean Area Network for Quality Assurance in Tertiary Education being held under the theme- “Sustaining a Culture of Quality Assurance in Tertiary Education for National and Regional Development.” As has been said before, it’s an appropriate theme and at an appropriate time.
CANQATE focuses on improving quality assurance at the post-secondary and tertiary levels. Post-secondary and tertiary education in the Caribbean, however, will decline unless attention is paid to quality assurance at the primary and secondary levels of the education system.
As you know, former Registrar of the Caribbean Examination Council, Dr. [Didacus] Jules warned, and I quote, “Inattention to early childhood development is impacting performance in primary; the deficits in primary education translate into weak performance at the secondary and the absence of core competencies required for excelling at tertiary education.”
You all remember the famous quote of Dean Inge of the United Kingdom, who said, “The best time to influence the character of a child is a hundred years ago.” And sometimes I think that maybe when we speak of tertiary education, it is coming a bit late in the day. We therefore need to examine quality assurance at all levels of our education system; such assurance is needed to stem the sustained poor levels of educational attainment.
Tertiary education in the Caribbean will continue to be overwhelmed with remedial functions unless quality assurance can be guaranteed at the lowest levels, that is, at the level of the nursery, at the level of the primary, at the level of the secondary school.
Ladies and gentlemen, students for tertiary institutions do not drop from the sky; they come primarily from the secondary and primary schools. Students’ underperformance at regional examinations, therefore, present challenges for tertiary education and enrolment and, by extension, the availability of a highly skilled workforce.
I addressed the ‘Education Month Rally’ a couple of weeks ago here in Georgetown and I urged that every Guyanese child must become an ‘A’ student: A for access to education, A for attendance at school and A for attainment of high results.
Access to education is a right, it is provided for in the Charter of Civil Society for the Caribbean Community which states that “The States (the Caribbean States) shall ensure that every child has the right to and is provided with quality education. It provides that the State shall ensure equal access to education and post-secondary education and reasonable access to continuing adult education and training.” That comes from the Charter of Civil Society for the Caribbean Community.
Guyana is the largest CARICOM State. Guyana is bigger than England and Scotland combined. It is easier and quicker to reach Piarco [in Trinidad and Tobago] or Grantley Adams [in Barbados] than it is to reach Lethem or Aishalton in southern-Guyana.
Our Barima-Waini Region is four times the size of Trinidad and Tobago; our Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region is the size of The Netherlands. The Rupununi is the size of Costa Rica. These are spatial considerations which impact on the delivery of education in Guyana. I don’t speak so boastfully but this is the reality that we have to face in Guyana.
The usefulness of education to every child requires access; access which must be complemented with attendance by that child. Attendance in turn should result in students graduating with bankable qualifications and skills.
Standards of quality assurance in the delivery of education are critical to education attainment.
Quality assurance in education must begin with an understanding of the problems of attendance, of access, and attainment. Standards therefore must be developed in response to this understanding. Standards must be rigorously policed by a nationwide system of quality assessment.
Ladies and gentlemen, Caribbean economies must be repositioned and realigned if they are to become globally competitive. Integration at the regional level and education are two vital vehicles for enhancing the region’s economic competitiveness.
Integration through the Caribbean Single Market and Economy will allow member states of CARICOM to overcome their resource constraints and their inherent diseconomies of scale. The CSME will promote the free movement of goods, services and capital but most particularly of labour throughout the region so as to overcome these limitations. It will allow for the development of globally competitive industries.
Education is linked to improved economic competitiveness. The region’s education system is responsible for ensuring that it produces graduates with the knowledge that would allow the Caribbean to compete in today’s knowledge based world.
Ladies and gentlemen, you’re aware of course of the famous quote from the Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Professor Hilary Beckles, who made an intervention during the 36th Meeting of the Heads of Government Conference of the Caribbean Community held in Barbados last year July.
Professor Beckles noted that education in the Caribbean should be re-engineered to enable the region to become more competitive. He advocated increased investment in science and technology in order to promote greater economic innovation.
Ladies and gentlemen, Guyana is becoming a ‘green’ State. We are part of what is called the Guiana Shield, an area that is bigger than Greenland. The Caribbean education system must understand that the spatial reality of this Caribbean State – Guyana; Guyana and Suriname together are about the size of Germany – and we want the Caribbean to see Guyana as part of its hinterland, not as a distant or separate or foreign state. We want you to appreciate our flora and fauna, our unique biodiversity.
We therefore need to understand why is it that one third of our Caribbean students who sat the June 2016 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations failed to gain acceptable grades. Why did one third of the students who sat English A fail to secure Grade One – Three passes. Why do students who performed at Mathematics in 2016 performed at a lower level than in 2015.
One size does not fit all and we need to design a system of quality assurance which is appropriate to all of the Caribbean States. I remember my own experience in teaching CXC History some years ago, and there I was faced with a drawing of a Caribbean sugar plantation – not a single canal, not a middle-walk, not a sideline, not a seawall, not a trench. How could I explain to Guyanese students that there are sugar plantations without trenches? It doesn’t make sense – you step a hundred metres in any direction in Guyana and you touch water.
We must understand, therefore, that there are countries in the Caribbean such as ours, with low coastal zones, with savannahs, with mountains, with waterfalls, with rivers like the Essequibo River which is a thousand kilometres long. These are the realities of our landscape.
Ladies and gentlemen, deficiencies at the level of primary education can erode and do erode the quality of secondary education. Quality assurance in education must be instituted therefore, especially for my country, at all levels of our education system in order to ensure that we have a sufficient number of primary school students and secondary school students who eventually could matriculate and are therefore qualified to enter into tertiary education institutions.
Quality assurance at all levels of our education system therefore requires a fresh approach based on robust institutional frameworks and vigorous investigation and inspection. An institutional framework must be created in order to ensure that standards are established by which quality education delivery and performance can be measured; and when we speak about measurement in Guyana, we speak about distance. We speak about teachers who may leave Georgetown and have to spend several days to reach schools in different parts of Guyana.
Quality assurance, therefore, must indicate the deliverables of education and the benchmarks which are to be attained by administrators, by school boards, by teachers, students and parents. Teachers are the guardians of the region’s quality assurance standards.
Quality assurance in education requires that attention be paid to the training of our teachers; and in Guyana we have nine indigenous nations which speak nine different indigenous languages. Our teachers too must be qualified to deliver education to our indigenous students who sometimes speak first languages which are not English.
Quality education, therefore, cannot be assured, at any level of education unless teachers themselves are qualified in our teachers training colleges. And secondly, there must be a nationwide school’s inspectorate system in order to police the standards and ensure quality assurance in the delivery of education in public and private schools.
The causes of underperformance in our education system, particularly at the primary and secondary levels, need to be investigated. The causes may not be confined to the quality of teaching alone or the quality of the school environment; underperformance can be affected by factors such as distance, such as time and other economic factors.
It looks pretty on a postcard to see Amerindian children paddling to go to school; very picturesque, but they get to school tired and they have to paddle back home in the evening and they can’t do homework because they are tired and they have to face another day.
So, we have to think about these factors when we look at what happens at the level of primary education in our country, where we still have four thousand dropouts at the primary and secondary school level every year.
Ladies and gentlemen, CANQATE: Accreditation Certification of Educational Institutions of course, are important dimensions in promoting quality assurance in education.
Accreditation certification also ensure in the era of
internationalisation of education that post-secondary and tertiary education and qualifications obtained from national and regional institutions are accepted and acceptable throughout the Caribbean.
This facilitates the mobility of skills throughout the regions as envisaged by the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which commits States, and I quote: “…To the goal of free movement of their nationals within the community.”
The revised treaty also provides that as a first step towards that goal, member states, and I quote:
“…Shall accord to the following categories of community nationals, the right to seek employment in their jurisdictions: A) university graduates; B) media workers; C) sports persons; D) artistes and E) musicians recognized as such by the competent authorities of the receiving member states.”
I recall being taught Latin by a Barbadian, French by a Saint Lucian, and Spanish by a Jamaican when I was at high school but now it’s not possible any longer. We were able to have free movement when we were colonies, but alas, independence put up barriers to free movement. We must make headway on these promises under the Treaty of Chaguaramas and the Charter of Civil Society.
Ladies and gentlemen, quality assurance standards in education across the Region will advance the goal of free movement of the categories of skills of nationals recognised under the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
Institutions which provide tertiary educational services must in this context be guided by standards of quality assurance which yield to the qualification and certification that find acceptability across the region. It means that you have to understand the character, the landscape, the people in all of the territories of the Region.
Quality assurance at the tertiary level therefore cannot be isolated from the need to reduce the deficiencies at the primary and secondary school levels.
Quality assurance cannot be separated from ensuring that qualified teachers populate all levels of our education system.
It is therefore in this context that this 13th Annual Conference of the Caribbean Area Network for Quality Assurance in Tertiary Education is seen as a vehicle to advance the achievement of the objectives of developing standards of quality assurance across our education spectrum.
With these few words, I welcome you to Guyana and I wish the conference every success.
I thank you.