EDUCATION is the foundation on which the current administration is building what it envisions as an economically strong, technologically advanced nation with strong social services that allows all of its citizens to benefit from its vast resources and enjoy that good life. This is reflected not only in its budgetary allocation this year of $43.1 B to the sector, but its commitment to ensuring that the problems faced by the sector are tackled at the core, beginning from early childhood through to university.
Delivery of quality education
President David Granger since taking office in 2015 has emphasised the every child in school policy. Even as Government works to create the environment, where regardless of the economic situation, Guyanese children can attend school, the President has also called on every Guyanese in communities, neighbourhoods and villages across the country to adopt this policy as our mantra and to do whatever we can to ensure every child gets to school and stays in school.
Education, the Head of State believes, will unlock the potential of young people to be not just employable but job creators themselves, who can innovatively use the country’s resources to build their own wealth. Speaking at the Ministry of Education’s Awards Ceremony on October 29, 2015, the President said, “We want in our entire Education system a function that would produce citizens of quality, citizens that would be happy to remain here in Guyana to build our bountiful, beautiful nation.
President Granger takes a moment to look through one of the students’ exercise book during a tour of President’s College
We want a system that would extend access to the information super highway to support the education of our entire nation. The Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, our supreme law, prescribes in Article 27 it is the duty of the state to provide education that is designed to reflect the cultural diversity of Guyana and disciplines that are necessary to prepare students to deal with social issues and to meet the challenges of a modern technological age.”
The Government of Guyana has and continues to implement various programmes at all levels to ensure that education services are accessible to all and those in difficult economic situations are not left behind. The Mid-Year report recently released by the Ministry of Finance shows that Government continues to increase the catchment of the school feeding programme. The hot meal initiative currently reaches 22,475 students across 165 schools in the hinterland and, by the end of 2017, it is expected that an additional 2,616 students from 47 hinterland schools (nursery and primary) will benefit. The breakfast initiative under this Programme is on-going in 36 schools on the coastland, and expansion will continue in the second half of the year as well.
All these are in addition to the President’s Five Bs Initiative, which is aimed at providing boats, buses, bicycles, breakfast and books to school children, giving way to easier access to school and other basic school needs for many students across the country. The Five Bs Initiative quickly became a widespread success, gaining momentum and donations from the business community and allowing the administration to take the programme all across the country. President Granger has said that the initiative will pay dividends for the development of the regions in which they operate: to improve education, to improve access to jobs and to assist the youth in participating in enterprise.
To support the every child in school policy, Minister of Education, Ms. Nicolette Henry said that the Ministry is ramping up programmes that ensure school attendance. “In addition we have home visits, which are conducted with the intent of keeping children in school. Parents are made aware of the importance of sending children to school regularly and punctually. Parents are also made aware of the consequences of not sending their children to school and the consequences and penalties in keeping with the Education Act, Chapter 39:01. Special coaching and counselling sessions are also implemented and in special cases particular attention is paid to students and parents,” she said.
The development of a quality education system is the result of many factors and following consultations across the country, it was recognised that facilities with adequate space, clean water and proper sanitation facilities, support services which include school feeding, and other forms of economic assistance, screening programmes and welfare services are necessities. These and others prompted to Government, through the Education Ministry to implement programmes to ensure that Guyanese students are able to be in schools.
Programme for Emergency Education Reform (PEER)
A critical area for intervention in the education sector has been the poor performance in Mathematics, which prompted the Government to develop a seven-point proposal, known as the Programme for Emergency Education Reform (PEER), to address this deficiency. And while findings have shown that from 2016 to 2017, the pass rate of students sitting for Mathematics at the NGSA has risen from 13 percent to 45 percent, the reality still remains that more than half of all students lack the basic foundation needed to excel in that subject area at the secondary level.
During the first half of this year for PEER, $66 million has been spent on training; $62 million on learning materials; and $40 million on the hiring of coordinators and monitors. For training, 548 Grade Six teachers, 452 head teachers, and 51 coordinators and monitors were trained in the area of content and methodology, during the first half of the year.
According to the Finance Ministry’s Mid-Year report, preliminary analysis of the results from the 2017 NGSA has indicated that efforts, at all levels, including Government, community, and family, have begun to make a positive impact. While PEER is a targeted intervention, Government began the process of systemic overhaul with the rolling out of the Guyana Education Sector Improvement Project (GESIP). The initial package, as part of the education reform process, will include integrated curriculum reform of Mathematics at the primary level. This process is expected to be repeated for Mathematics at the secondary level and English at the primary level, drawing on lessons from the initial phase. At the tertiary level, focus will be on strengthening teaching capacity.
The Ministry also undertook a massive Public Relations campaign seeking the involvement of all stakeholders, including teachers and parents as Chief Education Officer Acting, Mr. Marcel Hutson explained, “the literature is clear, where there is parental involvement, where there is maximum support from the communities, education tends to be in a better position in terms of delivery and so we had what you call text blasts… We had street clinics; persons went into the streets [and] in certain areas we had Mathematics clinics and so forth. We had stickers placed on cars. We had radio advertisements.”
Another critical component of this programme includes the acquisition of resources such as books, charts and games to make Mathematics fun and easier to learn and to change the traditional perception that it is a burden or a subject to be feared. Mr. Hutson described the response to these methods as amazing and credited the turning around to this new and improved system, which will be constantly reviewed and updated to meet the changing needs of Guyanese students across the ten administrative regions.
In addition, $125 million was allocated as consultation fees to the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) for performance improvement at the primary level. A contract to provide technical assistance in the preparation of assessment papers for Grades two, four and six and the provision of professional consultancy services for capacity building for officials of the Ministry of Education. Minister Henry noted that “teachers, subject specialists, test development officers developed the test items with the technical guidance from the Caribbean Examinations Council. The team sought to address key areas such as item construction, weighing of the items, sampling and other psychometric elements. Candidates were tested in four subject areas; Mathematics, English, Science and Social-Studies.”
Bridging the gap between Hinterland and Coastland
National data shows that there is a stark disparity between academic performance on the Coastland and the hinterland with the latter producing below the national average. An analysis of data relative to the NGSA results for 2016 showed that the hinterland regions performed poorly at the examinations, and this, along with other factors prompted the Administration to call for an emergency intervention in the area of Mathematics. The study conducted, will serve as a baseline and once proven effective would be expanded across the country with the hope of bridging the existing gap.
The administration is committed to reducing this disparity. This falls in line with the Head of State’s policy position of ensuring infrastructural links between the hinterland and the coastland, equitable access to services of the state across the country and equal opportunities for all Guyanese.
“As President of all Guyana I would like to see that in every single region of this country we have a secondary school that can be described as top, not only top five but top ten… I am afraid that if we do not correct these faults between Coastland and Hinterland, between Georgetown and rural areas, we will develop a form of educational ‘apartness’… We must abort the dangers of children being separated along lines of gender, along lines of social class or along lines of geographical location,” the Head of State said.
The Ministry’s vision is for there to be improvement across the board, with students from Barima-Waini (Region One), Cuyuni-Mazaruni (Region Seven, Potaro-Siparuni (Region Eight) and Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo (Region Nine) showing improvement in all the subject areas. Minister Henry said that the Government has been working tirelessly to improve the educational landscape nationwide adding that one of the first challenges that it faced and sought to address was that of the glaring inequality in the education sector. She explained that the problems facing the hinterland and other rural communities have to be looked at from a broad perspective where the community, parents, teachers, students and the Ministry are involved.
The Hinterland Education Improvement Programme (HEIP) is geared at providing the same quality of education in the Hinterland as that on the Coastland and according to the Education Minister, “we believe that with the implementation of this programme we will see improvement. So component one speaks to improving the quality of teachers education in the Hinterland, which will see us providing continuous professional development programmes geared at addressing teachers’ weakness and tailored to incorporate teaching in multi-grade settings.”
Speaking on one of the likely problems faced by hinterland students; the suitability of curricula, Minister Henry said that the Curricula has to be aligned with National Examination needs and community needs. In addition, physical infrastructure for accessibility and comfort of students and teachers has to be addressed. “Component three is more or less improving physical facilities and so that will see us improve facilities such as dorms, classroom space and construction and rehabilitation of teachers’ accommodation in the Hinterland,” The Minister said.
Ultimately, Minister Henry has accepted that these disparities have contributed significantly to the state of the country’s education sector, but with ministerial intervention, teachers and monitors were recruited with the aim of reducing the challenges facing the students and teachers in the hinterland. These challenges included fewer classroom hours than those in the coastal regions, due to the lack of trained teachers, limited teacher accommodation and insufficient teaching aids.
Given the findings, of a comprehensive programme involving ministerial intervention, launched in the Hinterland, the Ministry of Education recognised that the situation in the Potaro-Siparuni Region, (Region Eight) was very poor. While the placement of trained teachers in those areas will address some of the problems, Minister Henry said it will not eradicate them entirely.
“It is really to strengthen management and supervision in the hinterland and that of course has to do with the support and training of education officers, which also touches to a great extent on communication, which would require improvements in facilities and equipment and transportation also is important if you are speaking about supervision and supervision would impact greatly on the issues of monitoring and evaluation… [that] component is perhaps the single most important if you are talking about programme results and achieving deliverables,” the Minister said.
Speaking during the release of the 2017 NGSA results, Mr. Hutson said that it was recognised during the implementation of the emergency Mathematics Intervention that some of the schools in the hinterland operated under peculiar circumstances, prompting the Ministry to conduct a diagnostic assessment with specialised treatment for schools there. The Ministry also undertook a massive Public Relations campaign seeking the involvement of all stakeholders including teachers and parents.
“We trained over 1,000 teachers in the area of content and methodology. Secondly, we facilitated fortnightly cluster meetings with private schools and public schools…and thirdly there was a recruitment of Mathematics Coordinators and Administrators for all schools. We had special persons identified and paid substantially to monitor our schools to ensure that what we taught our teachers, those things were actually implemented in the classrooms,” Mr. Hutson pointed out.
In addition, some hinterland communities, particularly in Indigenous communities, speak traditional languages, resulting in language barriers which hinder either the students or teachers from the coastal regions from understanding. Minister Henry said the Ministry’s Department of Culture is in the process of addressing this with plans to implement a language programme, where teachers and other educators would be trained in the Indigenous languages to allow for better communication.