President David Granger: Chairman, Mr. Marcel Hutson, Chief Education Officer; Honourable Nicolette Henry, Minister of Education; Ms. Viola Rowe, Principal; staff of the Cyril Potter College of Education; officials of the ministry; lecturers; students; members of the media.
I asked to come here again; I was here last October 5th if you recall when we launched the One Laptop per Teacher Programme. I was here and the programme continues it hasn’t ended, but I have asked to come again because it is important that we hear all of the voices and I hope today would be an interactive session.
First, we heard the staff members and after this, we will ask the staff members and officials to withdraw, I would like to listen to the voices of the students. I haven’t come to lecture you, I have come to listen to you and I have come to learn about your problems so that we can solve those problems. So this is not an ornamental visit; this is not a ceremonial visit. It is a very functional visit as far as I am concerned. As you know we established something called the Department for Education, Innovation and Education Reform this comes out in part, from the commission of inquiry.
The Minister of Education and I acknowledge that more work has to be done and from what I can hear this afternoon there must be more conversation, there must be more deliberation among the people who are in the system. It is not a boardroom decision, it is not an academic decision that we could just sit in an office and make rules.
I have been able to go through all ten regions of the country and I could understand the conditions under which teachers operate and that is why I have taken some personal initiatives, for example- every child in school. I realised the problem of dropouts over the years and two years ago at my birthday celebration, you would recall that I launched the ‘Three Bs’ programme to get children to go to school to give them boats if they’re in the Pomeroon or Demerara or Essequibo River, Akawini River and now most of the rivers have boats. There are about a dozen boats; yellow school boats which help to take children to school.
There are about two dozen buses already on the road which help to take children to school; there are hundreds of bicycles which have been given out free to children to help them to get to school. So I would like to feel that as an outsider of the education system I have seen many of those problems. I’m concerned about the dropouts, I’m concerned about students not going to school simply because they can’t afford the passage and we don’t just want to look at the curriculum, we want to look at the practical conditions affecting students.
I go to some school in Annai and it’s like an oven; it’s baking at 3 o’clock in the afternoon; nobody wants to stay there. I go to another school at Parashara; every child is barefooted walking on laterite and the school floor is made of mud. So there are some places in the hinterland where sometimes they run out of food. You see girls you know, fetching buckets of water in the morning because the pumps don’t work.
The students, teachers or parents refuse to go into certain schools because the walls are cracking they feel the school is going to collapse. So I’m not unaware of those problems, but we have to solve those problems and we could only solve those problems by dialogue with the teachers.
I am concerned about how teachers live; eighty percent of teachers are women and sometimes they are posted to the hinterland locations and when you look at the accommodation; the accommodation is not fit for man or beast; much less young mothers, so these are real problems.
The Education Ministry is one of the high spending ministries of the government- one of the top five and we want to make sure that the money is well spent, but at the same time we want to make sure that you, the teachers, can operate in a comfortable environment, so you can do what you are trained to do- that is teaching our children.
I listened to the comments that were made, they are not exhaustive and they make sense. When we speak of language, we have to understand that many Guyanese children do not speak Standard English at home and when they come to school they speak what they know and we have to understand that and we have to understand that for some of them English is a foreign language and we have to take that seriously and teach them the way they would need to communicate with other countries or writing the exams, but we can’t ignore that.
How could you expect an Englishman to explain or to understand the concept of ‘cut-eye’ or ‘suck-teeth’ or ‘eye-pass’ or ‘hard-ears’ or ‘this boy fass’; it doesn’t mean he could run fast- he ‘fass’, that’s how he stay. So we have to be able to communicate with children in a way they could understand and also expose them to some other form of language as Standard English. You know I have great regard for a teacher, she is now deceased, Olga Bone, who had a famous saying: “If children cannot learn the way they’re taught, teach them the way they could learn.” If children cannot learn the way they’re taught, teach them the way they could learn and we have to understand that in Guyana there are certain peculiarities of our language and we have to understand those peculiarities.
If you got to certain parts of this country and ask for baigan, you can get boulanger, but if you go to some other parts of the country people ask, ‘Is you where you come from? We don’t have baigan here!’ And, ‘What is that? Oh, that is boulanger’. Similarly, you can go to almost any part of the country and people will tell you what a matapee is but if you go to Jamaica and ask them for a matapee you probably won’t get what you want. A pall- pall off, a stelling; people don’t know what a stelling is in Antigua. When you go to some parts of the country and you tell them, ‘Oh, he’s just living about three rods from here’. What’s a rod? If you ask a Dutchman, he will not know what’s a rod because we are using a measure that was abolished in The Netherlands over a hundred and eighty years ago.
And it is an obsolete expression but you go to some parts of the country and they’ll tell you he’s living three rods from here or they can measure their land in terms of rods. But nobody knows exactly what a rod is- twelve feet, eight point seven inches or whatever it is, but we have to understand that children are coming with different backgrounds and unless we could communicate with them effectively we will not be able to bring them up to the standard.
There is no point trying to hammer some form of language communication into their heads when in fact it is better to explain to them that this pall or this rod in the international system is equivalent to three meters or something like that and they say, ‘Oh, ah, I now understand’. These are some of the complexities of communication in Guyana. It is true that we are surrounded by three countries that speak different languages and sooner or later we have to get the hang of Dutch, the hang of Portuguese, the hang of Spanish. First of all, a lot of people have to get the hang of English.
I take the point about culture; culture is a cohesive force. Culture helps people to understand one another, to understand the depths of people’s beliefs- Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. You may ask a Hindu what is the Eucharist? I don’t know, so we have to have some penetration of the cultural practices in other communities so people would start to understand- these are not things you laugh at, these are not things you must despise or reject but these are things you must understand and appreciate.
And in that way we have to understand each other better. You can do that through dance, you can do that through poetry, you can do that through drama as you pointed out, but culture is a very important dimension. You can’t leave religion out of culture, you can’t leave beliefs out of culture; faith out of culture. And again, I take the point that when we are looking at our education reform these are considerations which have to be borne in mind.
I would ask Madam Principal, that copies of the commission of inquiry be made available. If that commission needs to be re-examined, if teachers feel that they need to make inputs; staff members here need to make inputs; let us do a good job to make sure that at the end of the day we can all share in the outcome. As I said, we are establishing a special department. I have discussed this with minister; it is called The Department of Education System Innovation and Reform.
Last year after we received the results of the National Grade Six Examination, we had an emergency plan called PEER; Plan for Emergency Education Reform. It had a very limited objective that is to say to improve the performance particularly of Mathematics, at the National Grade Six level. I think it generally accepted that the Minister of Education, Miss Nicolette Henry and the Chief Education Officer and several other persons who helped them because they came to Cabinet -I see Ms. Kadir here – several officers came to Cabinet because we were deeply concerned and it was as a result of their explanations and the intervention of Cabinet that additional money was provided and I think the results were visible. Of course the results are I’m not criticizing anyone, but we would like to see better results, instead of forty-five percent we would like to see eighty-five percent, but a lot more work has to be done.
So we have created as a special Department of the Education System Innovation and Reform, which would be under the Ministry of Education. It was initially announced that it would be under the Ministry of the Presidency but it will be under the Ministry of Education but it is meant to support this process of implementing the recommendations of the commission of inquiry and solving the problems.
People should come to these institutions: Cyril Potter; they should come to your schools, they should go to the University of Guyana- Faculty of Education; they should go around the country once again keep … change is continuous it’s not stop start, and listen to the problems which people have in these communities; infrastructure problems.
So, I have come here this afternoon to listen to you and to hear what problems you have and let me tell you this; in October 2011 while I was in the Opposition, I was in the North Rupununi and I told the teachers there at Surama that I wanted to introduce that One Laptop per Teacher Programme. I know it is not satisfactory, it is not completed. We have to get more instruments, but that is where it started in October 2011. I said I’m not going to continue the One Laptop per Family Programme because I felt that teachers had to get those devices first if they were going to teach the children.
We started last October and I will continue that programme. I will resume it to make sure that every teacher would have one of those machines. So in addition to innovation, the programme for innovation and reform, we will continue that programme for pushing or presenting computers to teachers. So I would like to make some general comments and I’ll ask the staff to excuse me thereafter.
Now, I’ve spoken about Cyril Potter. I knew Cyril Potter, he taught me at Queen’s College a long time ago, about sixty years, seems like yesterday, but he was a man of dignity; he was an erudite man, he was a man I respected and your principal asked me for a booklet which I cited and I would like to get that booklet reprinted after it is edited. It wasn’t written for academic purposes or teaching purposes but I believe that every student-teacher should have a copy of that book in his or her top left-hand pocket.
It is a story of struggle but it’s also a story of achievement. A story of excellence and don’t think that you should pass through CPCE without knowing who C.P. was. He was born next door in Cummings Lodge and in 1899, a long time ago, but he was totally committed, he was also a cultural person. He is the author of our national anthem and he wrote several other beautiful patriotic songs. So he was not just a school teacher, he was also a Guyanese patriot, he was also a very committed cultural person, so he is somebody you should emulate.
If you’re going to enter the teaching profession in Guyana, you should understand who Cyril Potter was. Now, as I said before without education this country would collapse, without a strong education system, we would be unable to develop what I believe is the most beautiful, the most bountiful, the most blissful country in the entire Caribbean- the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. [Applause.]
Thank you for your applause. Ladies and gentlemen, we are practically sitting on our hands and I hope that all of you in the course of your careers get the opportunity to go around this country to see our lakes, to see our islands in the Essequibo; those three islands, bigger than the British Virgin Islands; Leguan, Wakenaam and Hog Island- bigger than the BVI, to see our grasslands, to see out highlands; some of them covered with clouds, to see our wetlands, to see our rivers, there are some of the most beautiful waterfalls.
You can’t see this in Anguilla. I hope we don’t have any Anguillans here, but this country is beautiful and you have to go around to appreciate what a gift of God this country is to all of us; something that we must pass on to future generations but we can’t do that unless we develop the country. What does the country need? It needs infrastructure, one of the reasons why you can’t get in a car at Crabwood Creek and drive to Sand Creek or drive to Bamboo Creek is because the roads are so bad.
The Essequibo River is about a thousand kilometres long and there is not a single bridge on the Essequibo River. We have a serious infrastructure problem and we have to build that infrastructure in order for people to move from east to west and north to south. Who is going to build that infrastructure? Chinese engineers? British engineers? Al’yuh this! (Al’yuh this, everybody laughs). You see, we have to train the engineers here and next door who are going to build those bridges and those highways and that is what engineering is about. We have to build engineers and we have to start using CPCE to generate teachers who are interested in science and who themselves become engineers and help to train more engineers.
We have beautiful flora and fauna… in a little while I hope you get some free exercise books and on the covers of those exercise books, you will see twenty world class animals. The largest freshwater fish in the world comes from your country, the largest anteater in the world, the largest river otter in the world, the largest eagle in the world, the largest snake in the world, the largest bat in the world, the largest spider in the world, comes from Guyana but some of us don’t know.
You see a manatee, the first thing you think about is pepper pot; you see a watrush you thinking about souse. [Laughter.] You pass along Vlissengen Road, people string up iguanas, you say, ‘eh, boy wild meat tonight’ but these animals are worth more alive than dead. There are over eight hundred and fifty species of birds in this country. The whole of Western Europe probably has about five hundred. So who will be our biologists, who will be our zoologists? You have to train those people. So I agree with the dance and the poetry but we also have to train engineers, biologists, mathematicians, scientists, zoologists who are going to lead the development of this country.
On Monday, the University of Guyana, your neighbours to the south, had the opening of a diaspora engagement event and I told them just that. This country is becoming a ‘green’ state. There must be ‘green’ energy generation from solar, wind, water power. We can generate electricity to power the whole country from those three sources. There are over a hundred sites in Guyana which could generate hydroelectricity but we need engineers. Hydroelectricity doesn’t need a massive dam. It could be a simple run of the river project; as long as the water is moving it will turn the turbines; as long as the turbine turns you can get electricity.
I grew up on the Corentyne in a village called Whim and the rice millers in those days, when I was a young boy just a few years ago, like 65, but those days the rice millers had no GPL, they had wind turbines and as long as the wind blows the turbines will turn, once the turbines turn they had electricity. So this is not rocket science.
No school in this country should be without electricity 24/7. No laboratory, no library should be without electricity. So by becoming ‘green’ we open a new area of technology, of science so that our country can start moving forward. So when we speak about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) it is not just a team sport for a few students. It is about a whole form of development in which we look for energy, in which we look for the protection of our wildlife, it looks for the extension of protected areas, it looks for making use of the materials which we produce in Guyana for our benefit but we have to get people who are trained to do these things. We have to get engineers and people who are qualified in science.
So it’s important to me for children to be in school. That’s where I started, yes, it sounds like a joke, boats, buses, bicycles but its deadly serious because if children cannot go to school, they will not be able to become this class, this generation of engineers that we need. So the first thing we’re talking about is attendance. We must do everything possible to get children to attend. Sometimes I go to different types of meetings, in villages I say, first thing, if you live in a street, if you live in a village make sure that every child in that street or village gets to school.
If you have a car or a bicycle or minibus, help that child to get to school., that is very important. Some people just stay home because they can’t afford the transport. Right here in Cummings Lodge when I was campaigning., a mother told me that daughter was getting ready to do CXC but she goes to school Tuesdays and Thursdays because she can’t afford to go to school Monday, Tuesday, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and I think some of you are aware of that situation and we have to deal with that. Give them buses, give them bicycles. So attendance is important.
The second thing is that people must get access to schools and access to the best facilities and as your principal could tell you – by now she’s gotten a couple million dollars from me, how much? Two? Well, not she but the college. [Laughter.]
How many millions? One or two? One? You didn’t get a second one? Well that’s coming up. But if your laboratories need chemicals or equipment you’re going to get it so that is not the problem, money is not the problem. I’m looking after CPCE within certain limits but you can see, those of you who have programmes, you can see there is an Item Seven and after my interaction with the students, I want to see the labs.
So children must have access, not only to schools but also to adequate facilities in those schools. And let us work together to protect those facilities to ensure that they are sufficient in quantity and adequate in form and shape. I went into a certain school which I wouldn’t tell you and they had two pipettes for 28 students, one burette. Well, you can’t achieve high standards with people sharing basic equipment such as pipettes and burettes.
So we want to make sure that eventually, every school has laboratories both for information and communication technology and also for the other sciences, physics, chemistry and biology but in addition to that, I take the point of a tech-voc that some people just have a knack for technical and vocational subjects and we shouldn’t regard those subjects as being less desirable than history or literature or something, and in fact, I’m sure there must be some adults who, after they joined the traditional services, are sorry they didn’t pay no attention to tech-voc because they can look in the business community and see some tech-voc people making millions, manufacturing and exporting but there again, you come from a blessed country.
I have never had avocado pears like I had from the Barima-Waini Region, Region One, anywhere on this face of this earth. I have never drunk coconut water anywhere on the face of the earth like I drank from Pomeroon. We have the stuff but we need technologists, we need technicians, people who can do the bottling and the packaging and the agro-processing. All of these things could be sold in countries of the Caribbean and neighbouring countries because we have been producing them for years and years.
Mommy used to make guava jam and guava cheese and guava jelly but since we start wearing white shirt and thing we stop doing that, you know, but we know very well that those cottage industries could be the bases for agro-enterprises. I started a programme, I didn’t start the programme alone, I participated in a programme of regional agriculture and commercial exhibitions in Region Five, in Region Six, in Region Two, in Region Ten and I’m proud to see what housewives are doing with the raw materials, selling commodities, selling items, condiments and other things to the schools and at the homes. This country has got tremendous potential. There is nothing that you need to eat or drink that we can’t produce.
I was Chairman of the Caribbean Community- the Conference of the Caribbean Community Heads for the first semester this year, from January to July and when the Heads came to Guyana in February, well there is something called a benab – benab is of course a bonafide Guyanese invention. I don’t know if you can tell somebody in Canada what’s a benab, again coming back to language, benab, which I think is an Arawak word, comes from the term banana boat, which means a shelter made form banana leaves – and it’s named the Baridi Benab and if you ask any Arawak what’s Baridi they’ll tell you it’s a hawk. So there at State House it’s called the Baridi Benab. Anyhow, everything that the Heads of Government of the Caribbean ate was in Guyana: fish, prawns, breadfruit. If you see the Prime Minister of a certain country, I can’t call his name because I’m a Head of Government but he told me that his country has eighteen varieties of breadfruit. [Laughter.]
He ate Guyanese breadfruit, fried plantain, sweet potato, that’s what they ate when they came to State House, no macaroni and cheese, cassava bread, crab and callaloo soup. So what we’re talking about is an age of technology where young people coming out of this college wouldn’t only go into classroom, they would also go into the workshop, they would also go into the field and help to produce these commodities.
So that is the second ‘A’, the first ‘A’ is Attendance, the second ‘A’ is Access; access to laboratories, access to workshops, and the third ‘A’ of course is Achieve, that we want people to pass. We want people to do well, we want people to matriculate, we want people to move from here, this campus to that campus and we want people to help to improve our systems throughout the country: medical, government, manufacturing, every aspect of life depends on what takes place in this auditorium here today, every aspect of life in Guyana.
So we want people to be proud of their achievements and grades. We want people to want to go to school and want to do well, and let me tell you an anecdote, ‘true, true’ story. You see, I can’t say it’s a ‘truth, truth’ story because they wouldn’t understand me, if I say it’s a ‘true, true’ story they know what I’m talking about and this is true, true.
I had a barber and he decided that he was a man of God and he would save unemployed people from poverty. So he went into a certain community and he decided to teach these boys how to cut hair. So he got a piece of paper and he write out: keep your fingernails short, do not sneeze or cough, all these guidelines and he give it them to read. After about five minutes he said, “Well what you all think, what’s the matter?” One of them said, “Big man, we ain’t deh pon reading you know”. “Big man, we ain’t deh pon reading.” So we want more people to ‘deh pon reading’ and we are going to introduce different schemes from time to time. [Applause.]
A few days ago I was at Kuru-Kuru, some people are getting a second chance to get back into the world of numeracy and literacy. We are going to introduce on the 1st of January next year, the 50th anniversary of the re-establishment of the Guyana Youth Corps, we are going to reintroduce the youth corps so that children who were obliged to drop out would be able to get back into the education system.
The discussion with the Minister of Education, we are looking at the young people who were committed to the New Opportunity Corps particularly girls who were committed there for wandering and as you can see from the newspaper, we are going to work towards decriminalizing that. We had some very touching engagements and we will ensure that more young girls are with their families and they have access to schools and they attend school regularly and also that they will be given the opportunity to reach high levels of attainment.
One of these special programmes that we established is called the SLED, Secure Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development programme and when SLED was launched last year, or when we graduated the first batch, a girl who was a student of the New Opportunity Corps got up and proudly said, “Yes, I came out of the New Opportunity Corps and here I am, I’ve got a business” but too often some children, as I said before, some of you might have heard me, they start their primary school at New Opportunity Corps, they go to Camp Street for their secondary school and then they go to Mazaruni for university. I don’t want that. It costs me nearly four hundred thousand dollars to keep one prisoner. It’s very expensive to have prisoners in this country. It’s very expensive to have prisoners.
So all I’m saying is I’d like to keep them out by giving them access to education and by allowing them to achieve a high standard of education. Ladies and gentlemen, as I said, I didn’t come to lecture you today. I’ve come to look and listen and learn from you and as I said, we’re trying to create a ‘green’ state not as a slogan; it’s not a buzzword or catchphrase. We’re confident that the resources of this great country can satisfy all of you without running to The Bahamas and Belize. I know where you all go, you know, Botswana, The Bahamas, Belize, Barbados and I met some in Brooklyn too.
Well, see these trained teachers have a penchant for migration. I know that, I remember when I graduated. Down south there, my colleague next to me, well they don’t actually give them the diploma because you have something called clearance. So had his paper in one hand, he got the ticket from Caribbean Airlines in the other hand, he said, “David, Monday I gone you know”. So I understand that. I understand that but this is not a policing operation. This is something which we got from Cyril Potter. It’s a matter of commitment and dedication. That is why I started off by speaking about Cyril Potter and I am very confident that if we can correct the issues which you feel challenge you as young teachers, there will always be a pull factor. You’ve got relatives; you can get better pay in The Bahamas.
I was in The Bahamas earlier this year and I went to a school, the Hugh Campbell Primary School in the Grand Bahama, I think it’s in the north and in that primary school another ‘true, true’ story, I speak no lies. There were twenty Guyanese teachers in one primary school in The Bahamas, graduate teachers. One of them said, “You remember me? You taught me history”. “I said, is that so?” One of them put on the Golden Arrowhead. They insisted on coming out there to sing the national anthem, the Guyana national anthem.
So I know people migrate. People continue to migrate but what I’m saying is that there is a lot that we could do if together we resolved the problems facing the teaching profession and make it a profession of choice, people who want to be teachers too because of the satisfaction, because of the salaries too, because of the condition and it mustn’t be something which is a last resort.
It must be the first resort because this is the best way you can serve the children of this country, not only in this generation but for generations to come.
Thank you very much.