President David Granger: Honourable Prime Minister, Mr. Moses Nagamootoo; Honourable Minister of Education, Ms. Nicolette Henry; Ministers of the Government; Members of the National Assembly; Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Directors; Principals; Heads; Teachers; Students; Members of the Media.
Today we celebrate another National Education Day. When I was here last year, I said the second Friday of every month of September will be observed as National Education Day and today that has now become official. It is a day that is greeted, as you can see, with excitement and enthusiasm more or less because you don’t have to go to school today, right, but it’s a day in which we celebrate and encourage our commitment to education.
As you heard from the Chief Education Officer, our watch words are “every child in school” and as you heard from the Minister of Education she is launching a special Department for Education Sector Reform and Innovation. By stating that every child must be in school, it’s not just a motto or slogan, it is declaration of intent. It is a statement of our mission and our determination and I expect that not only central government, but also the regional administrations throughout the country, the municipalities and the neighbourhood, the families in households would all embrace this notion and policy of every child in school.
We are committed to universal primary and secondary education; every single Guyanese child must be educated. I congratulate and I will give every support to the Ministry of Education to ensure that every child can go to school. Boys and girls, over the last two months I have been to various educational institutions; in July I was at Cyril Potter College of Education; in July I was at the Kuru-Kuru Training Centre; at the end of August I was at Queens College and yesterday I was at President’s College.
Why do I go there? Okay, President’s College, I hear you. Why do I go to these colleges? I go to see what is happening. I go to learn from the students themselves and from the teachers. I go to listen to the complaints and listen to their suggestions and that is why we will be able to plan our innovation and our reform because our ideas are founded on reality. Our ideas are founded on what the people feel and what they need and that is why over the last two and a half years we have been able to refine our attitude to educational reform and I just want to emphasise what the Chief Education Officer says, that our major concern is to provide easy access, that children, wherever they live, must have access to schools.
If children can’t get to school, the schools must get to the children, but we have an obligation to make sure every child gets to school. There must be more schools. There must be more staff and within those schools there must be more libraries, more laboratories. And even yesterday when I was at President’s College, I was able to go into the laboratories to determine whether there are enough microscopes; whether there are enough chemicals; whether there is enough equipment for the children to be able to become scientists.
Schools and the entire education system, expensive as they are, are not liabilities; they are assets and we will continue to spend because spending money on education is money well spent, so we will continue to improve access to education and under this new education program, the Department for Education System Innovation and Reform – DSIR; you will be hearing more about DSIR next year. We want to see where schools are located to make sure that every Guyanese child could get to school. So that is the fundamental objective of our programme- improving access.
As I said last year and I say again today, we have to improve attendance. We do not want a single Guyanese child to drop out, even if that child is visually impaired or physically impaired. We have to ensure that that child can get to a school which can give him or her, the education he needs and deserves.
As my own mentor, Ms. Olga Bone, used to say, “If children they don’t learn the way they are taught teach them the way they can learn” and let us find out where our children are; we don’t want children staying home because of some visual or physical impediment. So more schools are necessary, but there are not sufficient unless and until those schools provide for the special needs of our Guyanese children.
If they are far away, we will help to provide transportation and I’m glad that the Chief Education Officer referred to the ‘Five Bs’ because the whole idea of those ‘Five Bs’ came from the children in riverine areas: buses, boats, bicycles and for those who are too poor we provide breakfast and books as well.
So these ‘Five Bs’ are now not just a slogan, they’re being embedded in the education system and year by year we will continue to save millions of dollars. So parents do not have to spend millions of dollars trying to get their children to school because the government through the ‘Five Bs’ programme will help those children to get to school free and some children are enjoying that facility as well, already.
And thirdly, as part of this DESIR programme we will improve the delivery of education. The Department of Education System Innovation and Reform is a reality within the Ministry of Education. Innovation will lead to improvement. Nothing stands still. There must be more computers in schools. As I said last year, every school must have Wi-Fi. From the moment you enter the school, read my lips, read my lips.
So we are working towards that and the Minister of Public Telecommunications, Ms. Catherine Hughes, is here to hear me. Give them a wave Catherine; all right. So I don’t want to hear in years to come that some University of Guyana student in Silver City, Wismar, or some student at Anna Regina or Lethem cannot afford to go to classes at Tain or Turkeyen because we’ll be able to provide distance education using modern information technology to allow those children to access classes.
So this is an important part of our education reform, the application of educational methods suited to our geographical conditions; we are not an island, we are the largest CARICOM State, we are bigger than England and Scotland combined. We have a small population and we have a small budget but within the limitations of our budget and population size we will ensure that education is delivered to the four corners of this great country and, finally, I speak of accomplishment.
The Chief Education Officer spoke about the ‘Five Bs’; I’m speaking about the four ‘A’s. By accomplishment we see that every Guyanese child is obliged to go through various stages, from the National Grade Six, to the CXC and CAPE and eventually to the tertiary level at the University of Guyana. These exams must be objectives for growth. They are not obstructions and I don’t want children to feel that they’re prevented from having a good education because they perform badly at National Grade Six Examinations or Assessment.
So these examinations are not to prevent children from moving forward but to inspire and encourage children to reach higher levels, higher standards of education and, of course, their self-development. Children, I know the sun is hot and you are hungry, so I wouldn’t speak too long but what I want to say is that education is something to be enjoyed, not endured.
This is an exciting, perhaps, the most exciting period of your life. Only when you get to my age, 72, you look back and say, I wish I had more fun when I was at primary and secondary school but it is for you now to take advantage of these facilities and that is why your Minister of Education had a meeting with the Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force to reintroduce a National Cadet Corps. We will be augmenting our sports; we will be developing greater interests in extra-curricular activities – in culture, in drama, in dance, in music.
We will be initiating more tours, so that children on the coastland can see our beautiful, green state, our grasslands, our waterfalls, our rivers, our lakes. These are experiences which will change your lives. On the 1st of January next year we will establish also the Guyana Youth Corps. This youth corps was established first on the 1st of January, 1968 and we will re-establish the Guyana Youth Corps on the 1st of January 2018, fifty years later, to give young people who for one reason or the other had to leave school the opportunity to re-engage in the education system and also re-engage in the world of work.
Exciting things are happening in education. You have a great future and I look to you the children in the stands and the bleachers today to lead Guyana forward for the next fifty years. I thank you and may God bless you all.