President David Granger: Madam Chair, Chairman of the Burnham Education Scholarship Trust and Trustees, Ms. Yvonne Harewood-Benn, Ms. Cheryl Sampson, Mr. Vincent Alexander. I see here Mr. Oscar Clarke; I don’t think he’s listed as a Trustee, but he’s trustworthy and the others are absent. I think Ms. Nestor is in the United States, she is the representative of the Diaspora and a member of the Burnham family; Ms. Carol Corbin, boys and girls, I am very happy to be standing here before you at this fifth anniversary of the Burnham Education Scholarship Trust.
It was established in 2012 and as I was looking around the halls and as General Fredricks and others would remember, I first met them in 2012. Mr. Oscar Clarke and I went to St Joseph’s to make the presentation and as the saying goes in the movies, “You’ve come a long way, baby”, but we are very happy to see not only that they are matured but that they are still in what I would call the BEST family. We are family. We don’t let our children go. We don’t let our children go, we ask them to continue to pay attention to the three ‘A’s and we will do everything within our power, organisationally and financially to assist them.
What are the three A’s? The three A’s are first of all Attendance at school. If there is ever any problem about getting to school, about a bicycle or a canoe, don’t worry; this ‘Five Bs’ thing. I could put in a ‘C’ here and there so if you need a canoe we will help you, the important thing is to get to school. Attendance at school is paramount.
When the people at the head table were young, a few short years ago, we used to have two types of certificates at school, three I think. There were attendance certificates. Those who had perfect attendance would have gold certificates, those who had one or two absences for illness might get a silver but it was very competitive to get to school every day so one of the functions and purposes of BEST is to encourage children to get to school every day.
The second one of course, is to ensure that they have access to school and this is something that the Government must be concerned about. Sometimes you go up river in the Pomeroon and you see a school is flooded or in other areas a school is broken because the toilets are not working or the roof is leaking. We want to make sure that children have access so we sometimes would step outside of the boundaries of bursaries to make sure that children get access to schools.
In this case, I am very proud that BEST has extended its mandate from Access to secondary schools to access to University of Guyana and of course, the third ‘A’ is achievement or attainment that this is not an opportunity to be lazy or to drop out. We reward success and as long as you continue to perform then you will continue to get assistance and we would like one day, those of you who will be going to the University of Guyana, and we commit ourselves, we don’t want to promise now but we will try to ensure that as we do our fundraising we can keep you throughout University of Guyana because we want Guyanese to stay here and if we can help you to get through University of Guyana we think we will be doing a great deal of good for this Republic.
So those are the three ‘A’s. BEST is about ‘A’ students. As Comrade Allan Munroe has pointed out, the 5th of October is a very important anniversary for our party and for our country and it is the time this year when we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the establishment of our party and, as you know, the BEST was named after the founder of our party, who was the first elected Minister of Education in 1953, Forbes Burnham; but there are two other things I would like to mention in my brief remarks: first of all, BEST is not a passive scheme that remains the same year after year.
The committee, the Board of Trustees, is innovative. It continues to examine ways and means of making sure that they keep abreast of the times. So earlier this year we opened something called the Chetwynd Learning Centre and part of the plan is to ensure that members of the BEST family get access to Information Technology and computers through that Chetwynd Learning Centre.
So, we must look at BEST as being an innovative programme, not just giving you a bursary once a year and then we forget about you. We want you to keep on coming to the learning centres; we want you to keep in touch so that if you ever face any problem, particularly one that is concerned with Information Technology, one that is concerned with STEM, one that’s concerned with robotics, one that’s concerned with new means of education delivery, let us within our BEST family examine those means and see how we could deliver those services to you.
So yesterday I spoke at the business summit as it is called, and one of the important things I said is that innovation is essential to economic development. We cannot continue doing the old things in the old ways and expect progress; we must innovate and right now innovation particularly is in the field of Information Technology and I hope that one day and I know that the Board of Trustees has this idea in mind.
I hope that one day we’ll be able to have something more substantial than just a voucher to give to our students. You see when you’re President you don’t over promise you know because sometimes four years from now, people will say, where’s that laptop computer?” I say I didn’t say anything about a laptop computer, I said I’d improve your access to Information Technology.
So let us see what happens. We are looking at the numbers and we will do everything possible to ensure that you have easier access to Information Technology. I have always said that the information superhighway is like any other highway. You don’t have to pay a toll to go from Linden to Soesdyke; you don’t have to pay a toll to go from New Amsterdam to Corriverton; the highway is free and information is a free highway and I have committed myself, if not this term of office, the next term of office after election in 2020, to do everything possible to make sure that every single educational institution in this country has Wi-Fi.
President David Granger: Thank you for your applause. The moment you go to school you must be able to connect. We can’t do it today; we can’t do it this week; we can’t do it this month, but we are working on it in conjunction with the Ministry of Public Telecommunications but I just want to leave those two with you – innovation is the watchword of the Burnham Education Scholarship Trust and second is the delivery or improvement of access to Information Technology.
As Comrade Munroe has said, BEST is all about investment and we as investors expect what business people call ROI. Anybody knows what ROI is? A return on investment and we see that return in the success that has been demonstrated by those members of the BEST family who have been with us for the last five years. We are proud of you; we want to help you not only through the difficult years of secondary school but also through the tertiary education.
We have set ourselves high standards and as I go through the Barima-Waini Region, I go through the Cuyuni -Mazaruni, the Potaro- Siparuni, these huge regions, ask Jenelle Fredricks how long it takes her to get home to Potarinau. Some of you have never been to Potarinau; ask her how long it takes to travel just to get there and you can see the challenge that BEST faces just to get education delivered to every nook and cranny, every part of this country.
Jenelle comes from a region that’s bigger than the Republic of Costa Rica and there are no good highways. She has to come here under very, very difficult circumstances and BEST is trying to overcome those obstacles, those hurdles, by providing access and investing in education of children all over this country. So, we’re not a Georgetown trust, we’re not a city trust, we’re a national trust. We’re a national trust and we are committed to children in all parts of this country. From the foundation, we said, it is not just for high flyers but children in every single region must get access to the BEST.
So once again I’d like to join in the congratulations offered by the chairperson and the chairperson of the trust. I would like to thank Comrade Allan Munroe and his team for steering BEST over the last five years and I’d like to express the sure hope and the confidence that they will continue to steer BEST over the next five years too.
I’d like to also extend our gratitude to Mr. Lloyd Austin who has been associated with BEST from the start and I’m sure that the longer the relationship continues the more access we’ll have to the services provided by the ABS, the Austin’s Book Service. So congratulations and I will leave with you what former Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon told me personally. I may have mentioned it to you before but as you get old, you keep mentioning things over and over again and young people look at you and wonder if you can’t remember you told them the same thing last year. But Ban Ki-moon said, “Usain Bolt doesn’t stop running at fifty metres,” except on one spectacular occasion which was recorded on film; but Usain Bolt does not stop running at fifty meters and you must not stop studying and excelling at secondary school.
May God bless you all.