President David Granger: Vice Principal, Dr Alison Thomas; Ms. Noella Joseph; Assistant Chief Education Officer – Administration, Ms. Ingrid Trotman; representatives of the Board of Governors; officials from the Ministry of Education; officials from the Cyril Potter College of Education; ladies and gentlemen; most of all, graduating students.
The Cyril Potter College of Education’s annual graduation ritual in my view is one of the most important national events. This ceremony, attended by the graduands of course, closes one chapter of tutorage and opens another one of tuition. It closes the door to the college behind you but it opens many more doors in the schools around the country where you’ll practice your profession in the years to come. My personal wish, if not my belief, is that someday I will see that you have changed these grey gowns for green gowns.
I don’t know what you think I mean but I mean that I would like to see one day that all of you will be wearing green academic gowns from the University of Guyana. I don’t want to be accused of changing the graduating gowns of the Cyril Potter College of Education College; but I really dream of the day when I can go to Turkeyen at UG and see all of you graduate because this is just one step that you are taking today- let us go to the other step. As the saying goes, Usain Bolt doesn’t stop running at fifty metres.
This ceremony is significant at three levels: at the personal level, at the institutional level and at the national level. First of all it rewards you, the students, the trainees who are graduating today. Second, as you have heard from your Principal today, it reviews the performance of the College and the students over the past academic year and thirdly at the level of the nation it replenishes and reinforces the nation’s corps of teachers. So at all three levels, at the personal, institutional and national level this is an important event today.
For you too it is an iteration of your aspiration to accomplish the College’s mission to provide the formal education system with academically and professionally trained teachers at the nursery, primary and secondary levels. It also reinforces the school’s motto of service- “We serve”. For me too it reminds me of Robert Cyril Gladstone Potter, RCG Potter, who taught me at Queen’s College not so long ago. The more I think of him, the more I think that there could not have been a fitter persons after whom the Cyril Potter College of Education should be named. Potter was an old QC boy. Born at Grahams Hall, not far from Turkeyen, and while at Queen’s College he excelled not only in academic studies but also in sports. He was a first class athlete- first class cricketer, first class footballer and when he went to Mico College in Jamaica he continued to excel and graduated from Mico College as a teacher in 1920, but he is your role model; he was a talented and versatile patriot.
As you know, he composed the music for Guyana’s national anthem, he composed “My Guyana Eldorado”, a song of hope, ‘Way down Demerara’ and other patriotic songs and when we think of the Cyril Potter College of Education we think of him and when we think of graduation we think of the service that he gave to education in Guyana. He was a teacher par excellence and he is a role model for present day teachers and you teachers are pivotal to realising the aspiration of quality education, of building a cohesive nation; a nation of one people; a nation with one destiny.
You teachers are the foundation of our public education system; without you we cannot achieve our aim of quality education; of producing students with the correct attitudes; with the knowledge and skills and values and standards, not only for your own personal development but for the public good. Education is a public good, a public good which aims at the total development of society, which aims at removing social inequality, which aims at reducing poverty and at increasing opportunities.
Education is not optional; it is compulsory at some levels and in every society in the world it is obligatory. In Guyana we feel it is an entitlement- the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to education:
Education shall be free at least in the elementary and fundamental state. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical education shall be made generally available and higher education should be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
Our own Constitution in Guyana affirms this right; Article 149 of our Constitution states that “Every child is entitled to free primary and secondary education in schools owned or funded by the state.” The Constitution also states that
The State is to provide a system of inclusive and quality education and provides that it is the duty of the State to provide education that would include curricula designed to reflect the cultural diversities of Guyana and the disciplines that are necessary to prepare students to deal with social issues and to meet the challenges of the modern technological age.
You can see what a tremendous burden the Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights places on the Cyril Potter College of Education in Guyana and it is because I am committed to the Constitution, because I am concerned about teacher training, that I came to visit you on the 26th July. I came to learn from you, I came to listen to you. I came to look at the College to see what the College needed and I have done this in every single region of the country; from Region One from the Aruka, right down to Region Nine at Aishalton. When I go to these regions I go into the schools to see how students live and how they are taught. When I go to Paramakatoi I want to see how the food is cooked, when I go to Annai I want to see the class rooms, when I go to President’s College I want to see the dormitories and I realise that education is not just classroom work; education is also about providing conditions under which students have to study, under which teachers have to work.
I go into the teacher’s quarters at Awarewanau and Aishalton to see how they live and as you can see most teachers seem to be women and most women seem to be mothers. So there are concerns that I have; these are concerns that I have about the profession I have taken, therefore, because of my interaction with the school, the College, because of my visits to educational institutions around the country; I realise that improvements have to be made.
I have done so because I feel that students must be comfortable in their accommodation; they must be confident in their studies and they must be educated in an environment which is conducive to academic achievement and this is the reason why I called the Minister of Education when I was offered some assistance by the embassy of the People’s Republic of China here in Georgetown; and this resulted in a $50 million grant to improve Science education at the Cyril Potter College of Education; (thank you) maybe I had the option of doing a hundred other things with that $50 million but it went into science education; it went to STEM.
Guyana needs agronomists; we need biologists and botanists and chemists, engineers and geologists, information and communication technology specialists if we are to develop this country. This is a beautiful country and I hope that some of you get the opportunity to serve in all of our ten regions to see our grasslands in Region Nine; to see our wetlands, to see our highlands in Region Eight, to see our rivers and our waterfalls, to see our islands in the Essequibo River; to see our lakes in the Pomeroon-Supenaam Region. This is your heritage; this is our patrimony and I would like you to be able to go to all of these regions to practise your profession.
I also welcome the opportunity to announce, as you have heard before, that we have been very concerned about the low level of stipends and from financial year 2018 resident trainees will have an increase of their stipend by 66 percent; so perhaps your sacrifice has benefited your next cohorts. So stipends would be moving from, I think, $5,500 to $9,160 and for non- resident students from $7,500 to $11,440. We know it is not much; it is the best we can do now but we know the difficulties that you have undergone as students and we will continue to try to make life more comfortable for you.
As you heard from the Principal in her report, I visited the College last year on the 5th October, which is very significant for teachers- International Teachers Day and we launched the One Laptop per Teacher initiative and let me say this: this idea came from you teachers. When I was campaigning I went to the village of Surama in the Rupununi, Upper Takutu- Upper Essequibo Region, and I announced then, even before I got into office, that I would change the programme from One Laptop per Family to One Laptop per Teacher; not that I have anything against families but I have more in favour of teachers because I don’t want teachers to not to be able to compete with their own students and that is why I feel that teachers must get the laptops first; families second.
So, we have distributed, I think, about 8,719 laptops to teachers.
President David Granger: Thank you for your applause. And we will continue with our own resources and with a little bit of help from our friends to make sure that every teacher in Guyana gets a laptop. And that is a lesson I learnt from Surama because when I presented, out of my own meagre resources as a member of the Opposition, a laptop to a teacher she was so pleased and so proud that when I went to Surama the next time she told me how the computer was able to help with her lesson plans and not to mention my party didn’t win the Rupununi; but this is where ideas come from and that is why I am glad that as you graduate you will be going out into these regions. When I went into the Pomeroon (as I will be going again in another two days’ time), when I went into the Pomeroon I discovered that children were not going to school because they couldn’t afford to pay for the boat ride to go to Charity and I promised that when I got into office I would provide a boat for them.
Those who live in great distances along the highway, I would provide a bus and those who lived the shorter distances I would provide bicycles and now we have over 20 buses on the road. Every major river has a school boat free and that is our commitment to education – Every Child in School, E.C.I.S. So students, teachers, parents, lecturers, it is my administration’s policy to ensure that teachers have the tools to be efficient in their profession to be effective in the classroom.
We will continue this effort to support our teachers and I will urge that we work cooperatively, collaboratively in order to solve the problems in our education system. I urge that there be greater cooperation between the Guyana Teachers Union, the Ministry of Education, the parents and teacher, the civil servant, the civil society and of course institutions like the Cyril Potter College of Education. We have to work together if we are to solve the problems in education.
I’m glad that we are making headway; I’m glad that at Cyril Potter College of Education we have accepted the meaning of the motto “We serve” and have accepted the obligation to ensure that we give our children and our teachers the best quality education that we can afford. Students, in closing, I reflect again on the service of Cyril Potter. He was a man of culture; he was not a vulgar person. He really was a decent chap, you know; he was about six foot four, a tall man, but he is the man who not only taught, he was an athlete and he wrote music and he was an excellent teacher. He was committed to advancing knowledge; he was committed to building his country; he was committed to creating a society in which all Guyanese could enjoy a good life.
Were I to give you a charge today, it would be the same as when I first addressed this graduation several years ago. You could not be better than to be like Cyril Potter, to be good at learning, to be good at teaching, to be good at sport, to be good at studying, to be good at serving, to be good at listening and tolerating the opinions of others, to be good at culture, to be good at loving Guyana passionately. It was through teachers like Cyril Potter that we have an education system, a public education system that we have in Guyana today.
Were I therefore to give you a charge, were I therefore to give this 83rd Graduation cohort a charge, it would be to contribute to the country of your birth, to contemplate a better future for you, for the children you teach and for the communities in which you work. It would be to cooperate with your colleagues; this is a unique cosmopolitan society and we have to live together; we have to learn to work together and we have to avoid things and people who try to divide us.
We will always be different; miscegenation is forever. Once you’re mixed, you’re mixed forever and we have to learn to tolerate each other’s differences. We can’t be other people and we have to learn to work and study live and love together. I would urge you to commit your energy, the education that you have gained over the years, your experience and your expertise to building a nation not only to make us proud but to make us happy.
I congratulate the graduating class of 2017 and I pray very very sincerely that God will bless you in the career that you have chosen.
Thank you and God bless you.