Comprehensive education for the next generation cannot be achieved through the efforts of one person, group, or organisation. While Guyana’s children continue to improve through the holistic approach to learning implemented by the Ministry of Education, children across this great nation have become regular beneficiaries of education initiatives birthed through the efforts of our very own First Lady.
Youth Development Initiative
In 2016, prompted by a discussion with leaders in Buxton and Friendship, East Coast Demerara, Mrs. Granger launched the Youth Development Initiative (YDI), a remedial education programme designed to combat poor academic performance rates in the area. The YDI was piloted at Lusignan and Friendship Primary schools and also caters for students attending Company Path Primary School.
“It started just after my husband was elected… I had a meeting with some of the leaders in Buxton/Friendship area. I said, you tell me what is the most important thing and they said education… They expressed concern about the children who were dropping out of school as a major problem in the villages… and that is how we came up with the Youth Development Initiative,” the First Lady said.
The programme, which follows the primary school curriculum, is complimented by a meal plan, which helps increase the children’s focus during lessons.
“Another thing the teachers raised was that a lot of the kids were hungry. So, I said okay, and this absorbs a large part of my budget, let us give these kids something nutritious to eat; a snack, meal, whatever before they start classes. So, that is what we started in Lusignan,” she said.
Over the past two years, the YDI coordinators, who are based at each primary school, have seen significant improvement in academic performance.
“I know last year in Buxton the Headmistress reported that literacy had gone up in Friendship Primary School from 57 to 83 per cent. We looked at the kids who were passing for high school [and] Lusignan [Primary] had more kids passing for high school… I have to thank the coordinators and the teachers because the stipend we give them is very little compared to what I imagine they can work for if they did lessons at home… They sit down and work with kids from Grade Two to Grade Six and we encourage the children by giving the two best students and the most improved in each grade book vouchers so their parents can get some [ease] when they’re getting their school supplies and books for the children,” Mrs. Granger said.
Coordinator of the Youth Development Initiative at Lusignan Primary School, Ms. Nicola Halloway said that the programme has improved reading skills at earlier grade levels.
“We are seeing improvement, especially in the lower level where lots of phonics is being done… that’s great… Sometimes we overlook the little things. Sometimes we look for a great improvement but everything takes time… Over time… we can say, yes, this child was about to move from Point A to Point B and that’s something to rejoice about. At least improvement would have taken place… I must extend gratitude to Madame First Lady, Mrs. Sandra Granger for placing so much emphasis on education and [specifically] for adapting Lusignan Primary School to have this programme,” she said.
ICT and STEM Robotics
In this day and age, the integration of technology can help shape a child’s academic and professional future. Mrs. Granger’s vision for a technologically literate population complements that of her husband, President David Granger, who believes tech in the classroom helps provide the skills and knowledge students need to become active contributors in the economy of the future.
“We have to get very enthused about this because this is where the jobs will be… It is estimated 90 per cent of the work women do will become obsolete because they’ll either have it online or some gadget will be doing it. Robots will be taking over. I mean, already you have drones in agriculture. You have artificial intelligence in medicine, in [manufacturing] in everything. So, if we’re not forward thinking especially when you think of where Guyana is now and where we want it to be, I think we owe it to our young people to train them so that they know. They can be very comfortable in the world of ICT and this is something I want to encourage,” the First Lady said.
Ensuring that the participants are exposed to a rounded education, the ICT workshops also feature courses in literacy, numeracy, soft skills, and sexual and reproductive health. The latter, Mrs. Granger said, ensures participants are made aware of the proper personal and sexual health practices that will foster better decision-making in their personal lives.
“Young people are growing up with the mistaken belief… that you’re teaching the children about sex, but it’s not that. You’re teaching them about how their bodies perform… This [happens] not only in Guyana, but also in parts of the Caribbean where people don’t want to acknowledge that… If you teach your children about… sexual and reproductive health, they understand and can avoid sexually transmitted diseases.; they can delay initiating sexual intercourse… until they’re older, which has happened and has been proved by the data in places like The Netherlands [where] kids are waiting two extra years,” she said.
Although the participants tend to be shy and reserved at the workshop openings; at the graduations, most report that they are now confident they will be assets in the world of work. Best Graduating Student, Ms. Raedonna Peters, of the May 2018 workshop, conducted for participants in Melanie Damishana, said: “It was a wonderful programme. I thoroughly enjoyed it. At times [it was] a bit challenging, I would say, but, nevertheless, we had very good trainers who really helped us… iron out [the material]… They really were able to help us understand the subjects better… We’re living in… the world is all about technology and the importance of being relevant in this society. That’s very, very important. So, the fact that we were able to be given a free course where we were able to learn how to be relevant in today’s society, in the world of work, [and] be given a better opportunity to function in the world of work… I definitely would tell anyone, if ever you get a chance to do this progamme, go right ahead. It’s a wonderful opportunity,” she said.
Recognising that STEM will play a major role in the economy of the future, Mrs. Granger, in collaboration with Mrs. Karen Abrams of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Guyana, have hosted workshops throughout the country that introduce young people to Robotics and coding. The Robotics camps have focused largely on students living in Guyana’s coastal areas, but just last week, Mrs. Granger took the Robotics Camp to Fairview Village, Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo (Region Nine).
Toshao Martin Carter expressed his excitement in seeing the children of Fairview exposed to this new level of learning. “I’m very happy because they said we’re the first village for 2019 to be having this workshop… and that is really good because this would give our school children a much open experience and, like [the First Lady] said… they will be having competitions… It is very good because a lot of times Fairview is … left out; we’ve never had… these kinds of things happening in the village and it’s really good. This will [inspire] the students to go out into different areas and… be more exposed. And since we’re the first village for this year; I’m really happy and I just hope that this will continue,” he said.
Head Teacher of Kurupukari Primary School, Mr. Quado Vancooten said that some students have already expressed interest in STEM. He hopes this workshop will open new opportunities for them.
“[The students] are very good with electronics, they try to fix their own stuff when it gets broken. So when we heard [that] the STEM workshop was coming, we were very excited because we were thinking of the ways in which we could push what they already know and add it to their experience, so that they would gain a richer experience. I’m happy that the First Lady, Mrs. Sandra Granger decided to pick here… I’m seeing this as a plus and I think that somewhere in the future… one or two of these children get a chance to even go further in it… We don’t get radio. We don’t get TV but, we try. Whatever [newspaper] we gather, we show it to them [and say] this is Guyana. Guyana’s team was [overseas], we got tenth and those things excite them. So, we’re looking forward to going as far as we can in STEM,” he said.
Mrs. Granger also spearheads education initiatives for adult learners. The Early Childhood Development and Care for the Elderly workshops targeting day care workers and caregivers also provide First Aid training, training in the use of the Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) certification and is accredited by the Ministry of Social Protection’s Board of Industrial Training (BIT). The Self-Reliance and Success in Business workshop, targeting small business women and some men, teaches basic entrepreneurial skills and is recognised by the Small Business Bureau. Our First Lady certainly does her part to ensure Guyanese keep apace with global education.