A celebration, education and the corporation

This is a triple event. It is a celebration of Guyana’s statehood, public education and a private corporation’s demonstration of social interest.

Guyana became a Republic fifty years ago on 23rd February 1970. The nation assumed full sovereignty and responsibility for its development. The 50th Republic Anniversary is an auspicious occasion for our country. The attainment of Republican status consolidated and extended the country’s sovereignty in all areas, most specifically in public education.

Banks-DIH, a private corporation, appropriately, has chosen this anniversary to launch a laudable initiative aimed at supporting education.

Education was a central feature of the Republic’s pursuit of national development. It, therefore, is fitting that one of the country’s corporate giants has chosen to celebrate the country’s 50th Republic anniversary by making awards to educational institutions.

Banks-DIH has been pioneer and trailblazer. It calls itself a ‘pacesetter’ in the corporate world. Its support for education is a continuing step in the right direction. I congratulate the company on this initiative and I thank it for this sensible and timely initiative.

Education, it is said, is everybody’s business. The corporate community, more particularly, has a vested interest in supporting education. Investment in education by the private sector helps to promote the public good.

Education represents a social investment. Education serves the public good by aiming at the total development of society. It contributes to reducing inequality and alleviating poverty. It equips students with the attitude, knowledge, skills, standards and values necessary for their involvement in society and provide for their families. It ensures that citizens have expanded economic opportunities.

Education is not optional. It is obligatory and an entitlement. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, [at Article 26], states:

Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

The Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana affirms this right. It states [at Article 21(1)] that:

Every citizen has the right to free education from nursery to university as well as at non-formal places where opportunities are provided for education and training.

The Constitution [at Article 38 E] states, explicitly:

Formal education is compulsory up to the age of fifteen years.

The Republic is building an ‘education nation’. It is one of the four transformative processes taking place in public policy, the others being the establishment of a ‘green state’, a ‘digital state’ and a ‘petro-state’.

The education nation will be characterized by Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE) with every child attending primary school, every child graduating from secondary school. In this way, the country will have a more highly-educated workforce. The education nation will:

∙ promote access to quality and inclusive education in schools equipped with smart classrooms, science and information communications technology (ICT) laboratories and qualified teachers;

∙ promote science education which, fittingly, is at the centre of the transformative changes which are taking place. Science education is essential to the success of economic transformation and to equipping students with the skills needed for them be integrated into a modern workforce. The country will need an A to Z of scientists for economic transformation – from agronomists to zoologists – to help establish science-based industries, develop the ‘green state’ and propel the ‘digital state’. Science education is:

– the force driving the expansion of communications and the development of the ‘digital state’;
– the heart of the exploration and exploitation of our natural resources; and
– the basis of preserving the country’s environment and protecting its biodiversity; and
∙ promote the training of teachers to be the engines of edification; teachers hold the key to realizing a world-class system in which every child will have the opportunity to be educated at four levels – nursery, primary, secondary and tertiary – at state expense.

The education nation will emphasize, also, technical and vocational training, at the post-secondary level. Tech-voc education will aim to ensure that our young people are equipped with employable skills. It will help us to reduce the incidence of young people who are not in education, employment of training (NEET).

The corporate community has an interest in the public education system which is the main source of the graduates who constitute the workforce. Investment in education helps to build the human resource capital needed for corporate development and success.

The corporate community is not immune to problems such as anti-social behaviour, poverty, poor housing and substance abuse. These problems have social costs. Doing business in any community, region, country or community will incur additional expenses as a consequence. Investment in education by the business community can help to eliminate the adverse effects of these problems.

The corporate community functions in a highly competitive and rapidly changing environment. It must be able to keep abreast with the pace of change and become more innovative if it is to increase its earnings. The transfer of knowledge occasioned by technological change helps corporations become profitable and proficient.

The corporate community can support academic excellence by offering bursaries, grants, and scholarships, as a means of inculcating this value within society. They can go further. There is no reason why rich corporations should not establish their own colleges of science and technology to recruit, retain or re-orient graduates specific to corporate needs.

Workers mobility – both vertically in terms of promotions and horizontally in terms of transfers – can affect a corporation’s human resource base adversely. Workers’ training is vital to increased efficiency and production and education is an incentive and investment to ensure a reliable supply of skilled personnel. Encouraging meritocracy is an ideational value within many workplaces.

The corporate community, therefore, should view its support for education, inside and outside of the workforce, as an investment rather than merely corporate social responsibility. It has a vested interested in ensuring sound educational outcomes.

Guyana, on becoming a Republic 50 years ago, embarked on a series of comprehensive changes in the public education system which had four main objectives:

∙ first, to ensure that every child – rich or poor, rural or urban, in the hinterland or on the coastland – would be afforded the opportunity for a primary and secondary education;

∙ second, to provide children with the best education possible, entailing the construction of new primary and secondary schools, community high schools, multilateral schools and technical institutes;

∙ third, to establish a public education system in which hinterland schools would be as efficient as those in urban and rural districts; hinterland education benefitted from increased investment, including the construction of the first residential school in the hinterland at St. Ignatius Village in the Rupununi Region; and

∙ fourth, to make education more relevant to community conditions by establishing Community High Schools to cater for those students who were not successful in being selected for admission into general secondary schools. Their curricula were tailored to provide academic studies along with skills training. Students were offered practical vocational training and could move on to tertiary institutions after graduation. Students in their final years were assigned to a work-study programme to gain hands- on skills and work experience.

Multilateral schools were established with the objective of offering wider and balanced curricula, including introducing students to various occupational skills. The multilateral schools provided education in home economics, the humanities, sciences and technology. The subjects taught included Art, Craft, English, General Sciences, Mathematics, Metalwork, Music, Social Studies and Woodwork. Students leaving these schools were expected to possess the skills and knowledge to them secure employment,

Universal free education was introduced from nursery to university in 1976. A new campus was established at the University of Guyana. A new teachers’ training school was built to provide a cadre of teachers for an expanded public education system.

Education is inseparable from economic development which, in turn, is linked, inextricably, to private enterprise. Banks-DIH is one of Guyana’s leading oldest corporations. The merger of D’Aguiar Bros.(DIH) Ltd. with Banks Breweries Ltd created Banks-DIH Ltd., took place one year prior to Guyana’s attainment of Republican status.

Banks-DIH awarded itself the cognomen: ‘The Pacesetter’. This nickname was not misplaced. The corporation set the pace in food-processing and the production of beverages. It now produces a range of food products, including biscuits, bread, ice cream and pastry. The country’s 250,000 school children constitute a potential market for expansion into the production of ready-to-eat, nutritious school meals.

The corporation can go further in through the training food technologists and other skilled staff for its industrial operations. There is no reason why corporations, with vested interests in food processing, should not or could not establish a college of science and technology. It will be in the public good.

I applaud Banks-DIH for its corporate social responsibility through the awards it is making this evening. It is a most fitting way to celebrate education, the Republic’s 50th anniversary and the corporation’s contributions to food manufacturing in Guyana.

I wish continued success to this corporation and to the efforts of all Guyanese in establishing an education nation. 

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