September in Guyana traditionally ushers in commemoration events on “Indigenous Heritage” and “Education” by the Government. The latter event usually centres on some aspect of the education curriculum that the Ministry wishes to emphasise. A month ago, one official had signalled they would host a three-day exposition at D’Urban Park to tout the necessity for our students to become more au fait with “STEAMS”. The business community would be roped in to lend their cheque books to the effort.
A decade ago, there was a big hue and cry that our students were being left behind because the rest of the world had moved on to concentrate on “STEM” subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – while we were still stuck at the verities of the colonial “3Rs” – Reading, ‘Riting, and “Rithmetic. “STEM” is now the buzzword of every official in the Education sector, and several initiatives have been launched.
The most pertinent was the establishment of two additional “vocational” schools in the secondary division — at Leonora and Mahaicony — by the previous administration. These were presumably to signal a commitment to the “technology” and “engineering” components of STEM. But since then, the performances of our secondary school student body in Science (Biology, Chemistry and Physics) and mathematics — as measured at the SCEC and CAPE examinations — have remained nondescript at best, even though only the “brightest” students are steered in this direction. More depressingly, the “technical” schools are still treated as a dumping ground for those students who are not “bright” enough for the academic streams.
The PNC-led APNU-AFC coalition Government threw itself enthusiastically into supporting STEM in schools. However, a private initiative, “STEM Guyana”, was launched with the blessings of First Lady Sandra Granger, which focused on “robotics and computer coding”. They have interacted with a number of schools across Guyana outside the direct direction or involvement of the Ministry of Education. They sent a team to the Global Robotics Championship in Washington DC last year, where they performed credibly. Earlier this year, at a programme introducing STEM Guyana activities to the Bartica and Three Miles (Wismar) Secondary schools, Chief Education Officer Marcel Hudson indicated that the shift to STEM involved a change in teaching methodology, as well as the substantive content of the curriculum.
He declared, “As we prepare new generations to live well in a changing world, we recognise that learning by doing is an essential part of education for sustainability. For too long, our children have not been doing well in the classroom because learning would have been reduced to just ‘chalk and talk’, and now we are moving beyond that, because we recognise the importance of our children actively engaging in the process of education delivery.”
It would appear that the Education Ministry might be open to the new hands-on approach to teaching STEM, but has not officially integrated it in its national curriculum. Yet, against that background, the ministry evidently saw fit to expand “STEM” to “STEAMS” in the school curriculum with the addition of two new subject areas – “A” for “Art” and “S” for “Spirituality”.
One of the conceptualisers of the expansion offered the rationale for the move: “As a rounded person, you need to be someone who is educated, someone with a sense of purpose and morality, and that falls under Spirituality. It is striking a balance between lifestyle, health and education.”
This unveiling of STEAMS was, however, cancelled with no official announcement issued until a few days ago. But if STEAMS represented a paradigm shift in the delivery of education in Guyana for the 21st century, if not for the new millennium, surely the excuse offered that the Ministry could not deal with the teachers’ strike and simultaneously put on the three-day exhibition does not say much for the Government’s commitment to conducting a root-and-branch reform of our schools’ curriculum.
But all is not lost: September still has two weeks to go. The Education Ministry should immediately initiate a national conversation about STEMS versus STEAMS.