Minimum basic high standard must be met at all of our schools

Dear Editor,
This is in response to Saddam Hussain’s letter, “Equity will be used to ensure there is equality in all aspects of education delivery”.
First, I thank the Chief Education Officer for taking the time to respond to my letter which raised a concern over the construction cost of Christ Church.
I was expecting a response from the Ministry of Public Works concerning the disparity in cost and expenditure in the schools. However, the CEO has shown that he is very aware of the construction details.
In the previous letter, I made a comparison between the cost to build St. Rose’s High School vs. Christ Church Secondary School. According to the Ministry of Education, St. Rose’s has a 6th Form, and will be able to accommodate up to 400 students for a cost of $515M, which is to be built by Shandong Dejian International of China. This is supposed to be a “three-storey” building with separate sanitary block, modern classrooms, a canteen block, modern data facilities, laboratories and a lift”. In the same release, the contract for Yarrowkabra Secondary School was discussed. This school will accommodate 800 students at a cost of $790M, and is to have “nine buildings complete with requisite laboratories, designated space for industrial arts, a main lecture hall, and other auxiliary buildings”. On the other hand, Christ Church, which currently has 502 students and 39 teachers, is being reconstructed to accommodate 600 students (per CEO’s letter) at a cost of $805.8 million, according to the engineer’s estimates. This excludes the cost of furniture, which is an additional $35 million to $52 million.
According to the Chief Education Officer, “The St. Rose’s High School is an extension while the Christ Church Secondary School is the construction of an entire school”. He also said, “The St. Rose’s High School is a two-storied building, on the other hand, the Christ Church Secondary School is three storey”. Based on what the Chief Education Officer has shared, either the scope of the project at St. Rose’s has changed from what was released by the Ministry of Education in September of 2021, or the Chief Education Officer is mistaken.
Quite frankly, I was expecting an informed discussion on class size and the cost per square foot. The Chief Education Officer also said, “Concrete foundation piles will be used for Christ Church Secondary, while wooden foundation piles were utilised for St. Rose’s High School. This choice for Christ Church was made after geotechnical investigations were conducted”.
This statement begs the question as to whether geotechnical investigations were conducted for St. Rose’s High School. Both of these schools are in very close proximity, but given the mentioned change of scope in the construction of St. Rose’s High School, from a three-storey building to a two-storey building extension, maybe the Ministry of Public Works found it not necessary.
However, if the initial scope of the St. Rose’s High School project remains the same, and the Chief Education Officer is mistaken, then it would be prudent for the Ministry of Public Works to ensure that the geotechnical investigations were also conducted for the reconstruction of St. Rose’s High School.
The Chief Education Officer went on further to say, “The cost of St. Rose’s High School was determined in 2018. The cost of Christ Church Secondary was determined in 2023”. Upon reviewing the bids in 2018 for the construction of a new building to house the school, the engineer’s estimate was $450M and the bids ranged from $344M to $401M. According to the Chief Education Officer, “Little to no work was completed up to August 2020, although more than $60M was expended on the project”. In March of 2021, for the “Reconstruction” of St. Rose’s High School, the engineer’s estimate was $506M and the bids ranged from $462M to $945M. Of these bids that were published in March of 2021, Shandong Dejian’s bid of $515M was not included.
Based on this information, the level of inflation in the cost is substantial, above the inflation rate for the period, and the overage on the project is also above normal. The lack of clarity around the St. Rose’s project does increase the need for the support of the Audit Office of Guyana.
In closing, the Chief Education Officer said, “It is frightening to think that Mr Changlee would suggest that the best students should get the best facilities…”, and then he further said, “No education system allows for such a practice”. Clearly, Mr. Saddam Hussain has not benchmarked other educational systems around the world.
Guyana has limited resources, both in Human Resources (teachers and students) and resources used to teach with and develop our students. It is inefficient and ineffective to take someone who has shown a propensity to learn at a high level and not place that person in the best available learning environment. If this approach is not taken while also maintaining a high basic standard for all students, the country’s development will be slower than it could have been if the best students were provided with the best learning environment.
Common Entrance or NGSA is used to place primary school students for this very reason. Students are placed together based on their performance, so as to create an environment that will continue to build upon their proven propensity to learn. The teachers are also placed in the schools based on the students’ needs. This is how the school systems around the world have been developed, so as to ensure that there is an effective structured approach to developing our human resources. It is concerning that a top official who represents the Ministry of Education would write such a letter that is clearly out of touch with the reality of the education systems around the world. It is also concerning that the Government can find billions to spend on Tier 2 schools, but not make the funds available to fix the windows and plumbing at the Tier 1 schools in the country.
Smelly toilets do not allow for the focus needed in a classroom, especially for those students who are interested in learning the material being taught. This is why a minimum basic high standard must be met at all of our schools. Expansion or restructuring of the school system must be holistic, and include the repair, maintenance and upgrades at the current schools. Clearly, this is a current gap in the investment strategy of the education sector. Otherwise, the alumni of Queen’s College would not have had to be involved in the repair of classroom windows.

With concern,
Jamil Changlee