I draw attention to a recent OXFAM (Oxford Committee for Famine Relief) study detailing that “A robust education system is imperative to any growing nation.” The study emphasised that “It is all the more necessary when the country is battling a raging pandemic and aiming to become self-reliant.” As we all know, the (COVID-19) pandemic has virtually reversed progress in the education system by years, and has laid bare the inequalities in the sector.
Right now, there is an ever-growing global concern; that is, of stemming the possibility that “…teachers fear that a third of the children might never return to schools after they reopen.” They are surmising that this is so because many of them “…are likely to be from the marginalised social groups, making governments’ support crucial in the recovery of school education and prevention of drop-outs.”
It is in this context that I applaud the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government for its many contingency plans and innovations. This forward planning was evident in Budget 2021 when a whopping $60.6 billion was allocated to support education delivery across the country. The plan that has already started to unfold is most comprehensive: equipping all nursery and secondary schools with necessary resources (including trained and highly qualified teachers); constructing new secondary schools in Regions Four, Six and Nine; upgrading schools in all the other regions; constructing and rehabilitating education facilities; improving the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE); financing operation of the University of Guyana’s two campuses, in Regions Four and Six; and the list goes on.
So, even as the world is taking a hammering educationally, Guyana is bracing itself for the aftermath of the causative factor, the COVID-19.
I add here another dimension, already up and running. It is the online training, through the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE), of some 1,000 untrained teachers. This necessary initiative, as we know, is in keeping with the PPP/C Government’s goal to transform the education sector, making it possible for all teachers to be trained, especially those in far-flung regions, who can utilise this ubiquitous and modern mode to upgrade their qualifications. The figures show that, in 1992, Guyana had just 30 per cent of its teachers trained, and that ratio improved to about 80 per cent at the end of the last PPP/C Government’s tenure (2015). So, this growth is expected to resume until the education system is fully functioning with a gamut of trained teachers.
I now highlight the Guyana Online Academy of Learning (GOAL), which is about to take off. This is where the Government of Guyana must be commended yet again for delivering on its manifesto promise: to provide, over the next five years, some 20,000 online scholarships to Guyanese. GOAL is being housed at the Ogle Estate, East Coast Demerara, and Professor Dr. Jacob Opadeyi, Former Vice Chancellor of the University of Guyana, is heading the venture. Guyana’s aim is to facilitate development of the country’s most important asset, that is, its human capacity. The first phase, this year, will see some 4,500 students pursuing programmes at the University of the West Indies Open Campus, the University of the Southern Caribbean (USC), the University of Applied Sciences (IUBH), the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), and the JAIN “Deemed To Be” University. This is indeed a phenomenal undertaking, and it promises rich rewards for the nation, which is on the cusp of its greatest financial boom.
I remind readers that Guyana’s educational drive is in good hands. Education Minister Priya Manickchand has recently been recognised as a Commonwealth Wise Woman, and is now a mentor on the Commonwealth Wise Woman Mentoring Project. This recognition has been for her work with the Commonwealth of Learning (CoL) in launching the Workforce Recovery Initiative in Guyana, along with Coursera. This Workforce Recovery Initiative, via reputable universities through the Coursera programme, offered Guyanese 4000 free online courses. Since launch of this programme, on September 5, 2020, over 53,371 Guyanese have registered to pursue courses in various areas, and 43,305 certificates have been issued to 9,473 persons. No wonder Ms. Manickchand has been honoured.
It is my wish, and that of all right-thinking Guyanese, that education would continue in this upward and holistic manner. Guyana must not only be the ‘food basket’ of the region; it must (as it can) be the ‘think tank’ also.