Universal Education Is Key To Guyana’s Economic Future “
One of the priorities of the PPP government has always been education. The founder of our party, Dr. [Cheddi] Jagan, had said since the 1950s that the way out of poverty was through education. And that philosophy has always stuck with us.
Dr. Seeta Shah Roath, director of the Guyana Learning Channel.
t’s one of Guyana’s enduring ironies: Despite a literacy rate of 92 percent and the fact that it spends a higher share of its GDP on education than any other South American country except Argentina, Guyana remains poorer than many of its neighbors.
Frank Anthony intends to change that. As Guyana’s minister of culture, youth and sport — and acting minister of education — Anthony is convinced that education is Guyana’s ticket to prosperity. “I was born in Enmore, a town famous in Guyanese history because on June 16, 1948, five sugar workers were killed there in a protest against working conditions,” he said. “I made a silent pledge at their grave that I would dedicate my life to the struggle of the Guyanese people.” To that end, Anthony, 46, studied for one year at Israel’s Hebrew University in Jerusalem, eventually earning a master’s degree in public health. He then worked 13 years in the Guyanese health sector, while politically remaining loyal to the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), which has now led Guyana for the last 20 years. “One of the priorities of the PPP government has always been education. The founder of our party, Dr. [Cheddi] Jagan, had said since the 1950s that the way out of poverty was through education. And that philosophy has always stuck with us,” Anthony told us. At one time, he said, sending their children to elementary school was considered a luxury for many rural Guyanese. “We introduced primary education to ensure that
April • May 2013
— Frank Anthony minister of culture, youth and sport for Guyana Photos: Larry Luxner
ordinary people had access to education. And in the 1960s, when people weren’t even thinking about tertiary education, we opened up Queens College,” Anthony said, noting that this month marks the 50th anniversary of the April 1963 parliamentary decree establishing the University of Guyana. “The opposition used very derogatory terms, calling it Jagan’s Night School, but from these humble beginnings, it has grown and blossomed into a good university,” he said. “We now have two campuses with about 7,000 students.” Last year, Anthony said, the government spent G$21 billion ($105 million) on education, out of a total budget of G$180 billion ($900 million). That translates into nearly 12 percent, a “huge chunk,” he points out. In the 1970s, single-sex schools were made co-educational, while private and parochial schools were incorporated into the public school system. Today, private schools exist in Guyana, with many of them run by Catholic, Hindu, Muslim and secular institutions. In all cases, kids wear uniforms to school, regardless of their age. Today, Guyana is one of the highest-ranked developing countries in the education index of the U.N. Human Development Report. Its score of 0.943 puts it third in the Caribbean after Cuba and Barbados, and second in South America after Argentina. “We have made primary education universal, and it’s taken us awhile to get there. We’re now working on trying to get universal secondary education. But in many of our interior communities where you have people living in sparsely populated areas, villages have only 200 or 300 inhabitants each, and you can’t put a secondary school in every village,” Anthony explained. “So we build a school to serve a cluster of villages, and also a hostel. Children stay there, and we provide meals for them, funded by the government. Our main challenge is to build more of these facilities.” The government also offers vocational education for youths who drop out of school and want to learn Sponsored Report
practical skills that can translate into meaningful jobs. “We have a residential training program where kids from all over Guyana stay for nine months, learning things like masonry, plumbing and electrical wiring,” Anthony said. “Some of these kids didn’t complete secondary school. In the past they would have fallen away, but now we’re giving them skills and certifying them.” Another innovative project is the Guyana Learning Channel, which is run by the Ministry of Education’s National Center for Educational Resource Development. Dr. Seeta Shah Roath, the channel’s founder and director, said hers is an all-educational, non-commercial TV network similar to PBS in the United States — “except that we focus mostly on curriculum-based educational content.” That could mean everything from physics, math and English literature to national songs, folk traditions and Guyanese history. “It’s lifelong learning, from pre-kindergarten to adult education,” Roath said. “We broadcast 24 hours a day via satellite, retransmitting terrestrially from 16 sites, and an estimated 200,000 and 300,000 Guyanese watch our channel.” Yet one area in Guyana’s expansive curriculum that needs shoring up is foreign language instruction. “Spanish is offered in the schools, but we can do more,” Anthony acknowledged, adding that Portuguese-language instruction should be more widespread given Guyana’s growing trade links with Brazil, its vast neighbor to the south. “This is definitely something we are working on.” Roath also noted that the Guyana Learning Channel has developed elementary Spanish learning programs, which are broadcast daily. “However, Portuguese programs are still on the drawing board and the Learning Channel is working on having both languages taught in a more structured distance learning mode.”