President David Granger envisions an education system that provides students with the knowledge, skills, and values they need to become productive contributors in the economy of the future. In what is commonly referred to as the world’s fourth industrial revolution, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) have become driving forces in the global market.
This edition of Government in Action was co-produced by Jeremiah Barker, a fifth-grade student at St. Margaret’s Primary school, who spoke to the Minister of Education about the role that STEM plays in the education of Guyana’s children.
Jeremiah: Can you give me an update on advancements within the Ministry?
Minister of Education, Ms. Nicolette Henry: Thank you for your question. I certainly can do that… First of all, we have been able to improve and include technology in learning. So, we’re now using things like computers and smart classrooms that we have not used in the past. We have also enlarged or strengthened our School Support and Welfare Unit. We’re looking at curriculum reform so that the information that you receive at school is modern and relevant. We’re also looking at teacher training, teacher support, and teacher preparation, and, of course, we’re looking at students’ performance in the classroom, not only for examination and test-scoring purposes, but [to] ensure that they’re competent… well-learned citizens by the time they get out of school
Jeremiah: “What about STEM? What is it? Why is it so important that young people learn [these] subjects in school?”
Minister Henry: “Well STEM is really that part of the curriculum that focuses heavily on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and it is important because it enables our students to get engaged in collaborative ways. They work together. They develop critical thinking. They develop soft skills. They’re able… to connect with their environment and their community… It is believed that because of STEM, people will be better able to adjust to their environment and to be more accommodating and tolerant and, therefore, [better able to] develop their communities.”
Jeremiah: “What are smart classrooms? How can STEM change my learning experience?”
Minister Henry: “It’s just like [the] classroom you have in your school except that it has technology. So, they will have things like computers; they will have things like… audio and video and microphones … set up [so] they could increase connectivity in your classroom and in another classroom or in another space. It might not be a classroom. For instance, here in Guyana, we have the main hub, which is at [the National Centre for Educational Resource Development] NCERD. So, we’ve set up the main hub… right here in Georgetown and so, a school outside of Georgetown, let’s say… somewhere in Berbice, can go to their smart classroom and speak to someone who is a subject specialist at NCERD right in their classroom with all of the students seeing and benefiting. Also, you might find that there are some schools where teachers are considered specialists and highly skilled teachers… They might be able to explain something that can be easily understood as compared with another teacher. So, you can have that teacher as a model teacher… That will enable the other teachers and the students in the other classrooms to learn what is happening. That is what a smart classroom is about.”
Jeremiah: “What about other, more artistic subjects? Are they still important?”
Minister Henry: “Oh, they are and they’ll always be important because there is also a creative side in all of us. There is also the arts and the culture, which pretty much define who [we] are as a people. So, those are very, very important subjects too… A lot of times they are overlooked, but they’re very, very important. I’m certain that you enjoy doing some art in school.”
Jeremiah: “Yes, Miss, very much. So, what would you say is your ultimate vision for the education sector?”
Minister Henry: “Well, my vision is the Ministry’s vision. It is to modernise the sector, ensure that we’re using technology-enabled learning where possible. It is also to eliminate illiteracy, to ensure that every part of this country, every child that is in school is well-educated so that he or she goes out and functions well… Certainly, it is to ensure that we have tolerance for each other. So, that would be the big aim, not only of the Ministry, but certainly that of the Minister.
Jeremiah: Sometimes school is really tough, how would you encourage kids like me to stay in school and work hard at it?
Minister Henry: You’re right. Sometimes school gets tough [like] many things that you do … you have to, first of all, understand the purpose of school. The reason why you’re going to school is to ensure that you understand what is required of you to function very well and to adjust when you [become] an adult. And so, the school provides the platform and the support that you need so that when you get to be like your mom and your dad and like the Minister, you’re well-rounded, you’re well-prepared. So, school is where that preparation takes place… It is important. Even if you want to be like your teacher. Your teacher had to be at school in order to become a teacher. So, school is important to provide you with that foundation so that whatever you decide to be, or whatever is your journey or your purpose, that you’ll be the best that you can be… So, I encourage you to stay in school. I know there are times when things can become a little difficult, but if you stay the course, if you remain committed, if you continue reading, if you continue listening to your teachers, listing to your parents, you’ll certainly be able to overcome whatever odds the school system would present to you.
In January 2017, Ms. Karen Abrams co-founded STEM Guyana, an organisation that trains young people across Guyana in Robotics and Computer Programming. Ms. Abrams said that for Guyana to reach her full potential, every cross-section of the population needs to be accessed and activated.
“We do not know what the future will hold exactly, but we kind of directionally know the skills that will be needed for them to be successful in any version of the future and those skills include the ability to think critically, the ability to come up with lots of ideas… to work on teams and convince people of your ideas… to come up with real solutions… More and more the jobs of the future will be done by robots and artificial intelligence. There will be a lot of coding,” she said.
Ms. Abrams added that while Guyana as a small nation may not yet be counted among the strongest the coders in the world, she is confident that we do have the talent, intellect and the drive, which we can leverage for success.
“For such a small nation, we might not be able to compete with some of the coders in the world, but we have always been some of the most brilliant people in the world. So, we want to leverage girls. We want to leverage kids who normally wouldn’t be a part of this, kids who didn’t have the right foundation. We want to leverage every single child and we want to have them prepared in some way for the future, so that they can make a contribution to the development of Guyana,” she said.
Intellectual heft, she reiterated, will be critical to the successful development of Guyana.
“Right now, it might sound trite… but if we don’t engage girls, that’s half of the population. If they don’t start early engaging, learning about Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, learning about the soft skills… if we don’t engage a lot of young people who have been historically disadvantaged by… the quality of the schools, by… poverty at home… If we don’t give them an equal chance, then basically what you’re doing is you’re using a model which allows ten per cent of the kids in the country to be the one to lead and make a contribution, a sound contribution to the economy and that’s untenable” she said.
Ms. Abrams also encourages Guyanese to become producers of technology, rather than just consumers.
“Everybody is on the front side of technology, on the consuming side… There is no money there on the consuming side of technology. Well, we’re not making money on it anyway. The real money in technology is on the back side of it. It’s understanding how you make a ‘Facebook’, how you make an ‘Instagram’, how you make a ‘WhatsApp’. These are not terribly complicated things to learn and so, more than anything else, what I want to stress is [that] anyone can learn at any level,” she said.
First Lady in Action
First Lady, Mrs. Sandra Granger has partnered with STEM Guyana to host Robotic camps throughout the country. Mrs. Granger’s goal is to ensure that Guyana’s children are well versed in the world of Information and Communications Technology (ICT).
“Education has to be relevant and the children of today will require education in ICT. This is what everybody calls the fourth industrial revolution. You have to know ICT,” she said.
The First Lady added that the children of Guyana are armed with tech literacy.
“I think we have to get very enthused about this because this is where the jobs will be… It is estimated 90 per cent of the work women do will become obsolete because they’ll either have it online or some gadget will be doing it. Robots will be taking over. Already you have drones in agriculture, artificial intelligence in medicine, in manufacturing, in everything. So, if we’re not forward thinking, especially when you think of where Guyana is now, and where we want it to be, I think we owe it to our young people to train them so that they know they can be very comfortable in the world of ICT and this is something I want to encourage,” she said.
The Government of Guyana is invested in its youngest citizens and, through the Ministry of Education, is giving the children of this country the tools and skills needed to pursue a bright future in STEM.