The importance of hinterland education
Guyana’s ‘hinterland’ – comprising the greater part of the Barima-Waini; Cuyuni-Mazaruni; Potaro-Siparuni and Rupununi and some parts of the East Berbice-Corentyne Regions – occupies over three quarters of our country.
Our population is small and Indigenous persons living mainly in the hinterland, constitute only about ten per cent of the whole giving us one of the lowest population densities in the world.
Guyana, however, partly because of these geographical, and some historical, factors is unequal. Income distribution, infrastructural development and delivery of public services are uneven. Inequalities are reflected in the disparities in development between the hinterland and the coastland.
I laid out a Plan of Action for Hinterland Development in my address to the Conference of the National Toshaos’ Council four years ago on 28th August 2015.
The ‘Plan of Action’ is still valid and relevant. It aims at reducing inequality between residents of the hinterland and the rest of country by eradicating poverty, promoting employment and economic prosperity and by enhancing access to public services.
The Plan of Action has guided Government’s actions to empower hinterland residents through education, employment, economic enterprises, energy, infrastructure, land rights, poverty-reduction, public services and cultural development.
Education is the surest and swiftest way to reduce inequality. The gap between the hinterland and coastland regions, however, is still painfully evident. The performance of hinterland students can be measured by the results of the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA) and the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations.
Education is a great equaliser. It is the key to unlocking increased economic opportunities for citizens. It is the surest path to empowering and lifting persons out of poverty and marginalization.
I noted, in my address at the launch of the Guyana Youth Corps on 28th March 2019, that education becomes a powerful equalizer when opportunities for quality education and training are accessible by the entire population.
The country has to reduce the disparities in education between the coastland the hinterland if it is to become a more equal society. Education is single most important factor likely to have the greatest impact on hinterland development.
National educational policy aims at closing the educational gap between the hinterland and the coastland. The reduction of this gap is necessary to reduce poverty and reverse hinterland unemployment and underdevelopment and to reduce hinterland migration and ensure a more inclusive and cohesive nation.
Education is an entitlement which can be realised only if every child has access to primary and secondary education; attends school and attains the ultimate objectives of education by completing his or her schooling.
Guyana’s education policy emphasizes the three ‘A’s – ‘A’ for access; ‘A’ for attendance and ‘A’ for attainment. This means that every child must be assured of access to school; must be enabled to attend school and be equipped with the knowledge to attain a satisfactory standard of education. The opening of this dormitory adds a fourth ‘A’ – accommodation.
Access to education means that sufficient institutions of learning must be available and equipped to impart quality education to everyone, including the visually- and physically- challenged.
Access to education is being improved through the expansion and improvement of educational infrastructure. More than 100 schools, spread across our ten administrative regions, have been built, renovated and upgraded over the past four years. Sanitation, safe water and solid waste facilities – too long unsatisfactory in schools – are being improved.
Hinterland students have benefitted from learning resource centres at Aishalton, Annai, Bartica, Kato, Lethem and Mabaruma, Monkey Mountain, Paramakatoi, Kamarang, Waramadong and Wauna. We have budgeted this year to commence work on learning resource centres at Mahdia and Port Kaituma this year.
Information communications technology (ICT) is boosting access to modern education. ICT hubs have been established in 171 communities, including the hinterland communities of Aishalton, Annai, Baramita, Bartica, Iwokrama, Kato, Karasabai, Masakenari, Port Kaituma, Mabaruma, Matthew’s Ridge, Mahdia, Paramakatoi, Sand Creek, Santa Rosa, St. Ignatius and Waramadong,
Access to education for hinterland students is being facilitated through the provision of government-supported scholarships which provide opportunities for hinterland students to enjoy secondary and tertiary education.
The Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs has increased the number of hinterland scholarships from 120 in 2014 t0 186 in 2018. Hinterland students, also, have been among the beneficiaries of the 1,599 tertiary-level scholarships offered by the Department of the Public Service since 2015.
Attendance at school is equally important. Government’s policy is to ensure that every child attends school and stays in school. We have made progress in ensuring that our children attend and stay in school with the launch – exactly four years ago on 15th July 2015 – of the Public Education Transportation Service (PETS) which started as the 3Bs project. Twenty-nine buses, ten boats and more than 1,400 bicycles to have been distributed so far under PETS to make it easier for children to attend school.
School attendance is being boosted by the provision of transportation. The sight of children having to paddle canoes to school might look pretty on postcards but it is physically exhausting for the children in the 21st century. Long distances, especially in some riverine communities, can be a disincentive to learning.
Children who have to paddle for hours or walk several kilometres will be too tired to study when they reach school and will be too tired to do their homework when they reach home.
The measures implemented to improve school attendance have resulted in a decline in hinterland school dropouts. An average of 10 primary school students per week dropped out from hinterland schools in 2014; this has declined to an average of 3 persons in 2017. An average of 17 secondary school students dropped out weekly from hinterland schools in 2014; this has declined to an average of 5 per week in 2017.
Access to education is improving. We still have a far way to go but we are on the right path to doing so.
Attainment means completing one’s studies, achieving good grades and graduating with qualifications and certification which would allow students to enter the world of work as adults. Government’s education policy will result in higher levels of educational attainment.
Educational performance is vital to ensuring the success of the nation’s educational system. Government’s objective in terms of attainment is to ensure that every school child passes the National Grade Six Assessment and that every secondary school student matriculates by the year 2030.
Classroom performance is vital to ensuring that students can translate their potential into performance. It is established that children who reach to school tired or hungry experience difficulties in being attentive. This affects their performance. The performance of hinterland students is being enhanced by the provision of school meals. All 26,600 students in 214 in nursery and primary schools and annexes now benefit from some form of school feeding.
The expansion of ICT is supporting the delivery of quality education. We have connected over 175 primary schools and 106 secondary schools and 34 technical and vocational institutions to support remote-access learning and online research to help students with their academic assignments and homework.
Smart classrooms have already been installed at Bartica, Mabaruma, Lethem, Three Miles and Santa Rosa. Connectivity to these classrooms is being improved to ensure their functionality. The use of technology through robotics, smart classrooms and e-books will further contribute to the modernization of education delivery and performance across Guyana.
Accommodation is being improved by the provision of accommodation for students. Dormitories have been constructed at 19 locations in nine regions. These dormitories allow more hinterland students to benefit from educational services.
Teacher training is vital to improving students’ performance. There can be no place in our future education system for untrained teachers. Teaching standards are being raised to ensure students’ entitlement to well-trained teachers is satisfied.
I noted in my address to the 82nd Graduation Ceremony of the Cyril Potter College of Education in December 2016, that:
Teacher training must be a career-long exercise, pursuing professional development either in education or through specialisation in subject areas and heads of schools have a vital role to play in ensuring that the full curricula are delivered, that teachers complete their assignments and that classroom time is not lost.
Your government continues to emphasize teacher training. Almost 1900 teachers were trained and added to the teaching profession since 2015. The pedagogical skills of teachers are being improved for quality delivery of the curriculum. I personally requested and secured successfully assistance from the People’s Republic of China for the refurbishing of laboratories at the Cyril Potter College of Education. The One Laptop per Teacher programme has provided 8,848 teachers with computers to improve the delivery of education.
Teachers have benefitted from increased wages and improving conditions of work. Student-teachers of the Cyril Potter College of Education benefitted from increased stipends; resident students received a 66 per cent increase in 2018 and non-resident students a 52 per cent increase.
Improvements in educational attainment will take time. They cannot be achieved overnight. Improving student performance, including that of hinterland students, involves both short- and long-term measures.
Our policy of improving educational access, attendance, attainment and accommodation will ensure that no student writing the National Grade Six Assessment and that every secondary school graduate leave school with qualifications that would allow him or her to become a productive citizen.
Government is not content to await the successful outcome of its long-term educational policies. It also is making short-term interventions. Teacher-training workshops; the provision of resources, including textbooks, musical instruments, micro-science kits, and toolkits for mathematics, literacy and social studies; and the hosting of mathematics and literacy camps are aimed at boosting overall educational attainment and reducing the educational disparities between hinterland and coastal areas.
Tertiary Education Dormitory for hinterland students
The establishment of this tertiary education dormitory attests to Government’s commitment to improving educational opportunities for hinterland students. It reflects our intention to ensure a more equal society by reducing the disparities between the hinterland and coastland through education.
We want to create a more equal society. We want to ensure that hinterland residents can enjoy similar public services – birth, business and death registration; public education; public health; public information; public infrastructure; public telecommunication; public security and social security – as citizens on the coastland.
Government, through the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs has done well to make this facility available. It will ensure a more conducive environment for hinterland students attending the University of Guyana and other tertiary institutions.
I look forward to the day when every regional capital town – Anna Regina, Bartica, Lethem, Mabaruma and Mahdia – will establish a first-class college to enable hinterland students to enjoy the best secondary and, later, tertiary education within their communities. That day will come.
Four years ago, our education system was afflicted with many challenges – falling exam results, high drop-out rates, overcrowding and decrepit infrastructure. Our children were leaving education without the necessary skills to find a job.
Education is been repositioned. Education is now moving on the correct path. It is being accorded the highest priority. More than G$170B has been expended on education over the past four years. Spending in the education sector has moved from 14.8 per cent of the national budget in 2014 to 17.0 per cent in 2017. Improvements, steady and sure, have been evident over the past four years.
The best is yet to come. Government’s plan for education, over the next five years, will secure a better future for all Guyana. We will continue to move forward knowing that real and lasting change takes time. Let us continue to move forward, together, over the next five years. Ω