A noticeable stranger to reality

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THE view that People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) presidential candidate David Granger is “out of touch with reality” seems to be becoming more evident as the 2011 elections campaign rolls on.
Indeed, some of his recent pronouncements of what he proposes to do, if he assumes the presidency of the country, convey to the informed populace, an image of an inexperienced politician, who is perhaps a foreigner to developments in his own land.

His promise to make Guyana an “education nation again” at a recent luncheon hosted by the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association stands out as one such example and together with his most recent privatisation plans, have given more credence to the view.
What the PNCR presidential candidate does not appear to know is that the education sector, though not perfect, has been moving by leaps and bounds and is far from the state it was in when democracy was restored and the current administration came to power in 1992.
In the period of the reign of the former administration, this country’s education system was a national disgrace. The physical infrastructure was in total disrepair; almost all the schools were in a dilapidated state, posing grave danger to our children; furniture were in short supply with  political affiliation rather than needs, determining supply.
All school essentials, including chalk, teaching aids and supplies were limited. Teacher shortage was more noticeable than at any time in this country; equipment for technical and vocational education was almost non-existent and low salaries for teachers was the order of the day. There was also a high drop-out rate among students.
This general depression in the education sector was translated into disgraceful results at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations. Guyanese students performed the worst among all Caribbean students taking the examination.
This is not all. Children were kept out of school to look after their younger siblings while the mothers joined food lines that stretched for blocks; or they were forced to fetch water from long distances because GUYWA, like GPL and other utility providers, was on the brink of collapse. It was during that period of ‘Empty Rice Pots’ that the culture of children selling cigarettes and sweets on the streets evolved.
One wonders what the retired brigadier means when he said he will make Guyana an education nation again as Guyana was never an education nation under the PNC. In fact, they succeeded in ruining the quality education system this country inherited from the British government, its former colonial masters.
Under the current administration, the education budget has been increasing astronomically, moving from under $1B in 1992 to $24B in 2011. Guyana has achieved universal primary education and is on the verge of achieving universal secondary education. The enrolment rate at the nursery level is about 85 per cent and there are more trained teachers in the school system. In addition, teachers’ salaries have been increasing steadily over the years and the 2011 agreement reached by the Guyana Teachers Union and the Ministry of Education was deemed a “giant leap” by  no less a figure than the union’s President, Colin Bynoe.
Some 900 schools across the country have either been built, renovated or repaired; there are now 11 functioning satellite teachers training colleges outside of Georgetown; almost all schools now have proper furniture and supplies; modern equipment are now evident in all schools; schools throughout the country are now being equipped with computers; school-feeding programmes and uniform programmes targeting poor families have been introduced; sports gear are practically in all schools; more schools have been built and every child is guaranteed a secondary education, unlike under the former administration where this opportunity was available to only 35 per cent of students.
The billions of dollars the government has invested in the sector, year after year, have resulted in more students completing secondary school, our students performing significantly better at the CSEC examinations, more trained teachers in the school system, better physical infrastructure and access to education from the nursery to tertiary levels, the construction of a University Campus in Berbice, the introduction of a learning channel, a One Lap Top Per Family Programme and heightened emphasis on technical and vocational education to name a few of the landmark achievements under the current administration.
In addition, the Secondary Competency Certificate Programme (SCCP) is proving to be an effective solution to stem school drop-outs at the secondary level.   More specifically, the programme does not only provide students with  skills that will make them employable, it also lays the foundation for them to pursue higher education.
Despite these developments, no one will disagree that more have to done, but it must be made abundantly clear, that no verbal gymnastics from the critics can deflate the significant strides that have been made to modernise and raise the standard of education delivery in this country.