Free education is a must

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PRESIDENT David Granger, on Emancipation Day, made it known that he intends on restoring ‘Free Education’ in Guyana from Nursery to Tertiary levels. His commitment came weeks after the Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo had also affirmed that it is something the incumbent coalition government would work towards if elected to office again.

What President Granger has promised, is really only in keeping with the nation’s constitution. Article 27 of the Constitution of Guyana states: “Every citizen has the right to a free education from nursery to university, as well as at non-formal places where opportunities are provided for education and training.”

Education from nursery to tertiary was made free for all citizens in 1976 when the People’s National Congress (PNC) had been in government. This lasted until the 1990s when fees were introduced.

More importantly, Article 27 falls in Chapter II, which connotes the principles and basis of the political, economic and social systems. Also detailed in this section is every person’s right to sovereignty, the right to own personal property, the right to free health and social care, inter alia.

Clearly, education and free education for all across all these levels was seen as quite important by the framers of our constitution way back when, and subsequently, our government.

Now the Bureau of Statistics, in a recent report, detailed that just over two percent of Guyanese possessed Bachelor Degrees. For developed countries, that figure stands at about 30 percent, which means that Guyana is lagging.

When it comes to technical skills, particularly for the emerging oil and gas sector, we know that there is a dearth of those. I believe that free education will encourage more Guyanese, on their own volition, to become educated. And an educated population will only serve in the best interest of the country at large, promoting the development of the human resource potential which in turn has a multiplier effect for all other sectors.

I’ll be the first to admit that I may very well be biased when it comes to free education because I am about to pursue tertiary education myself. But as a self-funding student, I can tell you, tertiary education is very costly no matter where you go or what you study.

I think that implementing free education at home would persuade more persons to study, and more importantly, I think it would allow for greater standards and more accredited programmes to be fostered at UG. I don’t have much knowledge or training in this area, but I do believe it is logical to assume that if there is a greater population seeking out tertiary education, then more avenues to education will be fostered in response to that demand.

The other factor to be looked at is the use of oil revenues to fund this venture of making tertiary education free again. Looking at UG, since fees became attached to tuition, the university has had that source of income. Even though the university receives a yearly subvention from the government, many things would need to be adjusted when you have that source of income changed. This would allow students to spend the money they would have spent on tuition, in other areas- such as transportation. And that would only function to augment access to education.

That being said, if there is one thing that has been agreed on by every expert and every “expert” in the oil and gas sector, it would be that education is one of the sectors where revenues should be plugged into. And I don’t think that investing in tertiary education will be anything short of a worthwhile long term investment. In fact, I believe it is a stepping stone in ensuring that Guyana has the requisite capacity to efficiently and effectively manage the imminent transformation of Guyana.

Finally, I would like to point out that before the announcement was made by the President, students began agitating for this. The ‘Free UG’ movement, a student-centred informal pressure group came into being, calling for UG to be free. The University’s Student Society, which spans both campuses and caters to about 7,000 students, also joined in to call for ‘Free UG’.

So, much like myself, there are scores of students who are interested in tertiary education and who are interested in free tertiary education. Free Education will be one of those drivers of development for Guyana.