EDUCATION and the acquisition of various technical skills, such as fully knowing the intricacies of smartphones or computers have become a necessary part of existence or even survival in the modern world. Education, including the acquisition of various technical skills, also helps in upward social mobility and improving one’s economic status.
It is therefore not surprising that parents at the beginning of the school year would be anxiously trying to have their children placed in the better schools. Unfortunately, there are comparatively few government schools which have the requisite high standards and these could not accommodate a large number of children whose parents would wish them to attend such schools.
The vast majority of parents are faced with the sad dilemma of sending their children to the lower-quality government schools, since they could not afford the fees of the private schools. But then they are unwittingly landed in the private-lesson syndrome, whereby the teachers in such schools do a brisk trade in teaching at their homes what they should have taught in the classrooms.
To take advantage of the crying need for good schools, educational entrepreneurs have seized the opportunity of opening new schools. These schools advertise themselves as being of good quality and parents trustingly send their children to them. Most of such schools are however not much better than the government schools. They almost all lack the basics of a good school. They usually have no playgrounds, nor sports facilities, no teaching laboratories or school libraries. They are mostly staffed by teachers who have had a CSEC education with very few university graduates. Most of such schools have been established in the countryside and they have not raised standards.
The schools founded by educational entrepreneurs seem to be more involved in the economics of school ownership. Many of these schools have had problems with communities, with parents, with discipline and even of management and staff.
Some of the kind of problems which educational entrepreneurs encounter recently came to the fore when the Subryanville community recently challenged Mae’s schools from establishing another branch at Fourth Avenue, Subryanville. The community was represented pro bono by the well-known and able Attorney-at-Law Ms Jameela Ali in the High Court.
Mae’s schools which have earned the reputation of offering a good education claimed that establishing a branch at Fourth Avenue was providing a social service and benefiting education. They claimed that the school building met the criteria of the Central Housing and Planning Authority and their activity was not contrary to law.
The Subryanville community, on the other hand, claimed that their community had always been officially designated as a residential area and as such, a large commercial activity operating in the heart of it would destroy its residential ambience and status. Further, since almost all the pupils came from areas far away from the Kitty/Subryanville neighbourhood, they would be transported to school by motor cars. At some times of the day, it would become impossible for residents to have egress or ingress to their yards and homes.
Further, since the Subryanville roads were narrow and not constructed to accommodate heavy, motorised traffic, cars have to drive or park on the narrow parapets which sometimes destroy the water pipes leading to homes and during wet weather, would churn up the mud, making the use of the road impossible for pedestrians. Residents claim that with the noisy traffic and continuous noise from the school, the noise pollution of the area would be enormously increased and residents’ properties would be devalued. At the moment, the issue is still in court.
The issues of shortage of school spaces and the provision of adequate land for school buildings have never been comprehensively addressed since independence. In colonial times, the area north of Lamaha Street, Eve Leary and Thomas Lands was reserved for the police and military and for schools and sports. Thus, Queen’s College, the technical institutes, Marian Academy, St Joseph High and other schools were established in the area. The shortage of land in that area forced educational entrepreneurs to build on more expensive land in the city.
To overcome the problem, three or four square miles of state land behind Sophia and D’Urban Backlands or elsewhere east of Georgetown should be immediately reserved and made available for schools and sports grounds. Those who wish to build schools could immediately apply, as well as sports clubs. Some sports such as hockey and badminton would be able to have their own facilities for the first time. The area should be properly drained and a road system laid out. The design and allocation of the land should be scientifically done. If this were done with immediacy, it would be a step in raising the quality of education and help Guyana’s sports to move towards international standards.