…strong push to strengthen PTAs, special needs education
Although faced with many obstacles in reforming the country’s education sector Dr Rupert Roopnaraine has refused to let it prevent him from accomplishing his goals.
As a matter of fact, the Minister of Education is placing more emphasis on strengthening key areas in the sector, chief among them being the Parent Teachers Associations (PTAs) in schools across the country and Special Needs Education.
Since assuming office two years ago, Dr Roopnaraine has been battling with resuscitating dormant PTAs and has even hired a National PTA Coordinator in the person of Nadia Hollingsworth, who is tasked with overseeing the effective functioning of these bodies. In an exclusive interview with Guyana Chronicle, it was explained that the coordinator visited schools across the country and distributed PTA toolkits, which state exactly how the PTA should function, how they need to operate and what is expected of them.
“I would like to see the PTAs strengthened and parents being more engaged than they presently are. That’s a very important area for me. We really have to deal with the management of the schools, we have to deal with the Regional Education Officers (REOs), I think that’s very important; we have to get ICT going in schools across the country. I really would like the PTA’s to be a lot stronger, I want more focus; I see them as a very important part with what we’re trying to do with education. We want genuine partnerships with the parents,” the Education Minister told this newspaper.
As it relates to Special Needs Education, Dr Roopnaraine reiterated his commitment to ensuring that special needs children are not placed at an additional disadvantage. As such, the Education Ministry works closely with institutions such as Step By Step Foundation, Child Link and the National Disabilities Commission and others to ensure that special needs children are catered for. But the challenge with this is that the Ministry is at pains to find persons who are competent and specialised in areas to teach the children.
Asked to list some of his major accomplishments, Dr Roopnaraine pointed to the “Mathematics Intervention”, which he says has brought some quality changes in the education system. In December 2016, the Ministry of Education embarked on an Emergency Math Intervention Programme which was rolled out in three phases, commencing with pupils in Grades five and six.
The first phase of the programme commenced with specific focus in Regions 1, 3, 8, 9 and 10. The Ministry is confident that this initiative would improve the Math performance at the Secondary School Entrance Examination (SSEE).
“The learning channel which is more geared to meet the needs of the children with programmes addressing literacy and the four core areas. We have here at the Ministry of Education a conscientious team, people who work hard to get the programme going so I’m hopeful that by 2020, which is when we will be able to really gauge to what extent we succeeded in the work of transformation that we’re attempting to do; we’ll be able to see the results then. But right now we’re pressing forward in all the regions and I can’t stress enough the importance of the work in the primary schools because that’s where it begins,” the Education Minister said.
Dr Roopnaraine is also proud of the work being done in the areas of sports and music introduction in schools. In this regard, Chief Education Officer (CEO), Marcel Hutson said that music has already been implemented in the primary level; as a matter of fact the Ministry has engaged the services of a Guyanese music instructor from Trinidad, who is teaching music to teachers in all 444 primary schools in Guyana. It is expected that the instructor will soon move on to the 110 secondary schools.
According to the Education Minister, “[Music] is a work in progress, it won’t happen overnight. We need to develop a committed cadre of teachers and get parents much more involved in the education of their children. I think if we can do those two things, we can make a big difference.”
“I’d like to see very active music programmes throughout the schools, like school choirs. There must be some music in the schools. I’m not very happy with the fact that we are not doing as well as we would like to see us doing in relation to both of these activities, I would like to see much more diversified education.”
Reintegrating Teenage Mothers
Meanwhile, the Education Ministry has solicited the services of a consultant from UNICEF to draft a policy for the re-integration of teenage mothers in schools. It was noted that the consultant, Dr Morello Joseph, is based in St Lucia.
As it stands, Guyana does not have a policy that caters for pregnant teenagers and according to the CEO the decision as to whether a pregnant teen can continue to attend school before and after pregnancy is left to the head of the institution or the regional authorities. This draft policy will now ensure that the affected students can be re-admitted to the same school or another learning institution.
“That’s part of the social problem we’re facing. I am firmly of the view, and I’ve said this time and time again, we can’t afford to fail in education. Education is the one area where we have to succeed. Because if we fail in education, then everything else fails,” Dr Roopnaraine said.
As it relates to the issue of placing counselors in schools, the Education Minister intends to strengthen this programme as he firmly believes that children should be counseled instead of them facing corporal punishment. It was noted that counselors are placed in “troubled schools” in Guyana and these schools are determined by reports received by the Welfare Office and the consistency of reports. Most reports emanate from schools in Georgetown and Regions 2, 6 and 10.
Bridging the gap
Meanwhile, the Education Ministry continues to battle the division between the coastland and hinterland in terms of distribution of resources and according to Minister Roopnaraine, he recently visited some hinterland areas, where he received “genuine complaints” about issues facing schools there.
Some issues include the quality staffing given the fact that there are no universities or colleges in those far-fetched regions. In this regard, the Ministry implemented a Teacher Upgrading Programme in some Hinterland areas such as regions 7 and 8. Adequate housing for teachers who are transferred to the hinterland from the coast is also being addressed the Education Minister said.
TEACHERS’ TRAINING, INCREASE IN SALARIES
On the tricky issue of teacher’s remuneration, the Education Minister said a teacher appraisal document is being fine-tuned by the administration to ensure commitment and accountability from teachers. Dr Roopnaraine has also asked for a complete curriculum review that is currently being taught in schools along with a review of the curriculum at the teachers’ training college to ensure that they are in harmony.
“We have to get committed teachers,” he said. As it relates to the issue of salary for teachers, the Education Minister believes that teachers are not paid “sufficiently.”
“You need teachers who are committed and whose own financial situation and personal commitments can be met. The one thing we don’t need is demoralised teachers and salary is an important part. I’d be very happy to lobby for an increase,” he said.
He however alluded to the fact that education eats up a large part of the budget so “If we’re going to go looking for more money, then we’re going to have to really make serious arguments.”
INCREASE IN SCHOOL FEES
The issue of increased tuition fees at the University of Guyana (UG) and Value Added Tax (VAT) being charged on tuition at private schools are contentious issues facing the Ministry. In March, Vice Chancellor of UG, Ivelaw Griffith had announced a 35 percent increase in tuition fees, being applied incrementally; this was met with rejection from the students. In this regard, Dr Roopnaraine said he will soon meet with the VC to further discuss the issue since the increase is of “concern” to him.
“I am a very old believer in free education and I don’t like the idea of fees. A review of the fees is in order. We don’t want to impose burdens on already burdened people and that is something I think that can be reviewed. I don’t think we are going to be able to dispose of the fees altogether but we are going to look at it and see whether or not it can be put on some kind of ‘means’ basis,” the Education Minister explained.
As it relates to VAT on private tuition fees, Dr Roopnaraine reiterated that this will be reviewed in 2018 and areas will be looked at to ensure that private schools pay their taxes. He suggested if everyone pays their taxes then perhaps the VAT can be removed from the tuition fees.
The Ministry of Education was allocated $43.1B or 17 percent of the 2017 national budget and Dr Roopnaraine hopes that most of his programmes and policies will bear fruit.