Bridging educational disparities in a post-pandemic future
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RECENTLY, I was chatting with a group of friends and our conversation steered towards the ongoing Speaker’s Debating competition. I had managed to catch only one full debate, but I was keen on hearing the results of the youth from Port Kaituma, Region One (Barima- Waini).

Few of my friends were awestruck (at least, I hope they were awestruck and not being prejudiced) that the hinterland had managed to win against a team of student leaders from the University of Guyana Students Society (UGSS). I was happy, too, but certainly not surprised.

Part of my assurance that this team was one to look out for was a prior engagement I had with one of the members, Keron Williams, last month. Williams had emerged as the top-performing CSEC student of Region One and out of all the hinterland regions (Regions One, Seven, Eight, and Nine).

During an interview I did for the News Room, Williams emphasised that he was on a mission to showcase that students from the hinterland can excel despite the challenges they face and despite the low expectations other people might have of them.

“People think that in the hinterland region that they can’t perform well and that the secondary schools there are not successful every year at CSEC. I am trying to change that and show that hinterland students have the ability and they also have the same knowledge and the same abilities as [students] out there [on the coast] have,” Williams said in that interview.

Each year, when the results of the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA) and the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations are announced, I try to focus on the performance of hinterland pupils and students. This is because bridging the educational disparities between learners in the hinterland and learners on the coast is something I would like to see happen in my lifetime, at the very least, due to my experiences travelling into the hinterland regions.

In Moruca, Region One, like many other hinterland communities, internet connectivity is rare, if available at all. When I travelled to this community teachers and parents lamented the exorbitant cost of data to supplement children’s learning and related that instead, they place much more emphasis on textbooks and past papers. In Aishalton, Region Nine (Upper Takutu- Upper Essequibo), the same holds.

Now picture this challenge faced, within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for a shift to virtual learning. In the absence of empirical data, can you simply imagine just how significant the disruption faced by learners would be?

Most definitely, there are pupils and students in coastal regions who face these same connectivity problems, but let us for a second focus on those children who, collectively, grapple with a disproportionate impact of the pandemic on their education.

The disproportionate access to education is exacerbated by several other challenges that are faced by people living in the hinterland regions, including their access to services, generally; and the geography of these regions.

Thankfully, I believe that some efforts are being made to commence the process of bridging these disparities faced. This past week, the CSEC examinations got underway with the Electronic Document Preparation and Management (EDPM) subject. And I was truly elated to see that the Wakapoa Secondary school in Region Two (Pomeroon- Supenaam) became a centre for CSEC examinations and that 12 students would be writing CSEC at the school for the first time, this year.

What this does is allow greater access to education for these students who would no longer have to choose between going elsewhere or not attending school or sitting their examinations. This is evidenced in other hinterland regions,such as Region Nine, where students previously had to travel great distances to get to school, but now either have schools in their communities or dormitories in those communities where they go to attend school.

Minister of Education Priya Manickchand, has acknowledged that the cohort of pupils and students writing this year’s NGSA and CSEC examinations are the first to write these high-stakes examinations after a prolonged period of pandemic conditions. For learners in the hinterland, even with the ministry’s attempts to provide textbooks, past papers, and educational materials, their challenges with internet connectivity cannot be overstated. Even so, I hope that they can perform exceptionally.

At the end of these examinations, I am hopeful that when the results of this year’s NGSA are released, due diligence would be done to interrogate the data that will be collected to analyse the impact the pandemic had on children, but also the impact it has had specifically on children living in hinterland. The educational disparities have proven to be enduring and will require a greater level of focus than what was given this year, in an attempt to level the playing field.

If you would like to connect with me to discuss this column or any of my previous works, feel free to email me at vish14ragobeer@gmail.com

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