Politicising Education Cash Grants
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NO one with a clear conscience can deny the benefits of the government’s “Because We Care” cash grant programme currently being rolled out by the Ministry of Education throughout the country. From all indications, the cash grant is seen by the vast majority of the Guyanese people as a welcome gesture on the part of the PPP/C administration as manifested in the smiling faces of recipients and the numerous expressions of gratitude and thanks.

Approximately 172,000 students will benefit from the programme, estimated to cost $3.2 billion at a unit value of $19,000 per student. This sum will go towards the purchase of school uniforms and other school-related expenses with a view to easing the financial burden of parents and guardians of school-age children.

Despite its obvious benefits, there are a few individuals who are seeking to, as it were, throw cold water on the programme with the hope of scoring political points. In fact, the opposite has materialised. In his “Conversation Tree” column, former Speaker of the National Assembly Mr. Ralph Ramkarran had cause to respond to statements made by PNC member Mr Aubrey Norton to the effect that the education cash grant ‘is inadequate and ill-conceived and geared towards creating a dependency syndrome.’

According to the former Speaker, Mr. Norton seems by his utterances to have joined with the most conservative, reactionary politicians worldwide to perpetuate this now ‘largely discredited, backward, dangerous and fallacious nonsense’ and pointed to the fact that the local education cash grant comes in the midst of significant developments in the United States, where similar relief measures have been put in place for eligible individuals with a view to reducing child poverty.

Mr. Norton appears to have a limited understanding of the concept of the ‘dependency syndrome theory,’ which is a highly intellectual tool used by academics and development practitioners to study the unequal power relations between the more industrialised countries and those in the so-called periphery. It is that unequal power relations between the developed states and those in the periphery that has resulted in high levels of exploitation and underdevelopment of the countries in the third world.

How exactly such an analogy is applicable to the Guyana context where programmes are implemented by the government to assist parents to send their children to school is at best puzzling and could only be seen as a clear misrepresentation of the conceptual framework of the dependency theory. And as pointed out by Mr Ramkarran, the theory is selectively and opportunistically used by reactionary elements to deny welfare and other benefits to the under-privileged and those in the lower income brackets.

Mr. Norton’s statements appear to be in tandem with a call by another senior APNU official, Ms. Coretta McDonald, who is also General Secretary of the Guyana Teachers’ Union and an APNU Member of Parliament. She had reportedly called on teachers not to participate in the ‘Because we Care’ distribution exercise, a call which thankfully has been ignored by teachers who certainly know better.

Mr. Norton, in a subsequent letter to the media, claimed that he did not oppose the cash grant but was calling instead for an increase in the amount, which sounded hollow when seen against the background of the APNU’s scrapping of the programme in its entirety during its term in office.

The injection of $3.2 billion into the economy, apart from the direct benefits to parents and students will also have a multiplier effect on the local economy by way of support to members of the business community. To say that the money spent is ‘a waste of time and money’ as some members of the APNU+AFC are seeking to project is not only politically disingenuous, but is also an act of gross insensitivity to the needs of parents, teachers and students, the real beneficiaries of the programme.

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