PERMIT me space to comment on EB John’s ‘Congratulations to the Government/GOAL Awardees – plan needed’ in the Stabroek News and Kaieteur News of August 18, 2021. I believe the letter was well intended but its execution was marred by misplaced notions of education, cynicism, and inaccuracies. This response takes a proactive approach with the view of reminding/enlightening readers of the broad role of education/scholarships from the perspective of GOAL/Government of Guyana and the knowledge society.
To begin, finding jobs is not the only/primary function of education/training. Training is, in every sense, a fundamental factor in development. No country can achieve sustainable economic development without substantial investment in human capital. Education enriches people’s understanding of themselves and the world and improves the quality of their lives which ultimately leads to broad social benefits to individuals, communities and the society. Education raises people’s productivity and creativity and promotes entrepreneurship and technological advances towards the goal of economic and social progress. Further, it equips people to understand the need for paradigm shift, as a consequence of social, economic, scientific, cultural and political changes occurring around them.
Today’s world is increasingly knowledge-based. A knowledge-based economy comprises well educated citizens and relies on the knowledge of the citizens to drive its innovation, entrepreneurship and dynamism. Knowledge rests on using, applying and transferring information. A knowledge-based society thus, provides the platform to compete and succeed in the changing economic and political dynamics of the modern world.
GOAL 2021 scholarships commenced the fulfillment of the PPP/C Manifesto promises and the budget 2021 allocations. These scholarships support targeted training and skills development for students and working professionals where local higher education capacity is weak or non-existent. The PPP/C and President, Dr Ali’s vision of equitable education and training opportunities involves bringing education into the villages and homes of Guyanese. It would be difficult to deny this laudable initiative with courses and programmes aimed at preparing tomorrow’s generation of innovative leaders to face daily life challenges, take advantage of economic and lifelong learning opportunities and contribute to their communities. These scholarships, therefore, are seen as key drivers for reducing poverty, achieving gender equality, and fostering socioeconomic growth and development.
John’s cynical comment, ‘what a hungry public!’ about the food and nutrition programme thus, flies in the face of education/training broad functions and needs of an evolving knowledge society. Similarly, the ‘needed plan’ to consider jobs, especially in or related to the public service, misses the point about the underlying role and purpose of education, more so, within the GOAL scholarship perspective. In fact, it appears that John’s subtle theme/concern is whether these scholarship recipients would, in time, replace/displace the current cadre of public servants.
It is true that facilitating many of these scholarships requires investments in broadband/high-speed Internet services which may not be available or feasible in some locations, for reasons such as distance/remoteness, topography of the terrain and sparse population. At the same time, sustainable economic development may be hindered without substantial investment in the mechanisms which facilitate development of human capital. Therefore, in this evolving oil and gas economy with knowledge-based aspirations, EB John’s understanding of “costly distribution of the technology to facilitate this [what he calls] expansive ‘virtual’ process” may be misplaced.
Finally, it would have been more beneficial to analyse GOAL scholarships through the lens of benefit-cost tradeoffs, gender representation and regional spread. Such analyses would lead to greater appreciation of the role of wide-spread education in economic development and the effect of education/training on labour productivity, poverty, trade, technology, health, income distribution and Guyana’s competitiveness.
Ronald Singh, LLM, MS, Barrister
Deputy Director (Student Affairs), GOAL