Education Day and school fires   

By Vanessa Cort 
HERE we are on the eve of International Day of Education, tomorrow, and yet another school in Guyana has burned down. Christ Church Secondary School is the third facility to have been destroyed by fire within the last year and was allegedly a target of arson.

An emotional Education Minister, Priya Manickchand, who witnessed the blaze, posted a picture of herself with two distraught students, worried about the lost work for their SBAs. She made the chilling observation that, “Children suffer when schools are destroyed”.

Right now, the Education Ministry has the unenviable task of relocating upwards of 500 of the school’s students. The process has begun at the Cyril Potter College of Education.

In addition, arrangements have to be made with the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) on what can be done for students preparing for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE).

The Guyana Fire Service, which began immediate investigations into the cause of the fire has determined, from the points of origin and the time of the fire, that it was “maliciously set by a person or persons unknown.”

Of grave concern to the Education Ministry is the disruption of learning for so many children, some preparing for important exams. For indeed the destruction of schools exposes children to immeasurable trauma and anxiety, affecting their examination scores and upsetting the very rhythm of their school life.

Enshrined in article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to an education included a call for free and compulsory elementary education. Going a step further, the Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that countries make higher education accessible to all.

However, despite this, education still remains a privilege for many, so we who have it should cherish it as UNESCO data reveals that 280 million children and young people were out of school for the school year ending in 2018. More than two-thirds of this number were girls.

Education is important for a host of reasons which all have to do with a person’s goals in life and future well-being. High on this list is the improvement and development of communication skills through teaching persons not only how to read and write, but also how to speak and listen.

It fosters critical thinking – essential in decision-making – helps individuals meet minimum job requirements while also enabling them to secure better jobs and, according to UNESCO, also reduces child mortality, as a child born to a mother who can read is “50 per cent more likely to survive.”

The Organization also states that “171 million people could be lifted out of poverty if students in low-income countries acquired basic reading skills.” And Charizze Abulencia, writing for World Vision, declares that “entire societies could change dramatically” if this were so.

She also asserts: “Knowing how to read, write and do arithmetic is empowering. When a person can read, they can access endless learning and information…Paired with the ability to form opinions, literacy makes a person become more self-reliant and gives them confidence”.

Of particular note is that education promotes gender equality and helps empower girls and women. So, UNESCO is dedicating this fifth International Education Day to all the girls and women in Afghanistan who were recently denied their right to both study and teach.

The theme “to invest in people, prioritize education” is intended to build on the momentum generated by the UN Transforming Education Summit, held in September last year. This year’s call is for strong political mobilisation around education and the charting of a course that will turn commitments and initiatives into action.

The destruction of schools in our country will only hamper this process and set our nation back in achieving our education goals, particularly as UNESO declares, “Today, 244 million children and youth are out of school and 771 million adults are illiterate. Their right to education is being violated and it is unacceptable.”


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