-Minister Manickchand tells Opposition there’s lots to do for the nation’s children
-says gov’t focused on improving access to education, the welfare of all learners
WHILE inviting the Opposition to work with government to improve the education sector, Minister of Education Priya Manickchand on Tuesday said that the 2023 budgetary allocation places much emphasis on access to education, infrastructural works and measures which will ensure that learners are comfortable in the classroom.
Though she called out the main political opposition, A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC), for not building a single secondary school during their five years in government, and providing limited social-welfare measures to learners, she said an offer to work together is on the table.
While making her contribution to the 2023 budget debate, she spoke about the various ways in which the Ministry of Education (MoE) is going to allow parents to have more disposable income in their pockets, even as the government focuses on improving the education infrastructure to ensure a better and stronger future for the country.
In highlighting several measures contained in the budget for education, Manickchand accused the APNU+AFC of trying to oppose the budget to stymy development in the education sector.
“If the APNU continues to say they cannot support this budget they are essentially saying to the people of this country that they don’t want them to get $40,000 per child, they do not want schools to be built in the hinterland, they don’t want special education needs children to be served, they don’t want buses and boats, they do not want trained teachers, more teachers, they do not want teachers’ quarters in the hinterland,” Manickchand said.
Nonetheless, Manickchand extended an olive branch, noting that the APNU+AFC members are perfectly welcome to come on board with the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government to work together towards the development of the nation’s children, or they can just sit on the sidelines and watch.
“We in the PPP are thankful that our visions are not hitched to the APNU’s wants and needs. We would like you to come along with us, I am inviting you… anytime you are ready to work with me I am ready to work with you…open invitation, come anytime. There is much we can do together for the children of this country, but I am also saying if you’re going to try to harm the children to gain cheap political points we will do this alone because our duty is to serve the children of this nation and serve we shall,” Manickchand expressed.
As the Opposition continued to call for measures in the budget to increase disposable income, Manickchand painstakingly pointed out that the budget already includes a host of measures that are geared at increasing the disposable incomes of all Guyanese.
She said that the government has made a significant increase to the “Because We Care” cash grant, which along with the $5000 uniform allowance will see parents and guardians receiving $40,000 per schoolchild.
“There is no line item called disposable income in the budget. A whole host of measures taken are expected to lower the cost that people have to spend on their daily living, and allow them more money in their pockets,” Manickchand stressed.
During her opening remarks, Manickchand called on the Opposition to explain a baffling statement made on Monday by an Opposition Member of Parliament, who claimed that education is not about access. Manickchand passionately attacked this notion, as she defended the need for more education infrastructure across the country to ensure that every child can be reached.
“I heard the most curious statement yesterday by [an] Honourable [member]. He said quality education is not about access. Any education has to begin with access. How are you getting this education if there is no access and I really want him to explain that because that’s an extremely profoundly, curious statement. But I understand why he might be saying that it might be coming from a philosophy [of the Opposition],” Manickchand said.
The minister went on to outline a comparison of the diverging philosophies held by the APNU and the PPP/C, comparing some of the years of spending per child, and investments in capital education infrastructure in education budgets under the APNU government from 2015 – 2020, and the PPP/C government from 2020 to present.
She told the House that in 2014, when the school population was 185,000, the APNU+AFC government spent about $18.6 billion, averaging approximately $100,000 per child. In 2022, even as most of the world experiences learning loss and an increase in school dropouts, in Guyana, government is spending approximately $237,000 on each of the 193,000 learners registered in the public school system.
Minister Manickchand acknowledged that this year, a large part of the $94.4 billion allocated to education will be spent on civil works, but proudly noted that this was essential to Guyana’s expanding education system and improved retention of learners.
She pointed out that in 2019, $3.7 billion of the budget for education was allocated for capital works, however, the coalition was unable to even expend the full amount and sent back 58 per cent, or some $1.6 billion to the treasury.
“It is because it’s not important to them. Access and building schools and institutions is not important. It is what the APNU philosophy is,” Manickchand stressed.
In 2017, the APNU+AFC allocated eight per cent of the education budget to capital works and six per cent in 2018.
It was pointed out that in 2022 the PPP/C allocated 23 per cent of the education budget to capital works, while in the 2023 budget, a whopping 33 per cent has gone to that.
These works include the completion of the Good Hope Secondary school on the East Coast, the Prospect Secondary on the East Bank of Demerara, the Yarrowkabra Secondary on the Soesdyke-Linden Highway and the St Mary’s Secondary, extension of the St Winifride’s and East Ruimveldt Secondary schools, and rebuilding of the North Ruimveldt Multilateral Secondary, St George’s Secondary, and Christ Church Secondary, which were all destroyed by fire over the past few years.
There will also be the extension of the two dorms in Region Eight, the building of a school at Karasabai, in Region Nine, and the rehabilitation of all of the multilateral schools in Region 10. The completion of a number of practical instruction centres are also scheduled for this year.
Teachers’ quarters are also being catered for. A condition survey was also carried out at all dorm schools, so those projects will be executed as needed at several schools to bring the dorms up to standard.
The minister reiterated the government’s commitment to making university education free, as she took the opposition to task over the fact that even as they continue to chant for free university education, it was under the Opposition that fees at the University of Guyana were increased by 30 per cent.
“We said very clearly we are going to find a pathway to remove the debt that students have already occurred [sic] and make university free in the first five years. Do you know why people are not worried? Because every other promise we made, all the promises we made have been fulfilled,” Manickchand noted.