A Partnership for National Unity congratulates the thousands of primary and secondary school students who wrote the annual National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA), Caribbean Secondary Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) this year.
APNU acknowledges that most students, teachers, parents and officials strive to achieve good results. Students must contend, however, against the adverse conditions and circumstances which plague the public education system. Too many Guyanese children, regrettably, do not enter adulthood and the world of work adequately equipped with the attitudes and ability to enable them to enjoy happy and fulfilling lives after leaving the public schools.
APNU is particularly alarmed at continuing reports of serious teacher indiscipline. The Teaching Service Commission (TSC) has been obliged to dismiss an average of two or three teachers every week for various offences in the country’s public educational system – 288 of them in one year alone. Offences included defacement of official records; drunkenness and teaching under the influence of alcohol; carnal knowledge of students; fighting among themselves; forgery of certificates of qualification; flogging children without authority; habitual unpunctuality; inadequate work preparation; inefficiency and poor supervision; improper or late completion and distribution of reports; leaving students unsupervised during school hours; misappropriation of school funds; mismanagement of school records and the misuse of school premises and property.
APNU is concerned, also, about the plan by the Teaching Service Commission to recruit overseas Mathematics and Science teachers for the public education system. It does not seem that enough has been done to solve the problem by educating and employing local science teachers. Vacancies remained unfilled because of the lack of eligible applicants in specific technical fields, low allowances, the unavailability of suitable housing in some hinterland areas and persons finding it difficult to travel long distances to reach some schools.
APNU is aware also, of concerns expressed by President of the Guyana Teachers’ Union who recently reported “a dangerously worrying trend of school violence” and an increase in the number of teachers being assaulted by students. There has been the appearance of the so-called ‘Gaza’ and ‘Gully’ gangs which target teachers they dislike. There have been numerous violent incidents including beatings, fighting, stabbings and even, in the worst cases over the years, killings. This is not just a question of everyday juvenile delinquency; there is abundant evidence of incidents of serious crimes which require investigation.
APNU also calls attention to the disturbing dropout rates that prevail in public schools, particularly in the hinterland where completing secondary school often takes students far from home and family. Reports have been received of school-age children in certain riverine districts who do not attend school on account of the prohibitive cost of transportation. In the Pomeroon River, for example, fares can be as high as $1,200 daily per person. Children who fail to attend school regularly or who drop out of school completely are most likely to be unemployed, face a life of poverty or become involved in crime which can lead to imprisonment.
APNU is concerned, particularly, that as a consequence of problems in the public education system, a form of ‘educational apartheid’ is emerging. It is evident that private schools seem to be performing consistently better than public schools. Schools on the coastland have been achieving better results, on average, than schools in the hinterland. It is evident also that, of the 16,811 candidates who sat the NGSA this year, only 173 students who comprised the top one percent were placed in the best secondary school. Over 80 of the 173 students were from private schools around the country. No student from the hinterland – namely, the Barima-Waini, Cuyuni-Mazaruni, Potaro-Siparuni and Rupununi regions – or from the Mahaica-Berbice Region, qualified among the top one per cent.
An alarming number of candidates who sat the examination performed so badly as to indicate that they were probably functionally illiterate. The results of NGSA and CSEC examinations indicate that Mathematics in particular, continues to record low pass rates. The CSEC pass rate for this subject declined from 34.5 per cent in 2010, to 30.4 per cent in 2011; to 29.69 per cent in 2012; and to 28.92 per cent this year, 2013. The trend is clear.
APNU is also disappointed that students, teachers and parents have occasionally found it necessary to conduct public protests in order to call official attention to problems in the public schools. The administration must shut down schools which are unhealthy or unsafe and accommodate children in a friendlier learning environment.
APNU considers that there is now sufficient evidence to require a formal investigation into the entire public education system. Silence will not solve the problems. The Ministry of Education is well aware that discipline and performance in the country’s public schools have been unsatisfactory over the last decade.
APNU, therefore, calls for the establishment of a national commission of inquiry in order to determine why results at three levels – CAPE, CSEC and NGSA – continue to be unsatisfactory; what obstacles to good education exist, especially at primary and secondary levels and what is the way forward to achieve higher standards and better results. Only in this way could Guyana’s children be given a sound education.
APNU encourages all citizens to work together for the improvement of primary and secondary education. APNU remains fully committed to ensuring that all children can receive the quality education which will help them to attain the “good life” to which they are entitled.