Sunday, October 20, 2002

Today's editorial in the Stabroek News tackles the problem of Guyana's education crisis, fuelled by a shortage of excellent teachers. (No link to the actual webpage, because the Stabroek News has no permanent online archive.) This is a problem shared by T&T &, I suspect, by most other Caricom countries. The editorial offers two obvious & emminently sensible suggestions, both of which I've privately argued for in the past:

"... the Government has to exert itself to think of far more radical temporary solutions to the teacher problem. If it is not prepared to do what Lee Kwan Yew did, and pour resources into education, including substantially increasing salaries with a view to attracting back Guyanese teachers in the Caribbean, then it has to explore other possibilities. One of those possibilities is recruiting very large numbers of young graduates primarily from the Guyanese and Caribbean diaspora in North America and Britain, who would be prepared to come and teach in the region from where their parents originated for modest remuneration as a kind of service."

Certainly here in T&T, where we're told petrochemicals revenues are about to go through the roof (the pundits say the 2003 budget, to be laid in Parliament tomorrow, will be the biggest since the days of the original oil boom), we can afford to radically increase teachers' salaries. Education is fundamentally important to our national future; why aren't we paying teachers the way we pay bankers, IT professionals, marketing consultants, engineers? Naturally this salary raise must be accompanied by a major raise in professional standards—the system should be more selective but also much more rewarding. Make education a more attractive occupation & more of our best & brightest will enter the teaching service.

And, yes, why not a voluntary service programme that would put energetic, qualified young university graduates to teach in our schools for one- or two-year terms? (An organisation called Teach for America does exactly that in the US, attracting 8,000 volunteers over the last twelve years.) At worst, this would supply a regular corps of unjaded temporary teachers; at best, it might convince some volunteers to become career teaching professionals. Make the programme Caribbean-wide, run through the three campuses of the University of the West Indies & the University of Guyana; then it would have the added benefit of giving recent graduates a chance to work in another Caribbean territory & serve the elusive end of regional integration.

How about it, Mrs. Manning?

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