President David Granger, this afternoon, attended the ceremonial launch of Indigenous Heritage Month 2019 at the Indigenous Village, Sophia Exhibition Centre where he emphasised that education is essential to nurturing the next generation.
“Measurable progress is evident in the field of public education. Plans are on stream to continue improving hinterland education over the next ten years in what I have dubbed the ‘Decade of development’, from 2020 to 2029,” President Granger said while noting that hinterland education received its first great boost some fifty years ago.
The Head of State in his address said “Education is the cornerstone of government’s plans to ensure greater equality between the hinterland and the coastland, to reduce poverty and to provide greater economic opportunities for indigenous communities and peoples.”
He noted that hinterland education is being repositioned to help to eliminate inequalities and to ensure that every child goes to school and that no child is left behind.
“Educational policy aims at ensuring that every child has access to education, attends school and achieves the level that allows her or him to graduate from school with the knowledge, skills and values to become a happy citizen,” the President said.
President Granger reminded that his government inherited a public educational system with many problems. He said some hinterland schools and dormitories were in a deplorable state while adding that substance abuse had penetrated a few schools while there were allegations of physical violence and sexual abuse being made. He reminded that some students had lost their lives.
He pointed to the incidents which occurred at the Port Kaituma Secondary School, in March 2010, where students had to be sent home because no food was available. In January 2012, at the Port Kaituma Primary School, the President recalled residents protesting the overgrown vegetation and poor sanitary facilities;
In the case of the Three-Mile Secondary School, in September 2009, eleven students were rushed to the Bartica Regional Hospital suffering from suspected food poisoning; at Aishalton Secondary School, in September 2011, Ministry of Education was forced to launch an inquiry into allegations of sexual molestation of students; at the Waramadong Secondary School, in August 2008, three, pre-teen girls perished in a fire which destroyed their dormitory; and in November 2008, there were reports of substance abuse by students there.
President Granger also reminded of the death of a nine-year-old girl who fell into her school’s defective pit latrine in September 2008; as well of the students of the Kato Primary School, in May 2014, forced to fetch logs to cook meals to name a few incidents.
He said hinterland education is still far from perfect but has come a long way from “those grim, grisly days” as he noted that “We are making progress”. He said parents and residents no longer need to protest against the conditions at hinterland dormitories and schools. Students, the President said, now feel safer and are more comfortable because of the interventions and improvements which have been made over the past fifty months.
“Investments in infrastructure and information technology, the expansion of the school-feeding scheme and the provision of transportation and scholarships have helped to reduce the number of hinterland school drop-outs from 10 primary school students per week in 2014 to an average of 3 students per week in 2017. An average of 17 secondary school students dropped out weekly from hinterland schools in 2014; this has declined to an average of 5 per week in 2017,” President Granger said.
Hinterland students are benefitting from Access to information communications technology (ICT) which is boosting access to modern education. ICT hubs have been established in 171 communities, including in Aishalton, Annai, Baramita, Bartica, Iwokrama, Kato, Karasabai, Masakenari, Port Kaituma, Mabaruma, Matthew’s Ridge, Mahdia, Paramakatoi, Sand Creek, Santa Rosa, St. Ignatius and Waramadong. The use of technology through robotics, smart classrooms and e-books will further modernize hinterland education.
Learning resource centres have been established at Aishalton, Annai, Bartica, Kato, Lethem, Mabaruma, Monkey Mountain, Paramakatoi, Kamarang, Waramadong and Wauna. Smart classrooms have been installed at Bartica, Mabaruma, Lethem, Paramakatoi, Three-Miles and Santa Rosa. Connectivity to these classrooms is being improved to ensure their functionality.
President Granger said the distribution of mathematic kits to riverine and hinterland primary schools has started while the distribution of literacy and robotic kits will conclude before the end of this year. “An environment conducive to better learning is being created,” he added.
The Head of State noted also access to accommodation for students is being improved and expanded through the provision of residential services for 2,240 secondary school students in the four hinterland regions – the Barima-Waini, Cuyuni-Mazaruni, Potaro-Siparuni and the Rupununi.
Fifteen dormitories provide accommodation for students in nine regions. The President commissioned a G$186M Hinterland Student Dormitory, on 15th July 2019 at Liliendaal, to provide accommodation for those pursuing tertiary education.
The hinterland schools’ feeding programme has also been expanded. More than 20,000 students now benefit from some form of school feeding in 216 hinterland nursery and primary schools and annexes.
President Granger noted too that access to schools for hinterland students has been improved through the Public Education Transportation Services (PETS). This initiative has provided buses, boats and bicycles to help children to attend school at Mabaruma; Mainstay-Whyaka; Queenstown; Mahdia; Kwakwani and Coomacka.
Boats are transporting children to school, free of cost, in the Pomeroon; Mahaicony; Canje; Berbice and Demerara rivers. PETS has distributed 4,000 free bicycles, including to hinterland students.
The Head of State said too that hinterland students continue to benefit from government scholarships with the Minister of Indigenous Peoples Affairs recently announcing that 13 full scholarships will be awarded to this year’s top performers of the National Grade Six Assessment from the Rupununi Region.
“The Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs has increased the number of hinterland scholarships from 110 in 2014 t0 187 in 2018. Hinterland students, also, have been among the beneficiaries of the 1,599 tertiary-level scholarships offered by the Department of the Public Service since 2015,” President Granger said.
Meanwhile, the Head of State, who was joined by Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo; Ministers of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Mr. Sydney Allicock and Valerie Garrido-Lowe; Minister of State, Mrs. Dawn Hastings-Williams and Minister of Social Cohesion, Dr. George Norton, said hinterland education will be prioritised over the next ten years – 2020-2029 the period to which he has designated the Decade of Development.
“Education will be a cornerstone of the ‘Decade’ which will continue the task of repositioning education which commenced four years ago. Education is now moving on the correct path. More than G$170B have been expended on education over the past four
years. Expenditure on the public education sector moved from 14.8 per cent of the national budget in 2014 to 17.0 per cent in 2017,” the President said.
President Granger explained that the Decade of Development will also protect citizens’ right to universal primary, secondary and tertiary education. “Guyana’s petroleum profits will be deployed, in part, to improve education, including and especially hinterland education. Primary education is a basic entitlement of all children. It is the foundation for advanced learning,” he said adding that the ‘Decade’ will restore free education as an entitlement.
He reminded that free education is mandated by the Constitution of Guyana at Article 27 which states: “Every citizen has the right to free education from nursery to university as well as at non-formal places where opportunities are provided for education and training.”
“The ‘Decade’ will help to eliminate the educational inequalities between the hinterland and coastland by devoting more resources to hinterland education. It will allow the training of a greater number of hinterland teachers; offer improved student accommodation and transportation; and establish more hinterland schools and other educational institutions”, he said.
The President assured said indigenous people can be assured that they will not be left behind when petroleum production commences next year; the national, natural resources wealth will be developed in a manner to ensure greater equality between the hinterland and the coastland; and there will be adequate provision to strengthen hinterland development, particularly through greater educational investments, interventions and improvements.
“Education is the great equalizer. It is the key to reversing hinterland underdevelopment. It will unlock opportunities for all and help to provide the skills for development,” President Granger concluded while adding that hinterland education is on the right path.
Minister Allicock, addressed the need to protect and preserve the indigenous way of life while noting that sustainable development remains critical to Guyana’s advancement.
Themed “Maintaining our traditional practices while promoting a green economy”, there are many activities arranged including a cultural extravaganza, food and craft exhibition, Village Day at River’s View, Region Ten; educational lectures, heritage sports and an indigenous pageant, to name a few. (Article and photos provided by Ministry of the Presidency’s Press and Publicity unit)