By Vishani Ragobeer
Hinterland pupils across Guyana had to grapple with an extra set of challenges when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and forced schools to close because of limited internet connectivity. Still, with sheer determination, help from those around them and some interventions from the Ministry of Education, they were able to perform exceptionally.
Leading from the front was Aisha DeFreitas, a pupil from the Arapaima Primary School in Region Nine (Upper Takutu- Upper Essequibo). She scored 517 marks out of a possible 527 marks at this year’s National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA) and earned a place at Queen’s College – Guyana’s top secondary school.
While she is celebrated for being the first Region Nine pupil to score a position in the past few years, it is important to note that she had to overcome significant challenges. These included the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of schools but also the resource differences that exist between the hinterland and coastal schools.
“I didn’t really have any resources in my village but in Lethem now, we had more resources over there,” she told the News Room on Thursday after she found out that she had topped Region Nine.
For context, she lived in Rupanau- another village in Region Nine – but moved to Lethem, the capital town in the region, in September last year so that she could have better educational opportunities.
Certainly, she related that she benefited from additional resources and trained teachers that gave her the extra ‘push’ but moving out of her community meant moving away from her family, including all of her brothers.
And, she said that she was sad at first but believes that she was able to adapt… eventually. With these sacrifices made, she and her family are now able to celebrate her achievement.
Minister of Education Priya Education, however, noted that concerted efforts have to be made to resolve some of the challenges that exist in hinterland communities. These efforts, she explained, must include ensuring that all schools have trained teachers and ensuring that the children have access to the other resources they need for their learning.
“The children after her (Defreitas) ought not to have that problem where they need to leave their village and go somewhere else to get the benefit of a trained teacher,” she said while responding to questions posed by the News Room after she announced the 2021 NGSA results.
Much like DeFreitas, other top performers from the hinterland region also shared their experiences ahead of the NGSA and what it was like navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.
Troy Roberts, the top performer for Region One (Barima- Waini) who attended the Port Kaituma primary school, related that the shift to online learning was challenging for him and many of his peers. This is so because, in that region, internet connectivity is a challenge.
And the story repeats itself in the other hinterland regions – Regions Seven and Eight.
This does not mean that nothing has been done, however. The Education Minister pointed out that after assuming office last year, a decision was made to provide all of the necessary learning material (including 17 textbooks and other worksheets) to children in every community. Additionally, the Guyana Learning Channel – which streams solely educational content – was expanded and made accessible in numerous hinterland communities.
This meant that those children who had difficulties accessing online classrooms still had some material to use to prepare for the ‘high stakes’ examination that determines what secondary school they are placed into.
And the impact of these interventions was not lost on the children.
Kellon Jordan, a pupil from the South Rupununi in Region Nine said that the textbooks allowed him to study and prepare for the examinations. Thomas and DeFreitas too mentioned that the learning material contributed to their success.
In an invited comment on Friday, Deputy Chief Education Officer (DCEO) for Amerindian and Hinterland Development Marti DeSouza told the News Room that it is too early to determine whether these interventions had a direct impact on the children’s performance. Yet, he is sure they contributed in some way.
Importantly, DeSouza – whose portfolio is one of the newer ones at the ministry – assured members of the public that the ministry will seek to sustain some of its interventions in the hinterland regions to ensure that the gaps between the hinterland and coastal schools are bridged.