Historic! MoU takes UG Satellite Campus to indigenous Aishalton Village

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In a historic move for education and indigenous communities, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed Saturday to establish a University of Guyana (UG) satellite campus in Aishalton Village, Region Nine. This is the first time a university will hold classes in an indigenous community in Guyana.

For years, students from indigenous areas have had to travel to Georgetown for tertiary education, facing challenges like accommodation and leaving their families behind.

The idea for access to tertiary education in the village dates back to 2008 when the South Rupununi District Council and villages made education a priority in their management plan. In May of this year, a meeting with village leaders and UG’s Vice Chancellor Professor Paloma Mohamed-Martin solidified efforts to make the dream a reality.

After 16 years, the MoU was finally signed by UG, Aishalton village, and the South Rupununi District Council to pave the way for UG’s Maoka Taawa University of the Forests.

“This will be a moment to be remembered here in Aishalton; it will be registered in our history to have the establishment of that campus here in Aishalton and to have the services brought here to our people,” Michael Thomas, Chairman of the South District Council and Aishalton’s former Toshao said.

A local resident of Aishalton has donated land she inherited from her late father for the campus, requesting only that one of the lecture halls be named after her father, Kit Spencer.

The MoU signed also includes a specific clause to respect the culture, traditions, and guidelines of the village.

UG’s Vice Chancellor Professor Paloma Mohamed-Martin travelled to Aishalton and told residents the idea for the campus is for the village to eventually manage the campus themselves.

“No other indigenous community in this country, no other indigenous community in this region and I don’t know of any in the world, who has their own university.

“Don’t call yourself an annex because we don’t intend you to be an annex, we intend you to be your own university,” she added.

A joint management team between the village and UG has also been formed. Villagers will be trained to manage the programmes with support from UG, including periodic visits and online assistance. The campus will offer high-level academic programmes and short courses, enabling students to earn credentials in two-three months.

“The idea is for you to earn while you learn, so that after two-three months you can get a credential and another one and another one,” the Vice Chancellor said.

A survey of the 21 villages in the South Rupununi showed high interest in tertiary education with majority of persons preferring to study in their own communities. The top disciplines of interest following the survey are teaching and education, medicine and sciences, infrastructure, architecture and engineering, and business, entrepreneurship, and accounting.

“Seventy-five percent said they want to study in their communities, 15 per cent said they want to go to Georgetown to UG, I think about seven per cent said they wanted to go overseas,” the Vice Chancellor stated.

The following disciplines will first be available at the campus: sustainable agriculture, sustainable infrastructure, sustainable tourism, climate and environment, sustainable medicine, preservation of indigenous knowledge, aspirational goals.

The Vice Chancellor also mentioned that UG is testing a new gaming education technology called Alpha, with the Aishalton campus being one of the first to use it alongside the Berbice Tain campus.

Funding for the campus for the first couple years is a major issue, but the campus aims to be a model for replication in other areas.

Additionally, villages will be purchasing Starlink setups to provide internet access for every village council. This initiative marks a significant step towards educational transformation and empowerment for indigenous people in Guyana.

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