LOOKING BACK AT COLONIAL EDUCATION
Guyana’s experience since independence has shown that its educated and skilled population has provided greater opportunities in the area of human and economic development with the main spin-off being the creation of decent paying jobs and a better quality of life for all.
After 50 years of independence, this has not been achieved and most Guyanese continue to struggle to survive.
However, the education system bequeathed to Guyana by the British during the colonial era was designed to keep the nation in ignorance. There was evidence that the intent of the British was to educate a small section of the population so that they can function at a minimum level, while keeping the majority illiterate.
This was the belief of many including the Mighty Sparrow whose song “Dan is the man in the van” expressed outrage at the education system. The song high-lighted the triviality of the colonial education system and made the critical link between a modern and a regressive education system.
Mighty Sparrow – Dan Is The Man (In The Van)
The truth is that the education system was fashioned after the system in the Mother Country, thus providing the Mother Country with a trained and qualified labour force in the colonies. That is why so many of us migrated to London and easily gained employment. We were trained for life in the Mother Country, albeit at a lower level.
The poems and the lessons that were taught to Guyanese by the British for decades were not about their history or culture. They were about British verses. Other than rhymes, nothing was educational about the poems.
It was trifling and had no bearing on educating the nation. Unfortunately the local teachers were part of the system. Many have inadvertently perpetuated the status quo. As a result, students ended up not knowing their country’s history, culture or geography and many generations have been deprived of a good education.
Today, not much has changed from the colonial education system. Education is still not seen as a social equalizer especially for those in the lower socio-economic strata. It is still part of the British colonial system. Efforts to modify it have been unsuccessful. The failure of the education system must rest on the colonial education and the inability of the government to improve it.
Lateral thinking is no longer part of the system. The result is that we are failures at Mathematics and the sciences.
There are only a handful of teachers in Guyana who have inspired students in their early academic years. It was not because of what they taught them, but what they represented as an authority figure, a leader and consummate educator. Teachers are respected not only for their ability to teach but also for their skills to encourage and help students, especially those who are slow to learn and are likely to drop out of school.
The ultimate objective of all teachers is to provide a sense of hope to students, regardless of their status. Education should advance the social, economic and spiritual well-being of children. They must be at ease to know that education is the best chance for them to realize their maximum human potential. It should be the means of achieving social satisfaction.
Forbes Burnham once said that the future of Guyana lies in education. The ultimate irony is that many students today are not even aware of his legacy.