Suriname's schools generally are in poor condition. Many of the schools in rural areas lack toilet facilities, running water, or electricity, and many that were damaged during the civil war in the 1980s remain unrepaired. When instructional supplies are provided, if they are not stolen, they arrive many weeks after school begins. Conditions are so dire that the government has instituted a national construction plan, with financial assistance from other countries. The interior regions have no junior or senior secondary schools. The quality of instruction also varies between the urban and interior areas. Whereas about half of students in the Paramaribo area qualify for entrance to the academic track of junior secondary school, only about 30 percent of students in the interior do so.
Education is widely available, particularly at the lower levels, and most Surinamese can afford to send their children to school, but the number of qualified graduates remains low, mainly because of high dropout and repetition rates, poor instruction, lack of education materials, and deteriorated school buildings. About 9 out of 10 Surinamese children start school, but fewer than 4 in 1,000 finish senior secondary school. Special programs have been set up for those who never enter or who drop out, but these programs cannot keep pace with demand.
Apathy has also become a problem in the school system. Less than 1 percent of the students in teachertraining school want to teach. Morale among teachers in the schools is low because of poor pay, poor facilities, and a lack of teaching materials. Between 1980 and 1994, teachers' salaries declined by four-fifths in real terms, thereby contributing to an outflow of qualified teachers who could get jobs abroad. Many teachers do not come to work although they continue to collect their salary. Finding teachers willing to serve in the interior or distant coastal districts has been a long-standing problem. The practice of shunting academically weak and unmotivated students into teaching leaves many teachers poorly prepared for their work. The system needs an entrance examination for teacher-training colleges that is separate from the national examination so as to screen out unmotivated and academically weak students, thereby improving instruction throughout the system.
Suriname receives some educational aid from a number of countries, principally the Netherlands and Belgium. Dutch support has focused on providing instructional materials and supplies at the primary level, particularly in the interior, developing apprenticeship programs in vocational-technical education and supporting higher education. Much of the international assistance to education has been at the tertiary level, in the form of assistance to the University of Suriname and scholarship programs to support Surinamese students studying abroad.
Despite these financial ties, Suriname's economic interests are increasingly shifting toward countries in which English, Portuguese, and Spanish are the official language. The dominance of Dutch in Suriname's education system has slowed the development of a curriculum that better serves the country's needs. Suriname could strengthen its educational system by including instruction not only in English but Portuguese and Spanish, especially as students advance through the higher grades. The Ministry of Education needs better management so that schools are repaired in a timely fashion, budgets are allocated equally among interior and urban schools, and abuses are curtailed. By improving teacher training, the number of well-qualified teachers would increase, and in turn students would be better educated and more of them would reach the higher levels of education.
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—Bernard E. Morris
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