Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Guyana's educational system underwent a dramatic decline. As political and economic conditions worsened, many teachers left the country, seeking better pay and greater job security. Schools fell into disrepair and mismanagement became widespread. A democratic government and an improved economy have led to educational reform and many enhancements. Budget allocations to education steadily increased in the 1990s. Teachers were given substantial salary increases, although by the year 2000, teachers were still paid as little as US$100 per month. New schools were being built, and school management has improved.
Although government funding has increased in recent years, the education system is still under funded, and government expenditures on education remain low when compared to education funding in neighboring countries. In 1990, for example, middle-income Latin American countries spent nearly 16 percent of their budget on education, whereas the Guyanese government spent only 4.2 percent. The consequences of under funding are serious. When teachers are poorly paid, the education system cannot attract and keep qualified teachers. Under funding has also been responsible for a lack of learning materials and adequate learning facilities. Nearly a third of the community high schools, when surveyed in 1995, did not have library books. In regional school districts, management is inefficient and poorly supervised. The Ministry does not know how educational funds are actually spent. In the Ministry itself, low pay and understaffing have reduced its efficiency and effectiveness. Teacher training remains the weakest link in the system. As of 1994, approximately 55 percent of the nearly 2,000 nursery school teachers in Guyana had not passed the examinations required of teachers. In the interior regions, the percentage of unqualified teachers was above 80 percent.
The effect of these conditions on student performance is reflected on test scores. On the Secondary School Entrance Examination, scores were consistently low in the 1990s. Performance on the CXC examination was equally disappointing. The number of students qualifying for the University of Guyana has declined to a point where faculty, laboratories, and workshops are underused. Poor attendance is also widespread in primary and secondary schools, and schools face the problem of increasing violence and the lack of discipline, which is said to be the reason for an average attendance of 65 percent. The use of illegal drugs, vandalism, fighting among students, attacks on teachers, and cheating on exams have compounded the problems school officials face. In the remote regions, the language used in school is often not the same as the language spoken in the home. Government expenditures favor secondary and higher education, whereas primary education is in greater need. As a result of these and other weaknesses and inequities, a student entering primary school now has only a 4 percent chance of reaching the university.
The government has employed a number of ways to improve the educational system. One of those measures is the Guyana Education Access Project I, a five-year project funded by the United Kingdom to help provide equal access to all Guyanese children and young people to quality education, focusing on secondary education in two disadvantaged regions. The Secondary School Reform Project is part of a multiphased program whose goals include developing a common curriculum for Forms 1-3, providing textbooks and instructional materials, furnishing school libraries, and promoting community participation. Twelve schools are to be refurbished and others will be given emergency repairs. The project also aims to improve organization and management of schools. The National Plan of Action has also been established to meet the specific needs of Guyana's children by improving the quality of day care centers and primary schools, improving access to them, and teaching literacy and math skills to those who have left school without this education.
At the center of all recommendations for educational reform is the need for adequate funding. With it, teachers would be better trained and those who graduate from the schools would join the public school system and remain. Curricula need to be updated to address the needs of the poor; more women are needed in the technical fields, more schools are needed, and more of the ones in operation need to be repaired. Better management in all areas of the system would help solve many problems associated with funding. Allocating funds equally among the regions is one of the priorities of reform. Perhaps the most promising element in Guyana's struggle to improve its educational system is the willingness on the part of national leaders and educators alike to acknowledge the need to reform. They have identified specific areas where reform is needed and are determined to achieve their goals.
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—Bernard E. Morris