Zellynne Jennings*


“Guyana” is derived from the Amerindian word “guiana” which means “land of many waters.” Covering a land area of 214,970 sq. kilometers, it is situated on the North Eastern seaboard of the South American continent and shares borders with Venezuela to the West, Brazil to the Southwest and South, and Surinam to the East. Although it is on the South American continent, Guyana has always identified with its Caribbean neighbors and has been a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) since its inception. Nevertheless, the importance of establishing closer relationships with its Latin American and Dutch-speaking neighbors has been recognized. Language, however, proves to be a barrier. Neither Dutch nor Portuguese is taught in schools and Spanish is given little emphasis.

Originally inhabited by Amerindian tribes, since the sixteenth century Guyana has been colonized by the Dutch, French, and British. In 1831 it became “British Guiana.” The country gained its independence from Britain in 1966 and on February 23, 1970 became the first Cooperative Republic in the world and the first republic in the Commonwealth Caribbean. Guyana, in fact, in 1980 changed the Constitution under which it came to independence so that it could declare its commitment to the socialist ideology. Article 1 of the Constitution states that “Guyana is an indivisible, secular, democratic sovereign state in the course of transition from capitalism to socialism and should be known as the Cooperative Republic of Guyana” (Lutchman 1992, 9). The 1980 constitution, however, has long been viewed in some circles as a product of a fraudulent Referendum and as a device to enhance the already considerable powers of the then Prime Minister who became an executive President.

As a British colony Guyana specialized in the production of cane, sugar and cotton using African slave labor. After slavery was abolished, the African slaves abandoned the sugar estates and took to farming. To tackle the ensuing labor shortage in the sugar industry, the British imported first Chinese and Portuguese Madeiran laborers  and later indentured laborers from the East Indies. Descendants of the latter (Indo-Guyanese) now form approximately 51% of the total population, while the descendants of the Africans (Afro-Guyanese) form about 38%. The Amerindians make up about 4.5% of the population and the remainder are largely of Chinese and European descent. The population of Guyana stands at approximately 756,000. The population growth has, in fact, declined from about 3% in the 1960s to about 0.8% in the 1980s. This has been due in measure to a drop in the birth rate but also to high levels of emigration of particularly the professionals and the skilled in the society.

Guyana’s economy depends heavily on sugar, rice, and bauxite export, but in the past few years there has been a dramatic increase in revenue from industries that is attracting more and more foreign investment, for example, timber, gold, and diamond mining.

The 1970s witnessed the beginning of a prolonged and serious economic decline in Guyana that was triggered by an increase in oil prices at the time and exacerbated by a fall in the prices of key exports. Guyana did not begin to recover from this decline until the beginning of the 1990s. From a total real gross domestic product (GDP) of  -9.3 in 1983, the country’s annual growth rate reached 7.7% in 1992. The inflation rate dropped from 65% in 1991 to 14% in the following year. These improvements have been attributed to the Economic Recovery Program instituted by the government in 1988 (IDB 19936). Despite this, however, Guyana’s per capita income remains among the lowest of the countries of the Western Hemisphere. The country not only has one of the largest external debts in the Caribbean region but the Guyanese dollar is the weakest in the English-speaking Caribbean. In 1991, for example, it was devalued 175%.

The economic problems from which the country continues to suffer in the 1990s can be traced back to the political and social problems of the late 1950s that had their roots in the struggle for leadership of the country between Forbes Burnham, an Afro-Guyanese, and Cheddi Jagan, an Indo-Guyanese. Ironically, these two men once belonged to the same political party—the People’s Progressive Party (PPP)—until they became estranged over ideological differences. The split came in 1955 when Burnham defeated Jagan for the leadership of the party. In fact, two PPPs emerged; one led by Burnham who had the support of the urban Afro-Guyanese and the other led by Jagan who was supported largely by rural Indo-Guyanese. Jagan’s rally cry to his supporters at the time was “apan jhaat” (vote for your own).

Voting on racial lines has resulted in considerable racial bitterness between the Afro-and Indo-Guyanese. In the late 1950s, in fact, the then British Guiana, was described as “a microcosm of the world’s most aggravating problems: economic poverty, racial animosity, an East-West ideological conflict, class warfare and religious prejudice” (Nascimento, et al. xxii). Racial tensions reached a pitch in 1963 when villages along the coastal belt of the country that had once been racially integrated, overnight became like partitioned ghettos with nightly horrors of racial violence and atrocities.

At the time of the 1964 General Elections, the country was in a financial crisis. General strikes and two declared states of emergency in the preceding years left the country insolvent.

Unemployment reached 22% and the few that were employed in the government services were grossly underpaid. To tackle such problems became the task of the party that won the elections—the People’s National Congress (PNC)—that had earlier been formed by Burnham. The PNC, however, was charged with rigging the elections—a charge that was to accompany every election held during the next 28 years that the PNC stayed in power. Not until October of 1992, under the leadership of Burnham’s successor, and the architect of the Economic Recovery Program, was the country regarded by the world as having held a “free and fair” election. That election was won by a coalition of the PPP and Civic group led by Cheddi Jagan.

Guyana’s economic social and political problems have had a marked effect on its education system at all levels. Educational reforms in the system since independence have essentially been those introduced by the PNC. These reforms have been underpinned not only by the socialist ideology of this government but also by attempts to develop and nurture certain values that became necessary as a result of the historical experiences outlined above. These had to do in particular with a striving to break economically, socially, and intellectually with the country’s former colonial master; the need for racial harmony and the necessity to harness and exploit the vast natural resources of the country for the people’s benefit.

Values and Ideologies

Like many other developing countries, after achieving independence, Guyana was anxious to “decolonize” its education system by making it more relevant to the needs of the society and its people. Thus the need was emphasized for a “process aimed at eradicating the old colonial and capitalist values and introducing and emphasizing new and relevant ones” (Burnham 1974, 20).

The new and relevant values were embedded in the ideology of cooperative socialism that sought to make the cooperative the principal institution for giving the masses control of the Guyanese economy. Thus the cooperative was seen as “the mechanism for making the little man the real man” (Burnham 1974, 9). Developing this spirit of cooperation became a major task of the education system. In addition, ensuring that every Guyanese had the opportunity to work for and share in the economic well-being of the country, providing for equality of opportunity in the political , economic, and social life of the country, motivating the Guyanese people to improve by their own efforts the communities in which they lived, and the constant pursuit of the goal of national self reliance were all values cherished under cooperative socialism.

The Guyana National Service (GNS) was introduced as part of the national effort to restructure the education system in accordance with the ideals of cooperative socialism. The goals of the GNS included:

  • to provide training and skills that are consistent with national needs;
  • to increase national production;
  • to provide manpower for development;
  • to achieve self-reliance;
  • to develop and populate the hinterland;
  • to unite the various racial, social and economic groups in Guyana for survival and development.1

In accordance with the statutes enacting this para-military institution, any and every citizen of Guyana (including Ministers of Government) could be called upon by law to do national service. The GNS established branches in primary, secondary schools as well as in teacher training institutions and the university. Thus, it sought to socialize or resocialize Guyanese from as young as eight years old into developing a sense of national consciousness, a socialist orientation, and a commitment and loyalty to the government. It was out of this institution that the “New Guyana Man,” as conceived by the ruling regime, would emerge (Danns 1978).

Over a period of almost three decades since Guyana gained its independence, three distinct periods with different emphases in education policy can be identified. The first is the period immediately after independence when the thrust was towards the evolution of indigenous curricula and the expansion of educational opportunities. The second began in the mid-1970s and was symbolized at a special meeting of the PNC Congress in an address by the Prime Minister that became known as the Sophia Declaration. The Prime Minister declared that “it is time that we get rid of some of these cramshops which call themselves schools and operate for the pecuniary benefit of a few individuals. Education is the nation’s business” (Burnham 1974, 27). Later in the speech he also declared that “the goal is a system of completely free post primary education” (Burnham 28). At this time education at the primary level was free and most of the schools were owned by the Church. Paul, et al. (1986), for example, notes that in 1966, 51% of the primary schools in the country were denominational schools.

In 1976 all schools owned by the Church or otherwise privately owned were taken over by the government. In addition, education was made free from nursery to university level and embodied as a right in the 1980 Constitution. The nationalization of education was perceived as consistent with the goal of equality of educational opportunity because it thereby deterred discriminatory practices on religious grounds and on account of the inability of parents to pay for their children’s education. Gender discrimination was also eliminated by making single-sex schools coeducational. In the heyday of “free education” after 1976, education policy was concerned with the further extension of access to educational opportunity and the reorganization of the education system along ideological lines.

All signatories to the United Nations in the 1960s agreed that education as a human right should be available to all, free of private cost. But since then many changes have taken place especially with regard to the economies of many developing countries. Not only has Guyana’s GNP per capita become among the lowest in the Caribbean, but the greater portion of its national budget has had to be put towards debt servicing. Amidst such economic constraints, the country has had to address such concerns as its lag behind the industrial world, particularly in the areas of science and technology, and inefficiency and wastage in its education system, as manifested by declining standards in its schools resulting in more and more school graduates being barely literate and numerate. Following the World Conference on Education for All held in Jomtien in 1990, Guyana has also had to attend to the question of providing basic education for all its people as well as improvement of the educational offering at all levels.

Having to address these issues demarcates a third phase in education policy that has come on the heels of the country’s structural adjustment of its economy. Meeting the manpower requirements of the economy in terms of the education system, supplying people with the necessary knowledge and skills, especially in the areas of science and technology, management for efficiency and effectiveness, and raising the level of numeracy and literacy became critical concerns. In its last State Paper on Education Policy, the PNC government reasserted its commitment both to the principle of equality of access to educational opportunity and to working towards the elimination of socioeconomic barriers that prevent vulnerable groups in the society from enjoying such opportunities (Ministry of Education, Guyana 1990). Pressure from international funding agencies, however, have forced the government to re-assess its commitment to free education and to implement cost recovery measures, despite public outcry against the move. The issue was most marked at the tertiary level where the University of Guyana implemented cost recovery measures in the 1994/5 academic year.

One general reform of the education system is worth mentioning here as it was not only consistent with the ideals of democracy, but it was also designed to improve the effectiveness and efficiency with which the Ministry of Education could deliver education outside the municipal area of Georgetown. In 1985 the management of the education system was decentralized by transferring to Regional Democratic Councils and their Regional Education Departments (REDs) some of the authority that had formerly resided in the central Ministry. The country was divided into ten regions with a total of eleven Regional Education Departments. This included Georgetown, the capital, as a separate department, although it was situated in region 4. The main objectives of decentralization were to promote the involvement of communities in the management of education as well as to enable the central Ministry through the REDs to respond more rapidly to the needs of the community (Paul, et al. 1991).

Under decentralization, the central Ministry remains responsible for overall educational policy and coordinates, monitors and evaluates the provision of educational services. The REDs are responsible for implementing policies laid out by the Ministry, delivery of education in the regions, and the provision of facilities. Some of the statutory powers of the Chief Education Officer have been delegated to the Regional Education Officers who are in charge of the REDs. These powers include being able to open and close schools, grant leave of absence to teachers, transfer teachers within the region, grant approval for the exclusion of pupils from schools, and inspection of schools.

The remainder of this paper will examine: (i) how the ideologies and values outlined above became manifest in changes introduced at the nursery, primary, secondary and tertiary levels of Guyana’s education system and (ii) current reforms and future directions. Finally, some of the lessons learnt from the Guyanese experience in educational reform since independence will be highlighted.

Nursery Education

Formal nursery education was not introduced into Guyana until 1976. Before that there were a number of privately owned nursery schools but these were poorly equipped and staffed mostly by retired female teachers, a few of whom were trained in infant education. None of them had any training in nursery education. Teaching at this level, in fact, was characterized as knowledge dispensing and drilling of the children in skills in reading, writing, and mathematics as a foundation for primary education. Following the nationalization of education, the thrust at the nursery level was not only on access but also on improving the quality of educational offering through the training of nursery school teachers.

Teacher Training

With the help of UNICEF, the Government of Guyana (GOG), through its Ministry of Education, Social Development and Culture, implemented a national two year training program commencing in 1978 for Nursery Education Leaders (NELS). The NELS consisted of 28 females and one male. They were experienced primary school teachers who had been appointed either as heads of Nursery schools or as supervisors. The training program was modeled after the Responsive Education Program developed at the Far West Laboratory for Education Research and Development, San Francisco, California. The model for training was based on the “each one teach one” principle, described as “a manifestation of the cooperative philosophy of Guyana” (Paul 1980, 4). The idea was that having received their training the NELS would in turn train the nursery school teachers in their own educational districts.

The training program was novel in that it was task-oriented and was conducted via seminars, workshops, and follow-up activities. In between seminars the participants conducted four two-hour workshops with classroom teachers in nursery schools and this enabled them to put theory into practice. The program also tried to instil in the NELS a philosophy of nursery education that put more emphasis on social awareness and affective development than on cognitive development.

An evaluation of the program, however, showed that some 70% of the NELS remained “predominantly cognitive-oriented” (Paul 1980, 92). In other words, even after training they continued to view the development of academic skills (e.g. knowing to write and spell their names and being able to count) as the principal goal of the nursery curriculum. Children learning to be self directed, showing concern for others, or appreciating differences in others featured low in the order of priority of nursery education goals. The NELS were also found to be weak in their use of questioning techniques. Most tended to ask recall questions and made no attempt to promote the development of thinking skills.

On the basis of their performance in the workshops conducted by the NELS, some one hundred nursery school teachers were selected for training in a three year Nursery In-Service Teacher Training Program (NITTP) that commenced in September 1980. The program was conducted in four Centers located in the more urbanized parts of the country. These Centers were managed by the NELS who served as resource persons for the program. The teachers were relieved of their duties so that they could attend classes on Fridays. Classes were also held on Saturdays and during the August vacations. The teachers also had to take part in an annual training camp for nursery teachers held in April as well as community projects during the first two weeks in August.

Training programs organized by the Ministry of Education targeted all levels of the nursery education system. A one year part-time program was organized for the training of Field Officers. These were selected from 72 head teachers of nursery schools who were trained over a three period commencing in 1987. The Field Officers were responsible for supervising nursery schools and for giving feedback to the Ministry of Education and the teacher training institutions on all aspects of the functioning of the nursery education program.

Although the need was long recognized it was not until the 1991/2 academic year that the Faculty of Education at the University of Guyana introduced a Bachelors degree specializing in Nursery Education. The program offers different course options depending on whether the candidate wishes to focus on administration, supervision, or classroom teaching. It is of four years duration by part-time study for candidates with a trained teacher certificate in nursery or infant education, or five years by part-time study for secondary school graduates who meet the university’s entrance requirements and have an interest in pursuing nursery school teaching. While to date the Faculty has been unable to attract any of the latter candidates, the 1994/5 academic year produced the first graduates of the four year program.


Table 1 shows that while the percentage of trained teachers in nursery schools has increased over the years there has been a gradual decrease in the number of children attending nursery schools, although the latest figures from the Ministry of Education suggests that the trend may be reversing. The decrease has been attributed to a drop in the 4-5 years age group in the Guyanese population. In 1988 there were 26,080 children attending nursery schools in the country. This represented an enrollment of 72% of the age group (Commonwealth Secretariat 1990).

This level of enrollment is reasonably good in light of the fact that nursery education is not compulsory “since it is physically impossible to provide nursery schools in all locations particularly in hinterland areas” (Ministry of Education, Guyana 1990, 22). There are 365 nursery schools and classes in the country but most of these are located in the urban and more easily accessible rural areas. The 1993 World Bank Report, in fact, states that 46% of the enrollment is in the urban areas.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education runs a feeding program for nursery schools whereby the children are provided with milk and biscuits that are expected to be a supplement to the lunch that parents would normally provide their children. In some cases, however, the snack is the only food that the children have. Again, the children who benefit from the program tend to be those who live in the more accessible areas. In the hinterland areas, schools have to use their resources to help the disadvantaged children or harness the help of the community.

Community Involvement

The promotion of parent and community involvement is an integral part of the nursery education program in Guyana. In 1980, for example, with the assistance of UNICEF, the Ministry of Education introduced a program of 16 weekly meetings at which mothers of children who did not attend nursery schools were taught how to use educational toys and games to which children in nursery schools were exposed. This was in recognition of the role that parents can play in the early education of their young.

While this program has not been sustained, many nursery schools have Parent/Teachers Associations (PTA) through which they help parents and guardians to develop a more enlightened approach to parenting. Nursery schools rely most heavily on parents and the community in general for financial support. Most of them, in fact, were built by communities. In 1968, the government announced that its financial resources did not make it possible to provide nursery schools countrywide and urged local authorities and other community organizations to establish nursery schools. As Paul, et al. (1986) noted, the community response was good and between 1976 and 1983 a total of 1,426 nursery school positions were provided through self-help and community involvement.

Despite “free education” in Guyana, parents today have to pay nursery school fees that range from $100-$500 per term and in addition are called upon to assist in cash or kind in termly fund raising drives. Because the government tends to reserve most of its financial budget for the primary and upper levels of the education system, nursery schools have to rely on fund raising efforts for their survival. The income they earn enables them to undertake such projects as paving or leveling playground areas subject to flooding, purchasing resource materials, and, in cases, paying the salary of a teacher whom the Ministry cannot cover in its budget.

Quality and Effectiveness

The general opinion is that the quality of curricular offering in nursery schools in Guyana is of quite a high standard. This has to do in large measure with the amount of effort that has been put into teacher training and supervision at this level. Nursery school teachers’ use of teaching aids, the activity orientation and child centeredness of their approach are often picked out for emulation by teachers at other levels of the system. There is some indication from local research, however, that the quality of educational offering in nursery schools is dependent on the level of community input, particularly in the area of financing. Quality is impoverished in low income rural communities, but rich in middle to high income urban communities.

As access points for nutritional subsidies, the nursery schools have proven efficient. Local research, however, has not yet investigated what effect this has on learning, but many primary school teachers point to the generally “better preparedness” for learning of children who attended nursery schools compared with those who have not.

One area receiving more attention in recent times is that of the transition from nursery to primary schools. There is a lack of articulation between what is taught at the end of the two year nursery program and the curriculum for the first grade of the primary school. This tends to lead to unreasonable expectations on the part of these teachers as to the level of attainment of the nursery school child (Rodrigues 1994).

Primary Education


Primary schools in Guyana offer education to children between the age of five years and six months to twelve years. Some primary schools are discrete while others have nursery departments attached. Since the early 1960s some primary schools have had secondary departments attached to them. Formerly called “All Age” schools, these are now known in Guyana as “primaries with tops”. They cater to children between the ages of six to fifteen plus years. Community Schools cater to the same age group and have programs for nursery, primary, and the different types of secondary schools on the same compound. Guyana has a total of 423 schools of these various types that offer primary education.

That access to some form of primary schooling is not an issue in Guyana may seem the case if one accepts the latest official figure of 94% enrollment at this level (World Bank 1993). In a paper written by senior officers in the Ministry of Education, the level of enrollment given for 1988 was 100% (Paul, et al. 1991). An analysis of the UNESCO World Education Report for 1991 shows that Guyana has 79% gross enrollment at the primary level. The authors contend that the country does not have the capacity to enroll all primary age children within the existing system (Reimers 1993). This could of course mean that the level of enrollment is falling for the same reasons given for the nursery level. On the other hand, the discrepancies could be indicative of weaknesses in record keeping and getting access to records particularly in remote areas.

In the most remote and inaccessible areas of Guyana, however, one is likely to find a primary school. Guyana’s Education Act states that a child should not have to travel more than three miles to a primary school. Because of this requirement there are some small one-teacher schools in the hinterland and deep riverain areas. Some of these schools have less than 50 pupils (Commonwealth Secretariat 1990).

Having access to a place in a primary school does not imply equity among all children. Resources differ substantially from school to school with those in the rural and hinterland areas being the ones unlikely to have piped water, electricity, and such resources as libraries, radios, duplicators, tape recorders etc. that one finds in urban schools. Furthermore, schools in Amerindian communities that rely on teachers coming in from the coastal areas can remain non-functional for lengthy periods on account of the difficulty of attracting teachers to work in the hinterland, despite incentives in the form of added remuneration, free housing, and air travel back to the coast during vacations that are given by the Teaching Service Commission to teachers who accept appointments in those locations.

Relevance in the Curriculum

Relevance in the primary curriculum has been an issue since the colonial era. Whether the curriculum should fit the needs of the nation or the needs of the children as perceived by their parents has been a bone of contention ever since then.

In the early nineteenth century the primary school curriculum was dominated by religion because the Church played a leading role in teaching the slaves who worked on the sugar plantations to be subservient to their masters. After slavery was abolished and the slaves showed little interest in working as laborers on the sugar plantation, the introduction of agriculture in the curriculum was seen as a means of uplifting the status of manual work in the eyes of the liberated slaves. There were repeated attempts over the years to introduce work in school gardens as preparation for cultivating the vast land resources of Guyana.

In the immediate post war years the emphasis was on introducing practical subjects particularly in the senior grades of the primary school. In 1952 the Nicole Committee Report on Primary Education recommended that practical subjects such as housecraft, handicraft, and husbandry become the chief means of giving reality to school work at the primary level. Bacchus (1974), however, shows how consistently from the 1830s to the 1960s parents have opposed any emphasis on agriculture or practical subjects because they believed that study of the academic subjects was what would provide their children with the route to upward social mobility.

After the achievement of self-government in 1962, the new Minister of Education tried to make available the academic type of curriculum the parents preferred by reorganizing the primary schools into primary and secondary departments. Students in these secondary departments were allowed to take the English College of Preceptors (CP) examination that previously had only been open to students in academic secondary schools after their third year. This move resulted in a massive increase in the number of pupils in these secondary departments that took the CP. In 1960-62, for example, an annual increase of 6.5% of students over 14 years of age stayed on to take the CP. In the next two years there was an increase of 24% (Bacchus 1974). The fact that the courses studied were unrelated to the reality of life for which the students were being prepared was of no consequence, particularly to the parents whose sole aspiration was that success at the examination should take their offsprings one step further up the social ladder.

The Guyana Mathematics Project

The Guyana Mathematics Project (GMP) is an outgrowth of the quest for relevance in the primary curriculum.

Under the PNC government, involvement in cooperative activity was made a compulsory feature of everyday classroom life. The GMP is an example of the government’s attempt to realize its socialist ideals through a subject it regarded as particularly important since “an understanding of mathematical concepts is crucial to the development of scientific ways of thinking, that we in Guyana have to apply to the solution of our numerous problems.”2

The GMP was initiated in 1974 by the Curriculum Development Center of the Ministry of Education, Social Development and Culture. It was developed for use with pupils in Primary III and IV in schools throughout Guyana. It was designed to improve the teaching and learning of Mathematics not only through the development of materials for pupils and teachers but also through teacher training and research.

The development of the materials was based on a number of innovative ideas that were largely embedded in the methodology of teaching mathematics. This in turn was linked to the achievement of wider developmental goals of Guyana. For example, the GMP was described as being geared to “develop certain personality traits such as self-reliance” and “to encourage a cooperative approach to learning in schools.” The methodology also sought to develop skills in critical thinking and problem solving (Broomes, et al. 1975).

In implementing the new methodology, teachers were trained to use various strategies. These included: (i) the discussional strategy—that involved guiding discussions so that the pupils supplied all the information, gave answers to questions, and commented on each other’s answers; (ii) the exploratory—that entailed the use of concrete experiences through which the children could discover mathematical concepts for themselves and arrive at solutions to problems through experimentation. In the training of the teachers much emphasis was placed on group activity. Teachers were expected to organize their classes into small groups of 3-5 pupils. These were called “cooperative groups” in which each pupil was expected to interact with every other pupil as well as the teacher who was regarded not as the central figure but just as another member of the group. As one of the consultants to the project wrote: “pupils direct questions not only at the teacher but also at one another. They will argue, discuss, and attempt to arrive at procedures, solutions and answers. It is a group where everyone is equal” (Broomes, et al.). The assumption here is that if pupils are enabled to interact meaningfully, they will be teaching and learning from each other, thus becoming more self-reliant and less dependent on the teacher.

In the absence of an evaluation of this project, it is not possible to determine what impact it had both on mathematical learning and on the achievement of socialist goals. What is clear, however, is that the GMP was implemented in a context where pupils had a history of being inhibited in the classroom. Teachers found it difficult to get them them to both respond to questions and to ask questions. This was due in some measure to the feelings of inferiority and discomfort brought on by “unenlightened teacher reaction to the (children’s) indigenous language forms” (Cumberbatch 1972, 5).

Nevertheless, although its socialist ideals may have been lost over the years, the materials developed by the project are still in use in schools today. The GMP remains the most significant attempt to reform the teaching of mathematics at the primary level over the past two decades.

Other significant curricular reforms introduced into the primary system include the Timehri Readers that were specially developed to teach beginning reading to Guyanese Creole speakers, the inclusion of the teaching of cooperatives in the Social Studies curriculum, and the introduction of a Health Education syllabus to address such issues as family values and social problems like substance abuse and AIDS.

Equality of Educational Opportunity

Providing equal educational opportunity in Guyana is not seen as making a space available in a school for every child that needs one. We have already seen that this is not possible at the nursery level. Nor is it yet possible at the primary level if we accept the analysis of Reimers (1993). Given that there is only space available in the more prestigious general secondary schools for some 40% of primary school graduates (Ministry of Education, Guyana 1990) equality of educational opportunity has to be seen as giving each child a chance to compete in order to benefit from a good secondary education.

Against this background it becomes understandable why the requirements of the Secondary Schools Entrance Examination (SSEE), perhaps better known as the Common Entrance Examination, dominates the primary school curriculum. The SSEE is taken at the end of the primary cycle by children who have reached the age of 11+. The best of those who are successful gain entry to one of the four premier Senior Secondary sixth form schools, while the others enter the Junior High schools that offer a five year program. Those who fail either remain at the “primaries with tops” or go to Community High Schools.

Since it is the number of high school positions available that determines the pass rate, the SSEE is not a good indicator of the quality of primary schooling, although invariably it is taken as the sole measure, certainly by the society at large. When in 1966, only 2,191 pupils out of a total of 9,673 who took the Common Entrance Examination passed, this was interpreted as a sign of declining standards. A committee was appointed to inquire into falling standards in the primary and All Age schools in Guyana. The SSEE is a norm referenced test and so the quality may vary from year to year. Therefore, Table 2, which shows the SSEE results over a ten- year period in the four major primary school subjects, has to be interpreted with caution. Nevertheless, the results show that the overall performance is poor. This is particularly so in Language Arts and Mathematics, despite the fact that those two subjects are accorded the greatest amount of weekly teaching time on the timetable (i.e. 27% and 12% respectively with 9% each for Science and Social Studies. World Bank 1993a).

Introduced into the system in the 1960s, the SSEE has from time to time been the subject of much debate. Some are of the opinion that the examination is too difficult and that its multiple choice format allows students to guess their way to a passing grade. Preparation for the examination is also a high-pressured period and seems to get longer each year with some pupils starting “extra lessons” for this examination as early as the first grade of primary school. Periodically there are calls for the abolition of the examination but these are usually met with scepticism since they are not accompanied with plans to make more positions available in good secondary schools.

The current plan is for the SSEE to take on a new format reducing or eliminating the use of multiple choice questions. The testing of computation and comprehension skills is to be given more emphasis. “Examination overload” is to be addressed by removing Social Studies as a subject for examination and by replacing the two examination papers covering the four subjects with one that will be in the form of an aptitude test. Each student will also have to pass a verbal reasoning test administered by the Ministry of Education. In addition, there are plans to introduce continuous assessment of students during their primary school years and this will be taken into consideration in determining whether or not the student passes.3

Efficiency and Wastage

Following the results of the 1966 Common Entrance Examination, the committee referred to earlier concluded that falling standards were due to a number of factors. A major one, the committee felt, had to do with the system of recruiting teachers just out of secondary schools without their having to take the Pupil Teachers Examination. Insufficient supervision of these teachers and their classes by head teachers and Education Officers, teachers’ absence from classes due to having to attend lectures at the University, and the use of an excessive number of acting teachers in the system were other factors highlighted.4 Interestingly, the situation has not changed much in almost thirty years because these problems still persist.

The results of the SSEE in Table 2 indicate that curriculum instruction and teaching in the schools are not very effective. Official figures inform us that about 71% of teachers at the primary level are trained and that the  pupil: teacher ratio is 1: 34 (Commonwealth Secretariat 1990). The Digest of Educational Statistics of Guyana 1995-1996 indicates that the ratio is now 1:30, but in individual regions the ratio of pupils to trained teachers ranges from 46:1 (region 10) to 180:1 (region 8). In Georgetown, only 19% of the teachers are untrained and in regions nearer to the city (e.g. regions 3 and 4), between 21-22% of the teachers are untrained (World Bank 1993b). Some of these untrained teachers have barely completed secondary school, and many of them have to teach classes of 40 or more students. In the Guyanese hinterland one teacher with a class of 120 children ranging from grades 1-9 (ages 6-14+) is not uncommon. Necessity has forced many of these teachers to become experts in multi-grade teaching.

The physical conditions in most primary schools are also very poor. Many schools, even in the urban areas, lack running water, electricity, adequate and sanitary toilet facilities, storage space, and adequate supplies of resource materials. Textbooks are scarce. In fact, only one-quarter of the primary school textbook requirement is met (World Bank 1993b). Libraries in these schools are rare and vandalism has left many of them looking as if they are suffering from the aftermath of a devastating hurricane.

Some of these factors undoubtedly contribute to the low level of attendance in some schools. The national attendance rate is given as 68% with the level falling as low as 50% in region I (World Bank 1993b). The Digest of Educational Statistics of Guyana 1996-96 gives the national average attendance rate as 75%. These statistics, however, only tell half of the story because in schools in areas that are subject to flooding, where only a quarter of the class turns up on a rainy day, very little teaching goes on. The effect on attendance rate of the extent of use of child labor in the rice growing areas, and the growing number of school children as itinerant vendors during school hours has not yet begun to engage the attention of researchers in Guyana.

The same can be said about drop out rates which at the primary level range from 3.2% to 7.8% in the final grade (World Bank 1993a). Overall 11% of first grade enrollments are repeaters. Local research has shown that grade repetition is a major reason why children drop out of school.

Improving Quality

In order to address some of the problems outlined above a Primary Education Improvement Project (PEIP) was brought on stream in Guyana in 1990. The PEIP is funded by the Inter-American Development Bank to the tune of some US$52.3m. The overall objective of the project is to improve the quality of primary education and to this end it focuses on the three major areas where significant deficiencies were found to be impeding the effectiveness of primary education. These areas are:

  • professional qualification and skills training;
  • availability of relevant textbooks and other curriculum materials; and
  • physical facilities in the schools.

A comprehensive program of human resource development has also been designed. This includes training in remediation for in-service teachers that focuses on giving them basic pedagogical skills and on increasing their competence to use more effective teaching methods.

The main loan for the PEIP is intended to improve the physical state of primary schools either through rehabilitation or through construction of new buildings. These new or rehabilitated buildings will be provided with the teaching materials, equipment, and furniture needed to support educational activities. Four years after the commencement of the project, however, the government raised concerns over the high cost of the building program. A decision was taken to reduce the cost of each school building by using less costly materials and by reducing the space per child.5

Before the PEIP came on stream a new primary education program had begun with the desire to improve literacy and numeracy. This involved the development by teachers seconded to the National Center for Educational Resource Development (NCERD) of Skills Reinforcement Guides (SRGs) in Mathematics, Language Arts, Science, Social Studies, Agriculture, and Health Education for grades 1-5 in the country’s primary schools. Use of the SRGs required the teacher to reinforce concepts and skills learned in Language Arts and Mathematics across the curriculum. The assumption is that if teachers do this throughout the child’s years in primary school, upon graduation, he or she should be both functionally literate and numerate. Through workshops conducted in all the regions, the staff of NCERD gave training to the principals of the schools in skills reinforcement and the use of an approach to teaching that involved the use of activity methods and that encouraged the teacher to de-emphasize “chalk and talk” in favor of the use of a questioning technique that elicits the children’s knowledge and develops their higher level cognitive skills. Even while teachers were still grappling with the SRGs, change of leadership at NCERD in 1992 resulted in a change to a “whole curriculum” approach that requires teachers to correlate or integrate concepts across the curriculum. The textbooks developed through the PEIP were originally designed to support the use of the SRGs.

Secondary Education

Access to Relevant Curricula

The secondary school enrollment ratio is low compared with other countries in the English-speaking Caribbean. The estimated enrollment ratio of 59% in 1980 dropped to 56% in 1989, the most recent year for which estimates are available (World Bank 1993b). While high rates of emigration from Guyana may be a contributory factor here, this decline in enrollment has resulted despite a number of efforts over the years to improve access to secondary education for graduates of the primary system.

Similar attempts to inculcate new and relevant values at the primary level were also made at the secondary level. Just as the ruling groups in the society attempted to impose on the masses their view of the appropriateness of agriculture and other practical subjects as content for the primary curriculum, in the same way they tried to do similarly at the secondary level. Conflict of interest, however, arose between the masses and the rulers who tried to impose curricular reforms aimed at influencing occupational choices in the technical and agricultural fields. It soon became clear that the students and their parents did not see such programs as providing them with access to the better paid and more prestigious jobs in the society. They wanted the academic curriculum that was being dismissed as “irrelevant” but which, in their view, was what afforded them the route to economic and social mobility (Bacchus 1975).

Multilateral Schools

The late 1960s saw a renewed effort at injecting relevance into the education system by re-orienting the secondary education system towards meeting the country’s manpower requirements for industry, agriculture, and commerce. In 1969 the International Development Association and the World Bank lent Guyana some US$5.8m. to be used to build six multilateral secondary schools that were also to be used as adult vocational training centers. Consistent with the goal of equalizing educational opportunity, these schools were built in parts of the country where there were few or no secondary schools at all.

Some of the aims of the Multilateral schools are:

  • To provide, in keeping with the cooperative and egalitarian aims of Guyana, equality of educational opportunity for more children of the 12 to 18 age group.
  • To offer a more balanced curriculum through a wide range of subjects having the necessary indigenous and regional content so as to discover, challenge, and develop to the fullest, the individual abilities and interests of all students including the highly gifted as well as the less able.
  • To foster the cooperative spirit.
  • To acquaint students with the various occupational skills needed by the society, and the educational and psychological requirements to ensure success and satisfaction in the occupations.6

When they were first introduced, the Multilateral schools provided a five-year program leading to the G.C.E. “O” levels. Two schools offered a sixth form program. Their name—“having many sides”—derives from the fact that they offer a number of specializations: the Humanities, Science, Technology, Home Economics, and Commerce. Students enter these specializations based on their ability, but not before their fourth year. In the preceding years they are exposed to curricular offerings in English Language and Literature, Spanish, Mathematics, General Science, Social Studies and Cooperative Studies, Art and Craft, Wood and Metal Work, Home Economics, Music, and Physical Education.

At the end of five years, students of exceptional ability are expected to proceed to higher education, while others go on to further vocational training to qualify as skilled or semi-skilled workers.

The Multilateral schools provide access for nearly 5,500 students who would otherwise not have had the opportunity to benefit from a secondary education. Selection for entry to these schools is based solely on performance at the SSEE. Originally there were plans to use an additional assessment of the cumulative records of the students while at primary school, but these never materialized.

During the 1970s a Multilateral Teacher Training Program was established to train teachers to work in the Multilateral schools. In those days the schools were well staffed because they were not solely recruited from graduates of the university. A number of persons were trained in Canada and the U.K. for teaching and administrative positions in these schools.

Community High Schools

To meet the needs of students who were not selected for the general secondary schools and to provide these students with the skills that would enable them, on graduation, to contribute towards the development of their communities, another type of school was introduced. These are known as Community High Schools (CHS).

The CHS offers a practical vocational program designed to give students the knowledge and skills needed by the communities in which they are located. On completion of the four-year program, the graduate should be able to find paid employment, become self-employed, or proceed to further skills training at the Government Technical Institute or the Guyana School of Agriculture.

In 1973 the CHS program was introduced on an experimental basis into two schools—one at Beterverwagting (BV) and the other at Lodge. The former was a discrete CHS (i.e., having a separate building) with its own workshops and farm and it obtained its intake from feeder primary schools in the community. Lodge, on the other hand, was a “primary with a top” in that its students proceeded from the primary grades to the secondary department (that offered the CHS program) in the same school.

Both models offered a program that combined academic and prevocational training. During the first three years students did a combination of both types of study and then at the end of the third year wrote the first part of the Secondary Schools Proficiency Examination (SSPE). Those who passed obtained positions at general secondary schools. The remainder spent the final year specializing in a prevocational subject e. g. carpentry/joinery, bricklaying, welding/metal work, agricultural science, home economics, basic electricity, or arts and crafts. At the end of this year they wrote the second part of the SSPE.

To bridge the gap between theory and practice and to more integrally link the school with the community, during the final year of the program, each student participated in a work-study program. This gave the students the opportunity to gain work experience in their area of specialization and to acquire the attitudes necessary for employment on leaving schools. Work-Study was expected to ease the transition from school to the work place.

During the latter half of the 1970s the CHS program seems to have prospered. Community high schools, modeled after Lodge or BV, were built all over the country with at least one in each region. There are 37 CHS in the country. International funding agencies such as CIDA and UNIPAC provided assistance in the form of agricultural equipment and supplies for Industrial Arts and Home Economics programs. The British Government also provided seven reconditioned tractors and two reconditioned trucks for use in the agricultural programs. In addition, CHS graduates were able to attend some 18 post secondary Practical Instruction Centers (PICs) located in the more populous regions. At the PICs they were able to obtain further training in areas such as home economics and industrial arts.


In the early 1980s only about 0. 048% of students graduating from the CHS were able to obtain further training in agriculture despite the heavy reliance on the schools’ agricultural education programs to supply the manpower needed to fill the numerous jobs in the agriculture industry. One of the two institutions at the time that offered post-secondary vocational agriculture training programs was a PIC known as Belbaag. This was a residential institution located amidst hundreds of hectares of agricultural land. Included in its objectives were:

  • To equip students with the general socialist philosophy and work ethic aimed at making them both socially conscious of and socially useful in their roles as productive citizens of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.
  • To develop in our young people competent aggressive leadership in agricultural development.7

Learning through productive work was a principal feature of Belbaag as was the emphasis on service to both the institution and the community. Self reliance was stressed at both the individual and institutional levels. Belbaag was largely self-supporting as the students had to grow or produce whatever they consumed. Students were paid a small stipend that was increased according to the level of production but the work ethic that they were expected to acquire inculcated in them “the principle of work for development and not work for remuneration—the latter practice being self destructive in nature.” Graduates of Belbaag received a certificate of achievement in agricultural production and cooperatives.

President’s College

Built in the early 1980s in a quiet village on the East Coast of Demerara, President’s College (the brainchild of President Forbes Burnham) was conceived as a “school of excellence” and designed to provide opportunities for the most gifted young people in Guyana. The school sought to prepare these youngsters not only to assume leadership roles in their respective fields, but also to develop “a high degree of socialist political consciousness and socialist patterns of behavior” (Paul, et al. 1986, 378). Making the institution residential was a means of providing opportunities to inculcate such behaviors. The school was not only provided with the best of facilities, but it was staffed with the cream of the teaching profession.

The Hinterland Development Program

The Hinterland Development Program (HDP), established in 1975 at a general secondary (formerly Catholic) school built in 1837, was a two- year alternative Sixth form program that was designed to prepare young people who could “act positively as change agents and development agents especially in rural and hinterland Guyana.”

Among its major objectives were:

  • To equip senior students at the secondary level through an applied and integrated science pre-professional program with the basic skills for the objective use of their natural resources.
  • To train these students to act intelligently, independently, effectively, efficiently, productively, creatively, and cooperatively in the development of their country.
  • To offer them the challenge to use their ability to the fullest through positive participation in the hinterland thrust.8

To enter the program students had to satisfy the normal G.C.E. “O” level requirements for sixth form study, but special consideration was given to candidates who did not satisfy the requirements but had a keen interest in agriculture or husbandry. A maximum of thirty students was admitted each year.

All students had to follow a compulsory program consisting of three major areas of study: Human Ecology, Agriculture, and Technology. The latter included surveying, building technology, industrial agricultural engineering, and home management. In the Human Ecology course, students had to cover such topics as basic ecological principles (that included a study of forestry, community development, social psychology and sociology, and world development policies, including the Third World).

An integral part of the program was a “work-study living” experience in what was termed a “laboratory” of hinterland living. This “laboratory” consisted of approximately 150 acres of virgin forested land at Moblissa in region 10. The students spent the second year of the program in residence at Moblissa where they had regular classes that attempted to link theory with practice. Residential accommodation was rough as it had to be built by the students themselves without any modern machinery. The students (both male and female) had to clear the forest themselves. They also reared poultry, pigs and did some crop cultivation.

Depending on their performance at the end of the program, the students could be awarded a maximum of 3 GCE “A” levels.

Equal Opportunity for Girls in Technical and Vocational Education

This UNESCO-sponsored project was carried out in two secondary schools, one general secondary and the other a Community High School, between 1987 and 1992. It targeted 180 female students who entered the two schools in September 1987, and involved the training of female teachers in Industrial Arts subjects, holding additional classes for the girls outside school hours, arranging for visits to industrial enterprises, appropriate placements for work study experiences, sensitizing parents and teachers in the schools to the issue of sex role stereotyping, and ensuring that an adequate supply of materials and equipment was available in the schools for use in the relevant subject areas. The progress of the girls was closely monitored during the first three years.

At the end of this period, 40 girls chose to specialize in non-traditional areas in form 4, far exceeding any previous levels of enrollment in these schools. In the general secondary schools, 14 girls took the CXCSEC General Proficiency examination in General Electricity. Twelve obtained grade 11 passes and the others grade 111. This was considered a great success when compared with other subjects in these school. Nine of the CHS students went to the Guyana Industrial Training Center to further their training in related technical areas and seven from the general secondary enrolled in courses in Radio Electronics, Architectural Drawing, and Electrical Engineering at the GTI (Bernard 1994).

Efficiency and Wastage

What did all these innovative programs achieve?

The HDP was hailed as a success in its heyday although by 1983 the program had folded and the forest had already begun to reclaim the “laboratory” at Moblissa. The turning point for the HDP came in 1982 when a political decision was taken to rotate Heads of Secondary schools. The principal of the school that ran the HDP was a Catholic nun who chose to resign rather than move to another school. The HDP lost its dynamism. Today Guyanese who remember the program speak about it with nostalgia and point to the number of its graduates who proceeded to earn doctoral degrees abroad as the measure of its success. There is no evidence, however, that any of the HDP’s graduates ever served as change agents or development agents in the Guyanese hinterland.

No evaluation was ever done of the HDP, but notes in the program files indicate that some students felt that more time should be given to academic work during their stay in the “laboratory.”

Attempts to encourage young people to enter the agriculture industry have always been foiled by the development of negative attitudes. Turner and Persaud (1980) found that students at the Bladen Hall Multilateral school with low grades in Mathematics and Science were channeled into Agriculture. They questioned whether such a practice would lead to the development of positive attitudes to agriculture. They also found sex-typing of subject choice in the school with Home Economics being totally dominated by girls while boys formed 60% and 90% of Agriculture and Technology respectively. This trend may not have been widespread because Paul (1980) reported that in the secondary system more females were participating in fields that were previously dominated by males and that there was a growing number of boys taking Home Economics.

Despite the fact that the Equal Opportunity for Girls into Technical-Vocational subjects project showed the sort of intervention strategies that could discriminate in favor of girls’ involvement in traditionally male-oriented subject choices, economic constraints have prevented the Ministry of Education from undertaking implementation of these strategies on a wider scale in the school system.

Most inefficient and least effective have been the Community High Schools. The expansion of the CHS concept nationwide was done despite evaluations of the BV and Lodge models that generally showed that the program was not achieving its objectives.

One study found that less than 50% of the graduates obtained full-time employment. Some were offered jobs where they did work study, but most were working in areas unrelated to their specializations. Moreover, many of them had to move away from their communities in order to get jobs. This was regarded as disappointing since it was clear that the CHS was not achieving the objective of helping to develop the communities (Ministry of Education, Social Development and Culture 1979).

Over the years the problems of the CHS have multiplied. Certain practices evolved that resulted in the development of negative attitudes towards the CHS. They are generally regarded as “schools for failures.” Apart from the fact that pupils who fail the SSEE end up there, at one time pupils who did not get a rating of least 24 on the scale that assessed their service to the school and the community could be sent to the CHS even though they may have passed the SSEE.9 In 1982 a decision by the Ministry of Education to change the status of technical officers to generalists in education, left the CHS in education districts other than Georgetown without officers to supervise the program. The work-study program waned because the CHS students could not compete with their peers from the general secondary schools whom the employers preferred. The schools have also suffered from the constraints on the Guyanese economy that left them with annual budgets that could not allow for sufficient upkeep of their facilities or provide the equipment or supplies needed for their pre-vocational programs. In 1990, when the Ministry of Education announced that it could not afford to pay for security guards for schools, many of the CHS fell prey to vandals.

Unattractive and dull, the learning environments of many CHS are not conducive to learning. It is hardly surprising that so many students drop out of school. In a recent survey carried out in 71 CHS and secondary departments in “primaries with tops” it was found that in 1990, 38.5% of CHS students graduated and 61.2% dropped out in the final year. In form 3, 73.3% of the students enrolled took the SSPE Part 1 but only 8.3% of these gained entry to a general secondary school while 26.7% of them dropped out. The trend in 1991 was similar: 37.8% of the students graduated while 62.2% dropped out in the final year. In form 3, 69.7% took the SSPE Part 1 and 12.7% obtained positions in the general secondary schools. Given as reasons for the high drop out rate were not only shortage of textbooks, lack of qualified teachers, and poor facilities, but also much wasted class time (Williams 1993).

Performance at the CXCSEC

The dream of most CHS students is to acquire a position at a general secondary school. What good this does them in the long term is questionable given the overall performance at the Caribbean Examinations Council Secondary Education Certificate (CXCSEC) examinations.

Guyana’s membership of CXC from its inception in 1972 was consistent with its goal of “eradicating the old colonial and capitalist values and introducing and emphasizing new and relevant ones.” The performance of its students in these examinations over the years has fallen short of being inglorious. Table 3 illustrates the performance in a range of subjects for 1993 and using the combined percentage for Grades 1 and 11 (normally taken as the two passing grades) shows Guyana’s position amongst 16 territories that presented candidates.

Three points are worth drawing to attention in this table. The first is the low level of performance in English. Guyana sent the third largest number of candidates (after Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, respectively) for this examination, but less than 10% of these managed to obtain a passing grade. It is hardly surprising that there is so much disenchantment in the society over the fact that so many secondary school graduates hardly know how to write a good application for a job. Secondly the performance in mathematics and science is also poor. This explains why the university has so much difficulty admitting sufficient numbers of suitably qualified candidates for math and science-based disciplines (e. . g Natural Sciences and Technology) as well as for training as teachers in these areas. Thirdly, despite the fact that Guyana shares borders with Spanish-speaking countries, few students are studying Spanish and the performance of those who do is relatively poor. It is worth noting that Belize, which also borders countries with Spanish speakers, had the largest number of grade 1 passes—70.9% in 1993, and over 90% with grades 1 through 11 combined.

The proportion of the 15-19 year old age cohort doing the CXCSEC or GCE examinations has dropped from 16. 5% in 1965 to 4. 9% in 1984. This is a reversal of trends in other CARICOM countries. Interestingly, while Guyana ranked third out of seven countries in terms of its student graduates in 1965, almost thirty years later it ranks among the last (World Bank 1993b).


In 1998, the Ministry of Education attempted to stem this decline by introducing the National Fourth Form Achievement Test (NFFAT) that was taken by students at the end of their fourth year in the general secondary schools. NFFAT was designed to identify strengths and weaknesses in student performance and to provide data to facilitate selection of subjects for the CXCSEC examinations. Because the questions set for NFFAT reflected the spectrum of intellectual abilities emphasized in the CXCSEC syllabi, and because the examination marking system was modeled on that used by CXC, it was hoped that NFFAT would make an improvement in performance at the CXCSEC.

As Table 4 shows, overall performance in the subjects is better at CXCSEC than at NFFAT, but compared with their Caribbean counterparts, the performance of Guyanese students, as already seen, has not improved over the years. NFFAT itself is fraught with problems relating to the taking of the examination papers, the administration of the examination and inadequate funding. The late publication of the results of NFFAT caused them to become an unusable guide selection for subjects at CXCSEC, as was the original intention. These factors in addition to poor teaching, have combined to foster negative attitudes on the part of many students to the examination. Urban students have been found to be much more negative towards the examination than their rural counterparts. They feel that “extra lessons” were much more useful in their preparation for the CXCSEC than NFFAT.10 NFFAT has since been discontinued.

There are of course a number of reasons to account for the poor performance of Guyanese students at both NFFAT and the CXCSEC. Despite the fact that official statistics give the percentage of trained teachers in the general secondary schools as approximately 65% (Commonwealth Secretariat 1990), there are a number of schools even in the cities where teacher shortages are so severe that certain subject areas cannot be offered or if offered, the students have to make do with a part-time teacher whose commitment invariably is divided between them, his/her full time job, and studies at the university. Moreover, the percentage of trained teachers in the system varies across the regions. In Georgetown, for example, 25% of teachers are untrained. In regions 2, 3, and 10, it is between 34-39%, while in region 1, 44% of teachers are untrained (World Bank 1993b). Official statistics also give the teacher/pupil ratio in these schools as ranging from 1:20 and 1:23, but this does not reveal the numerous instances where shortage of teachers results in one teacher having to combine two or three classes. Teachers in mathematics and physics are rapidly becoming an “endangered species” in Guyana. High rates of teacher migration either North or to other parts of the Caribbean have clearly had a negative impact on the Guyanese education system.

The low level of financing of education at the secondary level by the government has in no way contributed to the generally poor conditions in these schools. The government spends US$54 equivalent on each secondary school child. This is very low when compared with Bahamas and St. Lucia that contribute US$1010, and US$579 respectively (World Bank 1993). It is hardly surprising that a large number of Guyanese teachers who migrate head for the Bahamas and St. Lucia. Increasingly, secondary schools have to rely on Parent Teachers Associations for financial support. The more prestigious senior secondary schools have Old Students’ Associations that give them financial assistance, some with the aid of chapters abroad. The Old Students’ Association of Queen’s College, the oldest of the senior secondary schools, for example, managed a multi-million dollar fund raising project to restore the school building.

Tertiary Education

Response to Needs

The mid-1960s to the early 1970s saw an increase in the provision of technical education not only at the secondary but also at the tertiary level. This was in response to the need for skilled technical manpower in order to meet the demands of economic development. Such needs could not be met by the Government Technical Institute (GTI) that had been established in Georgetown in 1951. Consequently a new technical institute was established at New Amsterdam in region 6. Both institutes continue today to provide training for male and female students in business studies, electrical and technical studies, land surveying and building. Classes are organized so as to cater for different categories of students (i.e., part-time, day release and evening classes and full-time study).

The Guyana Industrial Training Center provides short courses with a maximum of one-year’s duration in six trade areas: electricity, plumbing, carpentry, masonry, welding and heavy equipment operation, and maintenance. The Carnegie School of Home Economics provides daytime courses (normally of two-year’s duration) in household management. Evening classes lasting between three to six months are also offered to adults wanting to study home management and craft skills.

Two significant developments took place in 1963. Consistent with the emphasis the government placed on agriculture in the economy, the Guyana School of Agriculture was founded. Today it continues to offer courses leading to either a certificate or a diploma in agriculture. On graduation, students are equipped to function as agriculture teachers, farmers, extension workers, and field assistants.

The second development was the establishment of a national university. Since its inception in 1948, Guyana had been a contributing territory to the University College of the West Indies (UCWI). However, when after fifteen years it had contributed $694,000 and had only produced 97 graduates, of whom only 41 had returned to serve the country, the PPP government questioned whether the country was receiving its money’s worth. In addition, being a college of the University of London, the leftist government perceived the UCWI as colonial and elitist in character and its program offerings were not considered relevant to the specific needs of Guyana. The PPP government, therefore, withdrew Guyana from the UCWI and in April 1964 established the University of Guyana (UG) by Ordinance No. 6 of the Legislature of British Guiana. UG was expected to have the following characteristics:

  • it would be more cost efficient, making higher education cheaper and therefore affordable to a larger number of Guyanese;
  • it would have a teaching and research curriculum that would be specific to the needs of the country and would promote national development; and
  • it would be a catalyst for a wide range of cultural developments in the nation.11

Commencing with Bachelor degrees in the Arts and Social Sciences, UG spent the fist six years of its life in temporary accommodation on the Queens College compound that at the time was a secondary school for boys. It held evening classes both there and at the GTI. It was not until 1969 that UG commenced classes on its own campus at Turkeyen, some four miles east of Georgetown on approximately 140 acres of land donated by the Booker Group of Companies. The buildings were constructed with aid from the British and Canadian governments.

To develop higher level technical skills than could be trained by the two technical institutes, in 1969 a Division of Technical Studies was established at UG. This was later expanded into a Faculty of Technology with departments of Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical Engineering. In response to other needs in the society, a Department of Health Sciences was established in 1971, among its offerings being a diploma in Pharmacy. This department was later expanded into the Faculty of Health Sciences that in 1985 commenced offering a degree program in Medical Sciences for the training of local doctors in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. By this time UG had seven Faculties: Arts, Agriculture, Education, Health Sciences, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences and Technology. The Faculty of Education was established in 1967. At that time it offered a two-year In-Service Diploma in Education. In 1976, a Department of Extramural Studies was established in the Faculty and this was upgraded in 1984 to an Institute of Adult and Continuing Education (IACE). Consistent with the goal of broadening access to education through varied delivery systems, this institution has since been renamed the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education (IDCE).

Through these various programs, UG has been able to respond to the specific needs of the country and, since 1975, it has also been able to accredit programs offered by other local institutions, for example, a Medex certificate offered by the Ministry of Health since 1977. “Medex” is derived from the French “medecin extension” and is the term used for a middle-level health worker who is community oriented and who can provide a reasonable level of health care to people in the remote rural and hinterland areas. Other programs that have been accredited are the diploma in Youth Work offered by the Caribbean Center of the Commonwealth Youth Program, and the Health Science Tutors and Management certificates offered by PAHO/WHO Caribbean Regional Allied Health Project.

In order to ensure that both students and lecturers at the post-secondary level understood and became committed to cooperative socialism, from 1975 participation in the Guyana National Service was made a requirement for persons attending the University. Before they could receive their degrees students had to provide certified evidence of having done one year (later reduced to two months) of national service. This requirement no longer applies. Service in the Pioneer Corps in excess of one year provided persons who otherwise did not qualify with the opportunity to attend the University. The Pioneer Corps is an arm of the GNS in which participants between the age of 14-25 are trained by the Guyana Defence Force to work on development projects in the hinterland. The Kuru-Kuru Cooperative College was established in 1970 to teach the principles of cooperative socialism and to develop the technical skills needed for the management of cooperatives.


The developments at the tertiary level since the 1960s has resulted in a gradual increase in the number of persons benefiting from post-secondary education. Statistics between 1964 and 1982 show a continuous increase in the intake of students at the technical institutes. During this period some 33,511 students enrolled at the GTI. Although the institutes tend to be male dominated, the number of females enrolled has increased over the years. The number of females attending GTI increased from 55 in 1966 to 402 in 1982. Between 1966-1982, some 4,894 females have enrolled here (Fletcher, et al. 1987). According to the Digest of Educational Statistics of Guyana for 1995-96, student enrollment at GTI was composed of 69% males and 31% females.

Enrollment at the Guyana School of Agriculture has been much smaller. In 1963, 25 males were enrolled. In 1966, 6 out of 68 students enrolled were females. By 1983 out of a total of 184 students, 41.5% were females (Fletcher, et al.).

There is no doubt that UG has provided opportunities for more Guyanese to obtain higher education than could have afforded to go abroad. As Table 5 shows, between 1963 and 1977 there was a gradual increase in both the level of enrollment and the number of students graduating from the institution. Having reached a peak of output in 1977, the same number of persons graduating from the institution was not to be attained again for the next fifteen years. Enrollment between 1981-1986 fell to levels lower than achieved in the 1970s. Not until 1993 did UG manage to exceed 3,000 in enrollment.

Teacher Training

In the early 1960s some 64% of teachers in the education system were untrained. The Government Training College (GTC), established in 1928 as the Teachers Training Center, could not meet the demand. The name of the GTC was changed to the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) in 1976. In 1962, an In-Service Teachers’ Training Program (ITTP) was introduced to deal with the backlog of untrained teachers at the primary and secondary level. The ITTP was offered in eight centers located in different parts of the country, but in 1965, five of these centers were closed leaving three in New Amsterdam (region 6), Linden (region 10), and Georgetown. In 1968, the Lilian Dewar College of Education (LDCE), formerly known as the Government Secondary Teachers’ Training College for Multilateral schools, was established to train teachers mainly for secondary schools. The training of nursery school teachers was handled by the Ministry of Education from 1980.

In 1985, the nursery training program, the LDCE, the ITTP, and the CPCE that had previously functioned as separate institutions, were amalgamated into one institution in order to maximize on the limited human and financial resources available as well as to rationalize teacher education. This single institution carried the name of one of them—the Cyril Potter College of Education. The CPCE, together with the Faculty of Education at UG, that was established in 1967, are responsible for teacher training in the country. The National Center for Educational Resource Development (NCERD), that was set up in 1987, is the arm of the Ministry of Education that has responsibility for the in-service training of teachers.

Table 6 shows the student enrollment by sex following the two-year program at the CPCE and indicates that the institution cannot meet the demand for trained teachers in the primary and lower levels of the secondary system. Nor can the Faculty of Education meet the demand for teachers who would be capable of handling the CXCSEC syllabi and the GCE “A” levels. Graduates of the Diploma in Education program, who have a first degree in the subject area, are relied on to supply the system’s needs for teachers of “A” level subjects. Enrolments of 5 (English), 3 (Mathematics) and 9 (Science), as Table 7 shows, can hardly be expected to make much contribution. Noticeable for its absence from this table is Modern Languages, especially Spanish.

Efficiency and Wastage

Despite the development of institutions for tertiary education, the overall enrollment level at these institutions is only about 5% (UNDP 1993). There are a number of reasons for this. The CPCE is hard pressed to find suitably qualified applicants for its programs and the failure rate of those who are accepted is high. The CPCE Examination Records for 1985, for example, show that out of 256 students who took the final examinations in Mathematics, 6% failed. In 1993, out of 273 who took the examination, 36% failed. Over the years the College has tried to stem the rate of failure by, for example, introducing in 1985 modularization of its programs that involved testing of achievement at shorter intervals. This, however, has had little effect as the 1993 results for Mathematics indicate.

Less than 2% of the 16+ population enter the University. This is very low compared with parts of the developed world that exceed 20%. Interestingly, over 50% of the enrollment is female as Table 8 indicates. From this table, it also evident that sex stereotyping of subject choices continue with females dominating the Faculties of Arts and Education, while Agriculture/Forestry, Natural Sciences, and Technology remain male dominated.

Research suggests that a fair number of those who graduate from UG remain in the country to make a useful contribution. Fletcher et al. (1987), for example, refers to a survey of about 400 Guyanese that showed that 74% of them were UG graduates. The public sector was the employer of 65% of these graduates, while 32% were working in the school system. Approximately 90% of the graduates saw their jobs as being related to their training. The writers, therefore, concluded that “the University is succeeding in helping to provide the trained personnel required especially by the public sector” (36).

There still is, however, a general feeling in the society that the University could do much more in the training of the skills needed for the development of the country. The low level of enrollment in such areas as agriculture and forestry, natural sciences, and technology (see Table 8) is witness to this, particularly in light of the pivotal role that Guyana and the University in particular has to play in the Iwokrama Rain Forest Project.12 The decline in output between 1978-1991 has been rooted in trends in the Guyanese society and economy over that period, for example, in the fact that the Guyanese economy was hit by the world oil crisis of the 1970s and changing patterns in world production and world trade in Guyana’s main exports seriously reduced the national income. A stringent university budget made it impossible to attract the more highly qualified staff given that they could not expect to earn more than one-fifteenth of what they could expect to earn in similar jobs in other parts of the Caribbean (Craig 1993). In addition, negative attitudes on the part of the staff, poor maintenance of the physical plant, lack of essential equipment, laboratories, inadequate classroom facilities and library materials all contributed to making the learning environment at UG unattractive.

Over the years, however, the University has developed some practices that are costly and inefficient. It offers an excessive number of programs, some of which overlap, even within faculties. Its staff/student ratios are low in certain faculties although in others it compares very favorably with UWI. In the 1991/2 academic year, for example, the staff/student ratio for Natural Sciences was 1:4.9, while all other faculties ranged from 1:6-8 with the exception of Health Sciences and Social Sciences that were 1:14.2 and 1: 18.7 respectively. In the 1992/3 academic staff student ratios increased in all Faculties to as high as 1:23.5 in the Social Sciences faculty (The University of Guyana: A Development Plan 1993). Some faculties (e.g., Agriculture, Arts, and Technology), however, still have staff student ratios of below 1:10.

Not only low staff: student ratios but minimal contact hours for staff (i.e., 10 hours and below per week), study leaves (including family passage), guaranteed sabbatical leave every six years, Dean’s leave, and expenditure on travel to meetings and conferences all contribute to making the unit cost of university education high.

Since its inception, the University has relied on the government for its funding. The government spends the equivalent of US$858 on each university student. This is 33 times more than it spends on a primary school child.

Current Reforms and Future Directions

The capability of the University (and tertiary education in general) to contribute to the development of Guyana rests principally on two things: (i) adequate funding; and (ii) the recovery of the secondary school system.

To stem the decline of the 1980s with regard to funding, the PNC government negotiated a soft loan with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) that, since 1987, has assisted the University in two ways. Firstly, it has enabled some rehabilitation of existing buildings and the construction of an herbarium for the Faculty of Natural Sciences, a computer and learning resources center and four new buildings to accommodate sections of Faculties that were inadequately housed. Secondly, the IDB funded a training program that has enabled some 40 staff members to earn higher degrees in universities abroad. Presently, the University has an academic staff of 254 of whom 150 have master’s and doctoral degrees. In the early 1990s, the UNDP assisted the University financially through its United Nations Volunteers Program that provided expatriate academic staff for the University in areas where it lacked technical expertise. It was expected  that the salary increases of over 90% for academic staff in 1994 would result in attracting local expertise to the university, thereby making the UNV program no longer necessary (Craig 1993). The UNV has since been discontinued but the university remains unattractive to the more highly qualified professional.

If the benefits, particularly from the IDB program, are to be sustained, a massive increase in the University’s recurrent budget is needed. Given the country’s continuing economic problems, larger government subventions, however, are impractical. The Vice Chancellor of the University, appointed in 1992, proposed a cost recovery plan that involves a repayment of costs by students after graduation over a period that could extend to 20 years. To launch this plan, the government increased by G$80m its 1992 budget, thereby giving the University a total of G$300m for the 1993/4 fiscal year. In addition, the government obtained a loan of G$500m from various sources to fund tuition loans to students for the 1994/5 academic year.

Cost recovery is but one means that the University has devised for making it less reliant on government funding. With the proceeds from a major fund raising activity in 1993, an Endowment fund was established. This is now managed by a Board of Trustees that from time to time organizes activities to augment the fund. In addition to this source of funding, the University has plans to establish an entrepreneurial arm that would enable it to use its human resources to enter into profitable business ventures. Converting its transport, maintenance and hospitality services, and book store operations into income-generating entities, introducing institutionalized consultancy, marketing special university programs and the development of a printing press (with the assistance of the UNDP) are various other means by which the University plans to generate income.

The gradual shift away from a three-term to a two-semester year is seen both as a more economical use of time and as an opportunity to earn income through the offering of summer courses in a third semester that could run in the long summer vacation period. Responding more rapidly to the demands of the education and training market, increasing enrollment and improving staff/student ratios are measures the University has adopted to improve its cost efficiency. The official opening in May 1994 of a new 40-room hall of residence, donated by a local Building Society, makes it possible for the University to meet (albeit to a limited extent) the needs of rural and hinterland students, some of whom have previously been denied access to the University on account of accommodation difficulties. The construction of a larger hall of residence began in 1998.

What promises to be the most significant development in the twenty- first century is distance education and the introduction into the University of a mixed mode delivery system. Faculties have already begun to develop plans in this direction. The Faculty of Education, for example, has earmarked a B. Ed in Primary Education by distance teaching as its first project. A teleconference facility, provided by the Commonwealth of Learning, is already in use in the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education that links its Georgetown center with three other centers in the country to offer a course in pre-university English by distance to adults. Through this facility, education planners in Guyana were also able in 1994 to participate in a three-month training program in Textbooks for All that was sponsored by the UWI and the International Institute for Educational Planning in Paris.

To improve its capability to offer quality education and other services to the community, the University sees it necessary to enhance its library facilities by developing database access, to provide a bindery, build an Assembly Hall and Conference Center as well as to provide staff housing. The University has already begun to take a leading role in rationalizing tertiary education through closer articulation of its programs with those in other tertiary institutions. By accrediting courses offered in these institutions, the plan is to at least triple the output of tertiary level graduates in the twenty-first century.13

While such measures should result in increased cost efficiency on the part of the University, the institution will not effectively contribute to the developmental needs of the country in the twenty-first century until the output of the secondary school system has been vastly improved particularly in the areas of science, technology, mathematics, and language. How this problem will be addressed is not altogether clear from the recent statement on education policy—Providing Education in an Environment of Economic Crisis and Political Change—that has been issued by the PPP/Civic government, which came to power in 1992. There are, however, plans to place more effective pre-vocational and technical courses in the first three years of secondary schooling. Quality at the secondary level is also to be enhanced by the introduction of curriculum guides in all subjects and the provision of textbooks under a UNDP funded program.

In the latter part of the 1990s the center of focus for educational reform at the secondary level are the Community High Schools and the Primary “Tops.” This is understandable not only because the latter school type represents the largest number (about 300 or 79.5%) of all secondary schools, but also because research has shown that of the age 14-25 out-of-school youth in Guyana, 97% and 96% respectively, of those whose education did not go beyond the Community High School and the Primary “Tops” were functionally illiterate. One of the goals of the Secondary School Reform Project (SSRP) , launched in 1997, is to address the problem of illiteracy in these schools.

The SSRP is a long-term multi-phased education reform program that aims to improve the quality, relevance, equity, and efficiency of secondary education in Guyana. The first phase is of five-years duration and it focuses on improving the lower (Forms 1-3) secondary education system, using 12 pilot schools (7 CHS, 3 Primary “Tops,” 1 Junior Secondary, 1 Senior Secondary) as the testing ground for reform.

The SSRP has three main components:

  • Education program quality. The objectives of this component are to: (i) introduce decentralized, cost-effective, sustainable, integrated, school-based quality improvements: (ii) develop, test and implement new and more relevant multi-level common curricula in English, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, and Reading. Along with the common curriculum, a national Form 3 assessment of student attainment will also be developed and appropriate teacher training, instructional materials (including textbooks) library books and equipment will be provided to support the delivery of the curriculum.
  • School environment. The project seeks to improve the school environment by rehabilitating and renovating school buildings, constructing multi-purpose laboratories and providing furniture. Some non-pilot schools will also benefit from emergency repairs to buildings, roofs and essential utilities.
  • National and regional institutional strengthening. This component focuses on the improvement of education sector performance through the strengthening of budget planning, organization and management, the school information system and by the use of social awareness campaigns.14

Alongside the SSRP there is the Guyana Education Access Project (GEAP) which is funded by the Department for International Development (DFID), U.K. GEAP seeks to “help the government of Guyana to take forward more speedily its stated policy of unifying the secondary part of the education system and enable it to evaluate the effectiveness and replicability of this approach.”15 GEAP is being implemented in two areas of Guyana where the need for reform is felt to be the greatest. Its components include the upgrading of school buildings, the provision of books and equipment, in-service upgrading of teachers, the strengthening of school management, and the development of greater community involvement.

In addition to the PEIP, the SSRP, and GEAP, CIDA is also undertaking a teacher training and inspectorate development project. It is evident from all of this that a multi-faceted approach supported by massive international funding is being made to improve primary and secondary education in Guyana. All these various efforts are expected to result, inter alia, in increasing tertiary level enrollments especially in areas of need such as science and technology, and the preparation of young people who are better fitted for employment in a fast changing scientific and technological world.16 The magnitude of the task ahead is underscored by research which shows that when the grade 7 (Form 1) students in the SSRP pilot schools were tested on criterion-referenced tests in the core areas of the project, over 83% of them performed below grade 5 level.17

Lessons from the Guyanese Experience in Educational Reform

What have we learned from the Guyanese experience in educational reform since independence? What is clear is that we could have learned a good deal more had educators been in the habit of documenting and evaluating their efforts. Analysis of such evaluations could have generated criteria for assessing the success or failure of educational reforms. The absence of such criteria results in reform efforts like the Hinterland Development Program being declared a success despite its lack of sustainability and the Community High School Program being implemented system-wide despite early indications that its objectives were not being met. Against the background of such limitations, space permits only a brief discussion of three “lessons” from the Guyanese experience. These are related to: (i) the consequences of the adoption of the free education policy; (ii) diversification of secondary schools’ curricula; and (iii) the contradiction between the rhetoric of political ideology and social reality.

i. Consequences of Free Education

New ideas that are introduced with good intentions often result in consequences that are undesirable. This is the case with free education. One of the consequences of its introduction is the development of an attitude that anything free is either not good or not valuable. The upsurge in costly “extra lessons” comes not only as a result of a desire on the part of teachers to supplement their incomes, but is supported by students and their parents who feel that the fact of having to pay for something makes that thing better and more valuable. While free education has undoubtedly made education available particularly to the poor and disadvantaged in the society who otherwise would not have benefitted, at the same time in many young people it has developed the feeling that their country must do something for them without expecting anything in return. Thus, National Service was always regarded as an abomination that should be avoided at all costs. Parents with means sent their children abroad to study to avoid participation and many students opted not to receive their graduation diplomas from the University rather than having to do National Service. Books that are distributed freely by the Ministry of Education to schools are rarely treated with care and some even end up being sold on the open market. There appears to be a general feeling that the “free” well never runs dry.

But the “freeness mentality” goes beyond this. It extends to the expectations of people to give their labor freely. Community members with technical skills were expected to do this for the Community High Schools. Rarely did this materialize. One of the reasons for the exodus of teachers from the school system is the pressure they experience from having to perform, in addition to their regular duties, other tasks for which they are neither remunerated nor receive recognition.

People expected to work for little pay, and this has given rise to the l990s phenomenon of “supersalaries” and the stigmatization in the society of any professional who in a month earns what some categories of skilled workers in other parts of the Caribbean would refuse as a weekly wage. The Vice Chancellor of the University has been one of the targets of the “supersalary” critics. Such attitudes result in an alienation of the professional and highly skilled people who are needed for the development of the country, but they are understandable in the context of a country where not too long ago in some circles work for remuneration was regarded as “self destructive in nature.”

The free education policy has contributed to the decline of the education system of the country and it continues to plague the University of Guyana. The cost recovery plan that would involve students paying tuition fees of about US$1200 per academic year has met with opposition from certain groups in the society; for example, the University of Guyana Students Society (UGSS) and in particular a past president of the society who has earned the reputation of being a perpetual student who has so far benefitted from over a decade of free education. While the opponents champion the cause of the poor and disadvantaged, at the same time they demand improvements in the conditions of the University and the quality of the educational offering. They either fail or refuse to recognize that without cost recovery the funds needed to effect such improvements cannot be attracted from international donor agencies, given the impoverishment of the country’s economy. The UGSS, in fact, took the University to court for breaching its constitutional right to free education. It lost the case.

ii. Diversification of School Curricula: Some Problems

A major assumption behind the policy of diversifying secondary school curricula, by linking education with the world of work and providing students with pre-vocational training, is that there is a mismatch between the education and training the students receive and the jobs available in the society or that they could create for themselves. Additionally, there is the assumption that unemployment in the society is due to a lack of articulation between the output of schools and the demands of the labor market. To some extent this is true given the fact that a number of CHS students cannot get jobs in their area of pre-vocational training, but this problem is likely to persist as long as there is an absence of a Labor Market Information System (LMIS) that can provide the information needed to give direction to the development of programs for technical and vocational education and training.

Still, even if prevocational training programs were informed by LMIS, that alone would not solve the problem of unemployment. A major reason why programs like the CHS and Belbaag failed is because they attempted to prepare for employment during a period of economic decline in the country and their ideas were not accompanied by plans to generate employment. Additionally, there were no strategies devised for boosting the low wages in the public sector that, as Bacchus (1991) points out, was the most likely destination of the school graduates at a time when in the country it was estimated that over 85% of the economy fell within the ambit of the public sector.

Furthermore, two main reasons can be cited as to why the objective of self-employment has not been obtained by graduates of the CHS. One reason is that for young people to undertake self-employment projects they need start-up capital. Such assistance has never been rendered to the CHS graduate. Secondly, self-employment has to be stimulated within the context of an entrepreneurial culture. Entrepreneurship, therefore, has to be part of the pre-vocational training given in schools. To date, this has not been so in the case of the CHS.

Another problem that has been encountered in attempts to diversify curricula is that of attitudes. Firstly, there is the attitude of employers who never valued the certificates given by institutions such as the CHS and Belbaag. This is perhaps understandable because the Secondary School Graduation Diploma given to CHS students, for example, simply states that the student has completed four years of study. No indication is given of their level of attainment in the pre-vocational or academic subjects studied. It is because employers have a preference for trainees with higher level “paper qualifications” that the G.C.E. “A” level qualifications of the graduates of the Hinterland Development Program were considered acceptable. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the great dream of the CHS students should be to enter the Junior High schools where they could get “paper qualifications.”

This points, secondly, to the attitudes of students (and their parents) to their involvement in pre-vocational training courses. Involvement in such courses did not of itself ensure popularity and acceptance by students and their parents. Some parents discourage their children from attending school on days when pre-vocational courses are taught. This is particularly so in the case of agriculture. It is not so much on account of the unavailability of openings in agriculture as to why students who specialized in the subject found jobs in other areas, but rather it is because these jobs are low paying and perceived as so menial that the students would prefer to do something else or remain unemployed.

The Guyanese experience shows that the policy of diversifying its secondary schools curricula is imprudent when it takes place in a context where the wage structure and the job opportunities in the society continue to favor white collar workers and access to such jobs is via the academic curricula. Under such circumstances, pre-vocational courses are not likely to find favor with either the students or their parents. As Bacchus (1991) points out, social and economic reforms have to be undertaken concurrently with the introduction of such programs if they are to gain acceptance by those who should benefit from them.

iii. Ideology: Rhetoric vs. Reality

Education is interwoven with the social fabric that sustains it, therefore, if an innovation in the wider society fails, it is hardly likely to be sustained in schools. That, in essence, is what has happened to the ideology of cooperative socialism. While Guyana remains in name a Cooperative Republic, the ideology that underpins it has failed. Consequently, institutions built to teach the ideology (e.g. the Kuru Kuru Cooperative College, Belbaag, the Cuffy Ideological Institute18) have either been rendered redundant or disappeared altogether. The Guyana National Service, conceived originally as the womb from which the “New Guyana Man” would emerge, has gradually been stripped of its military characteristics and is being reoriented as a social institution. Its history is in many respects symbolic of what happened in the society in general: cooperation gave way to subtle forms of coercion. It is not only institutions that have perished. Teaching methodologies developed to sustain the ideology have suffered a similar fate as in the case of the methodology for teaching mathematics advocated for the Guyana Mathematics Project.

Behaviors deplored by the society such as a disregard for other people’s welfare, insensitivity, and intolerance of opposing ideas, are seen as an outgrowth of a political culture that took the teaching of religious education out of the school’s curriculum.

Contradiction between what was espoused by politicians and what was practiced in the society also help to explain why the schools fell short of their objectives. While the thrust was on production in schools, the government’s banning of foreign imports led to the flourishing of black market operations for foreign consumer products. While goals of uniting the various racial groups in the society were being espoused, after 1964, a preference was observed for the “new government to employ Afro-over Indo-Guyanese because of its desire to compensate its own political supporters” (Bacchus 1991, 31). Furthermore, whether the political leaders realized it or not, the “cult of the party card” taught the young people in the society that as long as they had the right connections hard work, effort, discipline, and the pursuit of high standards didn’t matter, even though these were values upheld by the schools. Fear of being reported to the party engulfed the people in a “culture of silence” that few were willing to break in order to speak their minds freely. In such a climate it makes little sense to attempt to use methods of teaching that encouraged criticism and questioning. Society also “teaches” and perhaps more effectively than teachers in many classrooms.

What is mentioned above is all part of the “hidden curriculum” of schooling that often has more impact on learning than the things that teachers try to teach through the formal curriculum. The problem with the “hidden curriculum,” however, is that no one wants to take responsibility for its teaching. But to put the blame on the government or a leader who has almost but been banished from the national consciousness is to fail to recognize the collective responsibility of a people who exercised a choice. To tolerate ideas, policies, and practices that are considered intolerable is a choice, the consequences of which are still being felt today.


Guyana’s education system has declined from being one of the best in the 1960s to being among the worst. To attribute this decline to a downturn in economic growth is to mask the fact that the country’s economic misfortunes came about as a result of political choice and action. There is no doubt that some of the decisions and actions taken were bad ones; for example the 1982 rotation of Heads of Secondary schools that dealt a blow to the Hinterland Development Program from which it never recovered.

Guyana’s educational history since independence has also been marred by a lack of vision in educational planning. Policy decisions have been separated from concerns about implementation of policy. This is evident in the fact that most of the educational reforms failed because of weaknesses in implementation. This was not always due to a failure to make sure that there was adequate provision of funds, materials, equipment, or availability of physical and human resources, but also to the failure to plan strategies for changing attitudes on the part of students and for parents to change their expectations for their children, to get teachers to give up bad habits and practices and learn more innovative and enlightened approaches to teaching. It was also a matter of planning for the continuity of ideas and practices that have proven effective in the face of changing Ministry personnel including Ministers of Education. Above all, perhaps, it is a matter of realizing that educational reforms cannot work unless accompanied by changes in the socioeconomic framework of the society that supports those reforms. How mindful of these things are the planners of the PGIP, SSRP, GEAP, and other projects on stream? Time will tell.

* Zellyne Jennings is formerly Professor of Education at the University of Guyana. Before taking that appointment, she was Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education of the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. She has done extensive research on Caribbean education including reading interests and achievement, the interface between education and work and curriculum innovation and change. She currently works as an education consultant with Education and Development Services, Guyana.



1. Further details are discussed in: L. F. S Burnham, “On National Service,” Militant Library Series l.l (undated).

2. C. Baird, “Education for Development,” Paper presented at the 15th Annual Delegates Congress of the People’s National Congress. April 4-12 1972.

3. These plans were aired by the Minister of Education in an interview reported in a column “SSEE Next Year will be Vastly Different-Bisnauth,” Stabroek News 18 November 1993.

4. This information is taken from an undated document that reported the findings of the Committee appointed to inquire into falling standards in primary and All Age schools and to examine the demand by parents for standardization.

5. See “PEIP will be Retained” in the Stabroek News 25 March 1994.

6. This is taken from “New Trends in Secondary Education: Aims and Objectives of the Multilateral Schools” that was broadcasted on July 2, 1972 on Radio Demerara in the Ministry of Education Broadcast Series -“Talking about Education.”

7. See brochure on “Two-Year Residential Course at Practical Instruction Center-Belbaag.” October 1985.

8. All information concerning this program was obtained from consulting files at the St. Rose’s High School, Georgetown, with the permission of the Ministry of Education and Culture.

9. Primary school students are required to undertake two projects in areas such as beautifying the school compound, repairing library books, craft, fundraising etc. At one time the score on the project was combined with the SSEE to determine pass or fail. Today, the SSEE alone is used but there have been cases of students who, although they passed the SSEE, were not sent to a general secondary school on account of their poor rating in the school/community project.

10.  This data comes from an unpublished study by William Kellman on “NFFAT: Its Impact on the Secondary School Curriculum,” undertaken for Education and Development Services Ltd. Guyana 1994.

11. “The University: A Development Plan,” prepared by the Vice Chancellor. University of Guyana 1993.

12. The Iwokrama Rain Forest Project was launched in 1992 by the government of Guyana under the auspices of the Commonwealth Secretariat. The government and people of Guyana have reserved 360,000 hectares of rain forest in central Guyana for an international program that will demonstrate methods for conserving and utilizing tropical forest resources and biodiversity. The Project is funded by the UNDP and the Global Environment Facility of the United Nations Environment Program. Under the terms of this project an International Research and Training Center for Rain Forest Conservation and Development is expected to be located at the University.

13. For further details see the plan for the rationalization of tertiary education in “The University: A Development Plan.”

14. From Ministry of Education and Cultural Development Press Release 14 January 1997. Secondary School Reform Project. See also issues of The Reformer: The Secondary School Reform Project Magazine. September 1997 and July 1998.

15. GEAP Draft Project Summary (DFID).

16. K. Hunte, “Education for Employment in the 21st Century.” The Reformer, July 1998, p 1-4.

17. See “Planning for School Improvement and Student Performance: What is the Level of Student Achievement after One Year of Secondary Schooling?” The Reformer, September 1997, p 21-22.

18. The Institute was named after Cuffy, the slave leader who led the Berbice Slave Revolt in 1763.



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