Access to education is not an assurance of quality
Kaieteur News – The Minister of Education must not get confused. There is a difference and distinction between access to education and quality of education.
Access to education is measured quantitatively. The quality of education is a qualitative measure. The fact is that it is quite possible for there to be access to education but this education is substandard. In Guyana’s primary education, there is universal access. But it is obvious that the quality of education is extremely poor with more than half of the students writing the Grade 2, 4 and 6 Assessments failing in the core subjects.
Access to education however is important from the point of view that unless education is available and accessible, one cannot speak about quality. But you can have access and very poor quality. Access does not guarantee quality, has never done. In its Manifesto, the PPPC promised to improve access to education at every level from nursery to university but also to raise the quality of education across all levels. So where is the plan for the latter?
The Government is spending a larger share of its education budget this year on capital works. But comparing this percentage with what occurred under the APNU+AFC is disingenuous because the resources are now available to allow for a greater portion of public expenditure on capital spending. To invert capital and recurrent spending under the APNU+AFC regime would have been disastrous. There would have been spanking new schools, with no benches, chairs, teachers and educational materials. What good then would access be?
Throwing shade at the APNU+AFC and engaging in comparisons between what was done under the APNU+AFC – does not fix the myriad of problems within the education sector. The PPPC used to make mockery of David Granger’s plans to provide buses and boats to take children to school. Now they are boasting about expanding the number of buses and boats in 2022. The Minister in her address failed to adequately address the fundamental concerns of the education system. How does the education Budget address the issue of ensuring universal secondary education? The failure of Guyana in the third decade of the 21st century to have universal secondary education is an indictment. But will building new schools guarantee universal secondary education in 2023?
Or is it intended to expand accommodation for the schools that are presently bulging at the seams and to rebuild schools which were either destroyed by fire or had to be closed because of their poor conditions. In other words, to what extent are the new schools going to increase access versus simply improving accommodation.
The empirical data does not suggest the need for a massive drive to build new schools. The nursery school population is projected to remain about the same by 2025. And in terms of enrollment, there is only likely to be about 1,000 more nursery school children in 2025 than there are today. Primary enrollment is projected to increase by five percent but accommodation has to be made for the fact that an increase in private primary school enrollment may ensure about the same level of enrollment in public schools in 2025 as it is today. And secondary school enrollment is actually projected to decline by 2025.
The problem of overcrowding and catering for future increases in enrollment may have been better addressed by improving the school placement system. Building new schools, may not be the answer to overcrowding or catering for the relative small overall increases in enrollment that are projected in the near-term. The Budget also does not appear to address the issue of the large number of students who are not completing secondary school. Surely resources should have been apportioned to study this problem and to arrive at policies to address it. It is serious indictment against the education system that so many students are not completing their secondary education. So what is the plan?
The PPPC likes to boast that it restored the school’s cash grant. But this grant is universal – it is given to every school child regardless of economic status and regardless of whether the child has a good or poor attendance record. Rich and poor, millionaire and pauper, all benefit. The APNU+AFC did remove the school’s cash grant. But it did promise that if it was reelected it would provide an educational cash grant but this would be linked to attendance. This is a far more sensible approach since it would provide an incentive for parents to ensure that their children attend school. This is what happens in Brazil. And if it costing the Government $237,000 per child to provide education, would it not be cheaper for the Government to pay private educational providers to provide the service? It would save the billions that are going to be spent by Government to increase educational access.