Findings of COI validate need for inquiry- Education Minister  

GINA, GUYANA, Friday, April 28, 2017

The findings of the commission of inquiry (COI) into the education sector in Guyana can transform the country, Minister of Education Rupert Roopnaraine said.

Today, Chairman of the COI, Ed Caesar presented the preliminary findings to Minister Roopnaraine at the Ministry of Education, Brickdam, Georgetown.

After one year and 98 consultations with stakeholders in the education sector, the COI is calling for redress to issues ranging from administration to the curriculum in the education system.

Minister Roopnaraine expressed that the findings validate the COI’s need, and assured that there is sufficient information for the government to act.

Chairman of the COI into the education system, Ed Caesar presenting the preliminary findings report to Minister of Education Rupert Roopnaraine in the presence of other members of the COI

“This preliminary report tells me that I was completely correct in establishing this commission. It has begun to do the kind of work that I feel needs to be done. I think this inquiry is in fact going to lay the basis for the kind of transformation that the entire country is awaitin,g and education has to play its part,” Minister Roopnaraine said.

The COI was launched in April 2016. Commissioner Caesar said that consultations were held in all 10 administrative regions and with all Regional Democratic Councils (RDC), along with other stakeholders.

There were also some 40-50 submissions, both orally and written to the commission sharing their views on the state of the education system. Caesar shared some of the findings with the media at today’s handing over.

Need to strengthen administration

At an administrative level, the report noted that there is a need to ensure that the relationship between the regional administration and the education department in all the Regions is enhanced.

Caesar called for an education committee at the RDC. “The commission of inquiry, the members feel that there must be a structure so established that the education committee of the RDC must relate to the education department, must look at the needs of the region,” Caesar said.

The COI found that there has been a “disconnect” in the delegation of powers in the administrative structure. “Some people said to us that some of the Regional Education Officers (REO) don’t seem to understand their responsibilities,” Caesar said.

Caesar pointed out that the systems that exist to guide REOs lack sanctions. “Unless there is in place a system of sanctions, where people who are not preforming are either removed or disciplined, we will continue on this same road,” Caesar warned.

The COI called for a reorientation of officers in the Regions that includes some form of contract that holds the officers accountable to their intended function. “Unless that is done, it is going to be business as usual,” Caesar advised.

Need for stronger financial management 

Meanwhile, the report also made recommendations for financial management to be seriously addressed. Caesar highlighted what amounts to fraud in some parts of the country.

“We were in the Berbice River…we have seen pay sheets with names of teachers who -as far as the head teacher is concerned- don’t exist. We have seen ghost teachers so to speak,” Caesar revealed.

The Chairman warned that the education department must “keep abreast” of how finances are expended. “Departments must know who the persons on the Ministry /Department payrolls are totally,” Caesar warned.

Minister Roopnaraine acknowledged that this was a serious matter that would eventually require the involvement of the police. However, Caesar advised that the matter be thoroughly investigated by the education department before any criminal proceedings are undertaken

The COI also called for the school feeding programme to be re-examined to ensure that the government is getting value for the money it is expending on the programme. Throughout the consultations, Caesar said that parents raised their dissatisfaction over the quality of the meals being given out.

Stakeholders, Caesar said, called for a change in the type of meal being offered. “Our suggestion…let there be a clear and ready investigation into this whole school feeding thing. The commissioners feel that we are not getting value for our money where that is concerned,” Caesar said.

Need to empower teachers

The COI found that the treatment of teachers needs to be improved. At the Regional level there is a need for officers to understand the importance of teachers.

There have been many complaints of being forced to follow a process that often time does not work. During the consultations it was revealed that teachers could be sanctioned for deviating from the set standard.

“At every level we must treat our teachers differently, we must treat our teachers better, we must empower our head teachers…let them understand that they can think outside the box, praise their creativity, we must encourage creativity,” Caesar said.

The age of retirement was also addressed in the report. The report recommended moving the age of retirement from 55 to 60 with a provision that persons can still retire if they meet relevant requirements.

The recommendation further suggests that if persons in the education system can “produce a clean bill of health” they should work until the age of 65. “That is for consideration by the Ministry of Education and its departments,” Caesar noted.

Teachers also raised the issue of emolument. Caesar said during the consultations some teachers indicated they would like to keep teaching, forsaking a management position. However, the teachers are asking that their salary increase nonetheless.

It is being recommended that we go back to an old position where there was thinking about the master teacher programme,” Caesar said. This programme allows a teacher to remain in the classroom with rising emoluments, Caesar explained.

“We have to recognise that there are people who don’t want to manage schools; people who just want to teach, they enjoy teaching. Let us not leave them out in what we are doing,” Caesar cautioned.

Other findings of the COI included, but are not limited to a need for better ventilation and other infrastructural designs of school buildings, greater collaboration with the University of Guyana, need for more welfare officers, and a review of the curriculum and programmes that are used in schools.

Despite these findings, Caesar said it is important to recognise that the Ministry of Education has been working to address the myriad of issues plaguing the education system. “It must not be said that nothing was happening in the sector,” Caesar said.

The preliminary COI into the education system report will be presented to Cabinet for review by the Minister of Education. The final report is expected in three weeks’ time and will be presented to the National Assembly.

By: Tiffny Rhodius