Organization for the Victory of the People (OVP) send our condolences and prayers to the families, friends and communities of the children who died in the tragic fire at the Mahdia Secondary School Dormitory. We wish also to decry the decision to charge the 15-year-old who started the fire at the Mahdia Dorm with 19 counts of murder. This decision speaks volumes about everything that is wrong with Guyana. This is a child that needs immediate counselling and help if she is to survive the trauma of what just occurred. And what occurred is an indication of all that is wrong with our hinterland education facilities, administration and the education provided. The teenage student who lit the fire is herself a victim of the dysfunctional education system and of the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of the society as a whole. To lay the blame at her door is to absolve ourselves of the long list of collective transgressions that preceded the lighting of the fire on that fateful day.
For example, the list includes but is not limited to the state of the buildings where these children are housed. The lack of any health and safety measures. The underfunded and underserved hinterland education system. In fact, the appalling state of the public education system nationwide. The measure of any society and the type of future it is building rests on its education system. Any government that truly wants the best for the people and that cares about nation building will, as soon as it gets into office, focus on transforming the education system, and yet successive governments have failed to rectify this state of affairs.
Imagine that in 2023, Guyana still has that colonial elitist hangover, known as Common Entrance, and we still speak of “good” and “bad” schools. Is the idea that all schools should be good schools something so radical that we still cannot entertain it? Gold, timber, oil and gas and still we are stuck with an archaic and draconian education system. Our education facilities are all well below standard and our pedagogical methods are still designed to keep everyone in their place on this neo-plantation called Guyana.
How long must we wait for these fundamental and urgent changes? How much oil must flow before a country with a population less than 800,000 can guarantee a decolonized, well-funded public education system that caters to the needs of all its students? How long will it be before teachers are paid a wage commensurate with the important role they play in nation-building? As a veteran educator, who is committed to a pedagogy that would enable every student to reach their full potential, I call on President Ali, who I truly believe to be well-intentioned, to bring together educators to form an education ‘think tank’. These educators should be from every ethnic group, and equipped to produce a national document, with concrete recommendations, so that our obsolete education system can be radically overhauled.
That so many of our children remain educationally disadvantaged and underserved is perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of this nation 57 years after so-called Independence. An overhaul of the education system is fundamental to nation-building and the urgent need for social reconstruction if we are to truly build ‘One Guyana’. We call on the Government to act decisively to ensure that such a tragedy does not ever happen again.
Gerald A. Perreira