Activist calls for teachers' code to prohibit LGBT discrimination
The Ministry of Education’s Code of Conduct for teachers should be amended to prohibit discrimination against youth on the grounds of sexual orientation, Director of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) Joel Simpson has recommended.
Simpson was at the time offering suggestions on how to decrease the high school dropout rate within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, during a presentation at the University of Guyana’s latest Turkeyen and Tain Talks, held last Wednesday at the Pegasus Hotel.
The theme for the event was “Education as Freedom: Education Reform and Socio-Economic Development in Guyana.”
Simpson, who represented the Guyana Equa-lity Forum, which is a civil society network of 21 local groups working to achieve equal rights and justice for Guyanese, focused on policies that could decrease the number of LGBT youth and teenaged mothers who are subjected to bullying and who are forced out of the education system annually.
In addressing the former, Simpson recommended a widening of the Ministry of Education’s Code of Conduct for Teachers, which already states that teachers cannot discriminate on the grounds of ability, race, colour or creed.
Simpson stated that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation exists not only among peers, but in teacher-student relationships, and said that the trend of behaviour has been documented by SASOD and the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU).
He mentioned that these behaviours are usually displayed in the plain view of witnesses.
“The Ministry of Education’s policy on their website, titled “Code of Conduct for Teachers,” under Part D, ‘Commitment to Students,’ states: “Teachers cannot discriminate on the grounds of ability, race, colour or creed.” It does not have any protective clause in it for LGBT students. While no laws or policies exist that specifically prevent LGBT persons from accessing education, many LGBT Guyanese reportedly leave the education system early due to homophobic and transphobic bullying and discrimination, thereby preventing them from practically realising their right to education,” he stated.
Reintegration of school-aged mothers
Additionally, Simpson directed the audience to the fact that Guyana holds the second highest rate of teenaged pregnancy in the Latin America and the Caribbean region. It is documented that 97 out of every 1,000 girls between 15 and 19 years old give birth.
“Despite this, the government of Guyana is yet to introduce a comprehensive reintegration policy for pregnant and parenting adolescent girls to be able to continue their secondary education in public schools,” he noted.
He added that adolescent mothers are often denied their right to education and fall out of the system as a result.
Simpson recommended that Guyana look to Jamaica for an example of how to tackle this issue, while pointing to the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation Programme (WCJF) for Adolescent Mothers, which was established as a result of the country’s high teenage pregnancy rate at the time.
He related that the centre offers support services, which include counselling for school-aged mothers, the fathers of their
children, their parents and even guardians; family planning; time management; and budgeting.
“WCJF’s Programme for Adolescent Mothers encourages the continued education of pregnant or lactating girls under the age of 17 years. The goals are for teen mothers to return to school after the birth of their babies, to delay a second pregnancy until their professional goals are achieved, and to raise the employment potential of young mothers so that they have a viable alternative to depending on men for support,” Simpson related.
Inadequate sex education
Meanwhile, Simpson criticized the public sex education programme, stating that it lacks relevance, denies sexual and reproductive health information and services and is inadequate for meeting the needs of adolescents.
“GRPA [Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association] evaluations of the publicly-funded and implemented abstinence-only programme, commonly known as the Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) found that it ignores young people’s basic right to the highest attainable standard of health by denying them critical life-saving information and the fundamental public health principle of accurate, balanced sex education,” he related.
Simpson said that research done by the GRPA shows that comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) can actually delay the onset of sexual activity, reduce risky sexual behaviour and the number of sexual partners and increase responsible behavior, particularly when it came to protecting against sexually-transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies.
“Importantly, the evidence shows youth who receive CSE are not more likely to become sexually active, increase sexual activity, or experience negative sexual health outcomes contrary to what others may believe. Also, research by the youth-led, international organisation Advocates for Youth shows that CSE programmes do not encourage teens to start having sexual intercourse, do not increase the frequency with which teens have intercourse, and do not increase the number of a teen’s sexual partners,” he stated.
He added that evaluations of HFLE on the other hand showed that the programme “ignores young people’s basic human right to the highest attainable standard of health by denying them critical life-saving information and the fundamental public health principle of accurate, balanced sex education.”
Education as freedom
The University of Guyana should be commended for creating the space to address topics relevant to the development of the country through its Turkeyen and Tain Talks series. A recently concluded forum addressed the theme ‘Education as Freedom, Education Reform and Socio-economic Development in Guyana’ from a number of diverse and highly relevant perspectives. On a more philosophical level, it raised questions regarding how we as a people define education and the role it should serve within our society. It captured the essence of a long-standing debate between the more utilitarian approach to education, whereby education, nation building and human capital are intricately linked concepts, diametrically opposed to the ideas of progressivism, humanism and democratic education.
It highlighted the emancipative potential inherent in educational pursuits on both an individual and communal level. It also probed the questions of who should be the individuals in authority to make key education decisions such as defining the content of our education or how education services and resources should be distributed. On a more practical level, I believe that the forum sought to examine the extent of progress we have made in shaping and defining an education system that is relevant to the Guyana we know in 2018 and beyond. It raises the fundamental questions of, to what extent and in what ways has education served to liberate us as a people from the pre-existing oppressive system and who is the Guyanese the education system should be producing?
Solid arguments can be made that we have done little to free ourselves from the vestiges of the colonial education structures that we inherited over half a century ago. An analysis of various structural and education delivery dimensions of the system would bear this out. Structurally, for the most part, we have retained the highly elitist and delimiting education system we inherited. We have been successful in significantly increasing access to education at the primary and secondary levels. Quality education has been highly elusive, however, with the number of students mastering the expectations at the various levels progressively decreasing as each cohort moves to the higher levels of the system. A proper analysis would show that as they ascend to the critical secondary level only about thirty percent matriculate, and less than half of those actually access tertiary level education. Such a pyramid does not provide equal opportunities for all students to attain their full potential. It gives credence to the mindset that the school one attends is as much a determinant of one’s potential success as it was fifty years ago.
In addition, our system is rigid and narrow in many ways. It provides few opportunities for second chances or re-entry, all realities that run counter to the concept of education as freedom. Until a few years ago, there was such blind adherence to outdated rules that when pupils who would be above age eleven by grade six were discovered in the system they were skipped a grade or two to ensure they wrote the eleven-plus examination at the ‘right age’–damning them to sure failure. Students who attain the age of sixteen are still forced out of the secondary system regardless of their level of attainment and degree of competence as per similar archaic rules. There is no facility for students to re-enter the system to rewrite one or two subjects they might have failed.
There are few second-chance options for adults or dropouts who might not have had the best initial experience and wish to re-enter the system. Which institution in Guyana allows you the freedom to come as you are regardless of qualifications with the intent of building the capacity of the masses for a more productive citizenry? Education as freedom also relates to what it is we learn and how we learn it. Theorists have argued that the content of our education system is the same outmoded irrelevant colonial product. For the most part, we all learned the same things in our day the same way pupils do today, regardless of the prevailing concepts of relevance, critical and divergent thinking and problem solving.
In secondary schools spread across this country all of the students in any given class go through the identical curriculum at the same rate with little accommodation of exceptionality at either end of the continuum. We have had students, in our system, who by grade nine had excelled beyond the CSEC expectations in particular subjects; but who was forced to progress at the same rate of their counterparts. One student was writing his own mathematics equations by sixth form to challenge himself since there was nothing new his teachers could teach him. Both our gifted and students with learning disabilities suffer similar faiths of unfulfilled potential.
As it relates to relevance, we must investigate why the reforms aimed at through Community High and Multilateral schools failed. There are key lessons to be learned since the evidence shows that we have reverted to preexisting practices and our children are overwhelmingly opting to specialise in highly Westernized, service oriented pursuits that have little relevance or viability within our local context. We must ask ourselves, how can we create more balance in the system by improving the quality of the available options? For the most part, the highly academic CSEC route is the only fully developed pathway within the education system in Guyana, despite the value and relevance of technical and vocational education.
The reality is that our freedoms are curtailed in many ways both by the limited available options and the rules that govern the system. The majority of our students are pressured into ‘streams’ at age fifteen that ultimately force them to specialize, limiting their study options and potential choices later in life. As an example, the need to declare a major upon entry to the University and the absence of the flexibility to devise special majors that might combine different areas of pursuit can be likened to academic tyranny. The interests and talents of the average sixteen or seventeen year old Guyanese are so varied and complex that we do them a disservice in the way we rigidly structure the menu of available options. At the same time, those who are financially able or fortunate enough, opt to attend external liberal arts institutions that afford them the freedom to wade through those varied talents to find their “true calling’ and fulfill their innate potential.
Such is the desirable nature of Education as Freedom. The freedoms alluded to above must be afforded in equal measure to every citizen of our country and should in no way be determined by economics or other factors. It is therefore incumbent on us, within our respective contexts, to examine and address these issues. This forum has opened the door to question the extent to which the system creates the enabling environment within which a broader cross-section of citizens have the opportunity to contribute to shaping and defining our education structures, thereby ensuring they reflect the full extent of our diverse social and other contemporary realities.
The University of Guyana is ideally positioned to lend its voice but must be supported by other stakeholders in answering the question: Who is the Guyanese the education system should produce? If the Ideal Caribbean Person, as defined by CARICOM, is one who among other things: “Demonstrates multiple literacies, independent and critical thinking, questions the beliefs and practices of the past and present and brings this to bear on the innovative application of science and technology and to problem solving; values and displays the creative imagination in its various manifestations and nurtures its development in the economic and entrepreneurial spheres and in all other areas of life”; we are duty bound to ensure that education affords all the freedom to self-actualise.
Article adapted from: https://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2018/02/04/education-as-freedom/
Union input vital for education sector reform
The active involvement of unions, particularly the teachers union, is critical for true and serious reform of the education sector, according to Coretta McDonald, General Secretary of the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU).
McDonald made the case on Wednesday, during her address at the University of Guyana’s 11th Turkeyen and Tain Talks, which explored the role of education reform for the nation’s development.
The forum, which was held at the Pegasus Hotel under the theme “Education as Freedom: Education Reform and Socio-Economic Development in Guyana,” featured presentations from speakers Professor Michael Scott, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Academic Engagement at UG; Ed Caesar, Chair of the Education Reform Commission; Petal Jetoo, National Science Coordinator; Christopher Fernandes, Chair of the St Stanislaus College school board; McDonald; David Singh, Vice President of Conservation Inter-national; and Joel Simpson, of the Guyana Equality Forum.
Chief Education Officer Marcel Hutson appeared on behalf of Minister of Education Nicolette Henry.
The presentations made cases for reforms in the management of education, education for sustainable development and reform in regards to the delivery of science and sex education within the education system.
“…It is easy to conclude that education is critical to the sustainable development of our people and this country. It is even more critical when unions…are allowed to be a part of educational reforms at all levels. We cannot talk education reform when we want to sideline the union. We cannot talk education reform when we only have the union at forums just to say that they are present,” McDonald stated.
McDonald’s impassioned speech was packed with examples of how the treatment of teachers and the union that represents them continues to stifle development within the education sector. She spoke of the unavailability of resources in the classroom, the workload often dumped on teachers who are forced to perform tasks in addition to their own, including secretarial duties, and the disrespect often meted out to members of a profession once considered noble.
McDonald argued for the continuous professional and academic development of teachers, programmes that have “merit”—financial or otherwise, as well as adequate remuneration for teachers. She called for more engagement and the “marrying” of local institutions with tertiary institutions overseas to adopt best practices, revamping of the teachers training programme at the Cyril Potter College of Education, and an update of the policies within the sector, including the code of conduct governing teachers.
“We cannot talk educational reform when there is no serious desire to deal with the professional or the academic aspect of upliftment of the practitioners. We cannot talk educational reform when we keep doing what we’ve been doing since 1923 and we want to do it in 2018. We have to keep moving and adjusting to the time as we go…,” she said.
“…If you’re seriously talking education reform, we have to go and relook at a number of the policies we have—many of them are outdated and they need to be divorced and separated…we have to go to the table, put our heads and minds and hearts there, of course with the union involved actively that is, to sit and look at some of those policies that we have with a vision of reviewing and making them relevant… If we’re seriously talking education reform, then the need for all the talking and the writing and everything else must stop now and we should start walking and have the actions happen,” McDonald stated.
Tax-free remuneration for teachers
Fernandes’ presentation, like McDonald’s, focused on the areas within the sector that need improvement, particularly in relation to the teaching profession.
Fernandes, a businessman, and Chairman of the St Stanislaus College board, posited that in order to create a well-trained workforce, the teaching profession needs to be made more attractive. His suggestions for achieving this goal included having the remuneration of trained teachers be free of income tax; providing duty-free perks to teachers at the end of a predetermined period of satisfactory service; and possibly having teachers be eligible for a house lot with concessionary low interest financing to construct a two bedroom house. He suggested that this can be limited to $5 million.
He also recommended revisiting the retirement age.
“We cannot longer afford to lose our good experienced teachers who are currently mandated to retire at age 55 since we are unable to replace them with persons of similar competence and experience,” he said
“Our intention therefore to improve the quality of education would be to encourage better quality individuals to the teaching profession by making the profession more attractive. Expose them to active career guidance, allowing for the teacher to regain the respect of the population and students which they once commanded,” Fernandes added.
He also recommended a revision of the management of the ministry, suggesting that there be a “total audit of the management system of the ministry in which the Minister should just be the executive Chairman” and where the “day to day administration needs to be handled by a highly qualified and well trained professional”. He said that this “professional,” the CEO, would be supported by at least two “equally well qualified deputies.”
- The University of Guyana