The Learning environment and Disapora challenges – By Lear Matthews


Lear Matthews

As our children and grandchildren return to school or begin their formal educational journey, we look forward to another year of significant learning, positive socialization and skills acquisition in preparation for a career and other desirable outcomes. The memories and educational values inculcated in the “good ol’ days” keep us grounded, but the need to adapt to contemporary institutions with constantly changing technology and curricula is inevitable. This new experience varies from anticipated success to frustration in negotiating the system.

One social commentator warns that in the midst of social transition, “education is not a desired goal for many segments of the population, easy money is”. Such an assertion is extremely worrisome. This article highlights the intersecting of learning environment and Diaspora challenges, expressing thoughts based on research findings and observations on the topic, and proposes possible solutions.

The Home country – Case of Guyana: There is no shortage of criticism of the educational systems in Caribbean countries including Guyana, painting a rather gloomy picture of the future. The dearth of qualified teachers and inadequate resources are well documented, and so is the alleged mediocre response by the government. During the “good ‘ol days” teachers appeared more dedicated and invested in the total education of students. However, several factors exacerbate the current situation, mired by economic and political suffocation. Teachers are not only underpaid, but many have “interim” status, forging a non-committal attitude toward teaching locally. The policy of retiring Government school principals at age 55 has decimated the chance for consistent and dependable leadership. There seems to be a correlation between students’ success rate and the capacity of their family to afford “extra lessons.” In addition, the ethnic disparity in educational achievement appears to be increasing. For example, the 2013 SCEC exam results in a leading city high school show that East Indian students outranked their African counterparts by an 8 to 2 ratio.

Simultaneously, the anticipation of youngsters to emigrate can have a negative effect on their commitment to education. Notwithstanding means to an end, a sobering reality is that immigration may be seen as a more attractive alternative to education. Consequently, students become disinterested in school or stop attending all together.

The Diaspora – Newcomers to North America, especially children and adolescents who were born or raised in the Caribbean rely on family network and school as primary sources of guidance, inspiration and support and in their efforts to achieve academic success.  Many families expect the school to play a major role in the socialization and achievement of their children.  Yet these youngsters are often faced with the underrated task of familiarization with the school system and ambivalent response from some educators. Although the facilities and opportunities afforded in North American schools are generally superior to those in the Caribbean, some dimensions of the school environment conjure up structural barriers. These include cultural differences, overcrowded classrooms, self-esteem problems related to stereotyping, ridicule, and discipline-related conflict. The latter was poignantly exemplified when a newly-arrived student from Guyana was warned by his teacher to “stay away from the boys in your class”.  Shifts in immigrant household constellation and domestic policy, though protective, often undermine parental authority and indirectly affecting educational progress. Distractions from a barrage of frivolous entertainment-focus media further complicate the situation in both environments.

Possible Solutions:  The growing numbers of Hometown Associations, including Alumni Chapters provide material and academic support, such as computers, laboratory equipment and scholarships. Through their efforts, infrastructural improvements and curriculum standards in country-of-origin institutions have improved. Such a transnational support system should be extended to students whose families cannot afford extra lessons. This must continue with the hope that it does not absolve government of its development responsibilities. The joint project of the International Organization of Migration and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, GUYD, should include incentives to attract and retain qualified teachers. Such incentives may include government scholarships and negotiable contractual agreements. The retirement age for Head Teachers should be extended, allowing for the completion of established goals.

Schools in the US need to develop a culturally competent system with the capacity for cultural sensitivity, knowledge, and skills, which will help to overcome some of the aforementioned barriers.  Parents must be continuously vigilant in working collaboratively with school personnel. With more parent-school participation by fathers, youngsters must be encouraged to emulate positive values and constructive use of Internet technology. Drawing from the cultural heritage foundations that helped to mold our destiny, parents should denigrate behaviors that detract from educational achievement.

Hopefully, the above attributes, challenges and modest proposed actions add to discussion of our children’s future.

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  • de castro compton  On September 30, 2013 at 7:42 am

    Wow wow!
    What a synopsis …music to my ears….as an ex trade unionist “retired at 60”

    Let’s hope the 65 elected representatives of the Guyana parliament read the article
    and act on its recommendations….

    Education education education …
    Reading Rriting and Ritamatic..the way forward….

    In today’s world “culture” is as important aspect of teaching that requires
    better understanding…

    On joining the military RAF after my formal education in GT it was a culture shock for me….the conscripts were from every corner of the BRITISH EMPIRE and the BRITISH ISLES UK….after the initial “square bashing” (weapons training)
    I was posted to the many bases scattered all over the empire…hey its was
    what any 18yo would wish for….
    Free schooling
    Free feeding
    Free clothing
    Free travel

    Unfortunately no “freedom” …the discipline was regimental…
    I did not follow a military career…..with regret…as I could have retired
    at 50 and not 60…..10 years wasted in Guyana following a corporate
    career….may add successfully but my wife and mother of my 4 children
    became homesick so I returned to UK.
    Again after 10 years in corporate UK I decided to become a trade unionist…
    After 20 Years as a trade unionist (elected) I retired at 60 not only with a golden handshake but a “liveable” pension……
    At 65 I started receiving my state pension.

    This is the interesting scenario in taxation in the developed world…..

    My company pension is added to my state pension for tax purposes…
    I will be paying “income tax” until my exit….unless I elect to live
    outside UK.
    In order to “break-even” on my contributions to the UK state I must live
    up to my 75 th birthday…then I begin to “profit”….

    I do not disagree with paying taxes….but when it is wasted by the political
    elite I become exasperated….I am no politician but am very politically aware
    of the “bull****” that is expounded by today’s politicians …political correctness et their efforts to be elected/reelected. Hyprocrites mostly….
    but remain optimistic as there are a few honest and sincerely dedicated ones

    We can but live in hope
    Less we die in despair

    Kamptan the everlasting optimist

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