GUYANA: EDUCATION: GTU’s McDonald paints grim picture of school system

…cites hungry children in classrooms, underpaid teachers, violence among students

Coretta McDonald, GTU General Secretary

By Zena Henry – Jan 27, 2023 – Kaieteur News – Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) and General Secretary of the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) Coretta McDonald called for better treatment of the country’s teachers as she withheld support for the 2023 budget when the debates continued on Thursday.

McDonald told the National Assembly that budget 2023 perpetuates underpaid teachers and hungry children in classrooms, adding that the education system is plagued by violence in schools and the burning of the learning institutions. “Education in crisis,” the MP and union leader said. She told parliamentarians that every day schoolchildren are being found with various weapons when their bags are searched, children are sitting in classrooms hungry and don’t know where their next meal is coming from while in and out of schools, students are fighting teachers, parents are fighting teachers and students against teachers.       

“Teachers are reporting for duty under stress everyday… they can’t afford to pay their rent; it is too high. Teachers are left to struggle through the month with low salaries as they watch other workers get increases. The disrespect that has been meted out to teachers has added another layer to their plight, the Opposition,” MP said.

She reminded, that it was Education Minister Priya Manickchand some years ago, who told teachers in New Amsterdam to leave their jobs if they don’t like their pay. “That’s very caring and concerned,” McDonald said sarcastically. She said teachers in the system cannot turn to the education ministry for help because it has become politicised, where friends and favourite are given preference. She said professionals are being sidelined while “the full Peter principle is in effect.” The most incompetent she continued, are rising to the top.

Burning of Schools

On the issue of the burning of schools, McDonald said the Opposition condemns such acts but insisted that every time the current government is in place, there are fires at schools. She said the question must be asked why they are burning before suggesting that the schools do sit on prime lands. The union leader pleaded for measures to be put in place to stop the fires. “Do something to convince us that you care and that you are concerned,” the MP said. She said schools are also economic zones for small vendors and operators.

Labour Pains

As it relates to labour, the General Secretary said the sector is in a state of disrepair as workers have become sacrificial lambs in an environment where labour laws are not being enforced, and workers can’t get assistance from the ministry officers. She said workers are being laid off without any course for redress. “Given the anti-working-class nature of this government, workers do not expect any improvement in the fiscal year of spending,” the GTU – General Secretary said. She said the fundamental flaw of the budget as it relates to labour lies with the government not understanding the ultimate liberation of the working-class. “And this liberation does not lie with handouts and an increase of $3000 and $4000 in their salaries,” McDonald opined. She said the small man and woman must be able to feel whole. “The only way that can be done… is through equity. Nowhere in the budget is the word equity mentioned in a significant way,”

McDonald said, adding the right of workers to the collective bargaining process is also absent.  The MP said that workers’ wages must not be subjected to the ‘whims and fancy’ of the government to decide what ‘freck’ to dish out here and there. McDonald said that budget 2023 ought to represent the people of the country but nowhere does it mention the return of their right to negotiate for better wages and salaries.

Free University Education

In her presentation on Wednesday, Minister of Education – Priya Manickchand reiterated her government’s manifesto promise that they would be making tertiary education free of cost in the next five years. She said that it was the government’s announcement that it would find a pathway to remove the debt currently held by present and former students as they head toward liberating education at the University of Guyana. She told the House that major works are scheduled for the sector with numerous schools set for repair while new schools will be constructed, inclusive of dormitories and other related facilities.

As the government works closer to universal education, Manickchand said that four schools will be built in Region One, one of which was destroyed by arson, in Region Two, one school will be finished, while in Region Three two news schools will be built. In Region Four, the minister said the Yarrowkabra and Good Hope schools will be completed, as well as a school at Prospect while burnt schools like Christ Church, St. George’s and others will be rebuilt and extended in Georgetown.

In Region Five, the government minister said universal secondary education has already been achieved, while in Region Six and Seven, a school will each be built. In Region Eight, the government will extend dorms, one school in Region Nine and extended accommodations while Region 10 will see the rehabilitation of all multilateral schools. Teachers’ quarters and dorms are being built across the country also, the minister said as she blasted the previous government for being unable to start and complete any school in their five-year stint.

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