By Karen Abrams, MBA Ed.D, Candidate’ 25
The COVID-19 crisis brought education systems across the world to a halt. Now, 21 months later, schools remain closed for millions of children, and others may never return to school. The loss of learning that many children are experiencing is morally unacceptable. And the potential increase in Learning Poverty might have a devastating impact on future productivity, earnings, and well-being for this generation of children and youth, their families, and the world’s economies.
Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for EducationBefore the COVID crisis, successive Guyana governments were challenged with the mission of improving numeracy and literacy skills and reducing student dropout rates among children in primary schools and secondary across Guyana. The COVID pandemic and the two years that nearly half of Guyana’s K-12 student population have been out of school, and/or learning under less than ideal circumstances have exacerbated the education problem in Guyana and resulted in severe learning loss and mostly among Guyana’s most vulnerable student population.
This confluence of activity is projected to have catastrophic implications for not only the economic prospects of children from affected families but for entire economies of developing countries and while Guyana stands on the cusp of an economic revolution within the next 5 to 10 years as the leaders focus on the development of her oil economy, real improvement in the quality of life for all citizens could be severely stymied in the future if the academic divide is not addressed today.
Recently reported in the Stabroek News, Foreign Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Robert Persaud said, “Guyana needs 100,000 additional workers to efficiently develop this new economy”. Many will respond that these jobs should be filled locally but local labor resources must not only be present in numbers but trained, willing and able to meet new workforce demands.
If half of Guyana’s children today, succumb to the consequences of poverty, lack of engagement and dropping out of school because of the huge academic divide and severe learning loss made worse by the pandemic, then they simply will not be able to properly prepared to contribute meaningfully to the development of Guyana at a time when they are needed most. The academic divide today will merge into an ever-widening economic divide along with the consequent social ills on a massive scale. Our already tiny nation could scarcely afford such a horrific eventuality.
A May 3rd, 2022 press release from the Ministry of Education revealed that schools may remain open during July/August to address worrying learning loss/gaps, to which some parents and the Guyana Teachers Union have responded in opposition to the proposal. Whatever the final decision, it is important to note that these are unusual and trying times for the education of the nation’s children. All stakeholders will have to come together to decide on the best course of action for closing the academic divide between the most vulnerable children and their better-resourced peers. The status quo will not only be ineffective but clearly unacceptable.
“UNESCO’s The State of the Global Education Crisis: A Path to Recovery report shows that in low- and middle-income countries, the share of children living in Learning Poverty – already 53 per cent before the pandemic – could potentially reach 70 per cent given the long school closures and the ineffectiveness of remote learning to ensure full learning continuity during school closures”
It is my own view that closing the academic gap will not only require an extended school year but more resources targeted to after-school programs and the engagement of community stakeholder groups like churches, local governments, nonprofit organizations, parents and even the diaspora supporting and contributing to this massive effort. This challenge will definitely involve the entire village.