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Anthropologist Cristina De Rossi is quoted in Live Science (15/12/2021) online magazine, defining “Culture [as] encompass[ing] religion, food, what we wear, how we wear it, our language, marriage, music, what we believe is right or wrong, how we sit at the table, how we greet visitors, how we behave with loved ones and a million other things” Within said parameters, the education policy of the Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham government cannot be ignored as part of the Guyanese ethos in forging a nation of “One People, One Nation, One Destiny.”
In the classroom, teachers taught the meanings of the holidays. They got the students’ participation in sharing and learning from each other about their experiences. The process for respect had begun, fostered and encouraged, that today we speak to and participate in them with ease and respect. Language (unique to our distinct realities) were incorporated in the formal education structure. The rewriting of the Alphabet where the letter “A” represented Ant not Apple, etc.
Local Readers carried students into the world of Pat and Roy and Sita and Ram, Green Days by the River, Ways of Sunlight, etc. These texts established learning experiences through local and regional realities, helping children to navigate life experiences (learning) in settings and with personalities they could identify with.
Access to schooling was based on religion, gender, money and/or opportunities provided by the public education system. Some who were able to acquire education through schools with religious affiliation, felt obliged to change affiliation, pursue self-financing or scholarship. These standards based on a colonial culture became barriers, preventing many from pursuing an education.
It was no surprise with the pursuit of nation building the Burnham led administration thought it fit to remove these barriers by making public (free) education from nursery to university, introduction of secondary co-ed and nationalising religious schools. The policy widened access to learning based on abilities not belief, money and/ or gender.
In a land of six peoples, the First Peoples (Amerindians) were given national pride of place in the national emblems, national honours, the Umana Yana (meeting place), encouraged into mainstream/coastland Guyana, and the Timehri Airport was renamed in their honoured. This honour was since removed by the PPP who later renamed same in honour of their founder leader Dr. Cheddie Jagan who became the third President (with executive responsibilities) of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.
Our Portuguese, Chinese, European, East Indian and African cultures are all embedded and distinct in various ways. These are represented through various notable persons and leaders, our politics, food, language, names of people and places, folklore and other customs. Together these shape who we are as a people and the things we connect to and practice with ease.
Schools were named in honour of distinguished Guyanese such as the F.E Pollard Primary School, J.C. Chandisingh Secondary School. Historical figures such as Cuffy, Damon, Quamina were no longer disobedient slaves but national heroes exemplifying the courage/importance of standing up for what is right rather than live in the shadow of another or be enslaved.
The Enmore Martyrs were no longer bound coolies who didn’t know their place in the social order but a group prepared to challenge a social order that disrespected them. Ethnic foods, like metemgee, cook-up, curry, garlic pork, roti, etc. became part of our national dishes. Guyana has its own national wear. The shirt jac replaced the tie and jacket as formal wear.
As it was in the immediate post independent period, it remains a herculean task forging unity from adverse historical, ethnic, racial cultural and religious backgrounds, each with varied experiences. The culture foundation which was established by Burnham is for those alive to preserve, strengthen and deepen, borne out of understanding and appreciation that mutual respect and equality are critical to forging One People, One Nation, One Destiny.