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OP-ED: The horrendous dropout rate in Guyana’s high school system is a cause for concern. High dropout rates have significant implications for the future of the students who drop out and for Guyana’s rapidly developing oil economy, where the demand for a more technical, skilled and educated workforce exceeds supply.
According to the ministry’s own out-of-school children survey, various reasons affect attendance at school, including socioeconomic conditions in the home and the school environment. While education is free for students, families still face considerable costs, especially at the secondary level. In addition to those reasons offered by the ministry’s survey, students also dropout of high school because of the substandard elementary education they received which leaves many of them unable to read and generally ill-equipped to deal with higher level studies. Other reasons include peer pressure from their friends, grinding poverty at home which requires that they make a financial contribution and a according to an anonymous source, a general lack of priority on dropouts by the government of Guyana over the course of the past 30 years.
According to the Ministry of Education’s most recent Sector Plan, the education system is reasonably efficient in producing graduates at the primary level, with a retention rate of 93% for a given cohort. However, Regions 1, 2, 7, and 8 are less efficient, with retention rates ranging from 73% to 87%, so essentially more than 25% of students are dropping out of primary school in some regions. The report states that survival to the last grade of secondary is much lower, with only 42% of a given cohort surviving to the final grade (58% of students dropout). Even fewer males (32%) than females (52%) continue to the final grade, and the disparity in rates between males (39%) and females (62%) is significant in general secondary schools.
These statistics are alarming, and urgent action is needed to address the issue. The specific objectives set by the Ministry of Education for 2023 in line with the SDG4 are that all students complete the primary level, and at least 70% complete the secondary level. However, achieving these objectives requires a concerted effort to reduce inequities in education and the Ministry of Education seems unwilling or unable to chart the necessary course of correction in 30 years, so there is little confidence that they will do so in one year.
Reducing inequities in education is a continuing priority, and the lack of resources, geographical and economic difficulties associated with distributing resources, including human resources, and access to quality education service delivery across subgroups such as students living in the hinterland and other vulnerable communities and those with a disability are major problems. Considering that more than 50% of the population live on less than $5 US per day, solving this problem will require a cross ministry strategic plan which also includes stakeholders in several sector. It is folly to believe that the Ministry of Education alone will solve this problem.
Contributing to lifelong learning and employability is also crucial, given the changing economic structure, new standards for vocational qualifications, and the need for a second chance for students who dropped out of the system. According to the report, the issue is compounded because access to adult education programs has been limited, and there has been some negativity associated with technical and vocational education.
The ministry has already stepped up efforts to improve teacher training, but there must be honest efforts implemented to reduce the disparities in education between different regions and subgroups, and provide targeted support for students who are at risk of dropping out. Additionally, there should be greater emphasis on technical and vocational education, which can provide students with the skills needed to succeed in the changing job market.