April 16, 2012
Minister of Education [Ms. Manickchand]: May it please you Mr. Speaker. I wish to begin by offering to the Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh our warmest congratulations for presenting a Budget has not only content that is worthy of consideration with a view to adopting but for presenting it in such a way that his almost three hour speech was pleasant to listen to. I know that the staff of the Ministry of Finance worked long hard hours and I would like to say to that staff on behalf of all of Guyana thank you.
I would also like to welcome to this Hon. House the new and young Members who have come here for the first time and I encourage that they continue, because I have seen very pleasant representations here, to represent their constituencies in the best way that they can.
We heard on Friday Hon. Damon mentioning that perhaps we should change the name of the Opposition to something else because maybe with that name the Members on the other side feel that they have to come and appose. I heard the Hon. Ramsammy, who is always really pleasant to listen to because of his spirited speeches, saying that year after year we on this side come and propose and Members on the other side come and they oppose. That is because that is what we do.
I also heard the Prime Minister, the Hon. Leader of this House, saying that it was a confrontation that Dr. Jagan had with other members of society. Perhaps Members of the Opposition that led to us having flights to go to the interior for ordinary passengers and led to the very progressive Ogle Airport expansion. It is that that I would like us to focus on doing, the Cheddi Jagan type of confrontation, that sort of contribution that we should all make to the development of this nation. It would be up to us in this Hon. House to make the changes that we all cry out for. It is up to us in here to decide how we are going to go forward.
I do not know that being civil and reasonable means that we have to agree all the time. Some of the very issues that we discuss here and some that we will continue to discuss meet with the most passionate of disagreement in my own home and we are all good people in my home. I am not sure that we have to agree on everything, but we must be reasonable in our assertion, demands and our presentations.
I do not believe that anybody in here will question the sincerity with which Hon. Member Vanessa Kissoon represented her constituency, or the passion with which Hon. Dawn Hastings spoke on behalf of her constituency, or the earnestness that attended young Trevor Williams’ presentation who incidentally we should note is one of the few Members of the Opposition who did not read his speech as a first time Member, a young man; nor could we question the accuracy and the well research view of the Hon. Member Dr. Vindhya Persaud or the passionate accurate account by Hon. Member Jafarally or the detailed account we got of Region 2 by Hon. Damon who incidentally did not print his speech, he read it from a set of hand written pages. We cannot question that they have a deep and abiding desire to serve. I do not think that we can question that, but our presentations must be attended to by reasonableness.
I do not believe in coming to this Hon. House and saying nothing has been done by the PPP and there is no value for money or that there is nothing in this Budget for anyone. Your Honour I am always very flattered by Mrs. Backer’s attention. Some people say that it is infantile cattiness but I believe it is love, so I welcome the attention that I attract from Mrs. Backer.
Coming here and proclaiming that nothing has been done by the PPP and coming here and saying that there is nothing in this Budget for anyone, and saying that there is no improvement under this Government is as unreasonable as though we on this side came to say that we have done it all and there is nothing left to do. Coming to this House and exerting you, Sir, and the people of Guyana and exerting that the people of Guyana have given a majority to the Opposition and not seeing that those same people have asked the PPP/C to lead the development which this country would experience can hardly be called reasonable. Calling “sexily” for inclusive governance and slapping away every hand and every outstretched hand that is made can hardly be called reasonable. I heard Hon. Member Dr. Rupert Roopnarine in his maiden speech calling for, and I am quoting, “a new political epoch and seeing this new dispensation as an opportunity for offering new political culture”. Ironically, misconstruing what I said last year, my call for us to work together, so that he can make his point this year. Even more ironically, saying that they are prepared on this side of the House to meet the new challenges and rise to the occasion.
I would like to give the Hon. Member the benefit of the doubt, he has not been here, and I think all in all he is a good man. But, we have had repeated experiences where our outreached hands and our offer to work together has been slapped away. I remember when I was launching Legal Aid in Region 5 and I invited the Hon. Member who is the geographic representative, Jennifer Wade, to come and not only sit with me at the head table but make remarks on this programme. I did not give her a script, I told her to come and say whatever you want to say. The Hon. Member said that she was coming. I had Hon. Ramkarran who was our guest speaker and a whole set of executive members of the Bar and Guyana Association of Women Lawyers (GAWL) and hundreds of residence of Region 5 waiting for the Hon. Member. She never showed up until the end of the programme, but during the programme colleagues and members of the PNC/R came with placards outside of the even launch. How is that working together? Perhaps Hon. Rupert Roopnarine did not know of that. Two weeks ago I invited Hon. Member Amna Ally, who has been publically announced as the shadow Minister of Education, to come on the television programme... [Mrs. Backer: Which channel?]
NCN, no less, to discuss the very serious issue of corporal punishment in schools. The Hon. Member said she could not make it until 6:30 p.m. and I put the programme for that time. The Alliance For Change (AFC) was represented by Mr. Dominique Gaskin, Red Thread was represented by Karen De Souza, and there was a veteran teacher in the person of Jennifer Cumberbatch. We waited and waited but, alas, the Member did not show up. [Cries of Shame] How can it be reasonable to say that we are building trust, we are working with each other and we are prepared to rise to the challenge to work with each other? How can we say that and we come to this Hon. House with a motion in the name of no less a person than Hon. Roopnarine to change the Parliamentary Management Committee? [Interruption] No this is a fact. When the PPP/C was in office with a majority - not a slim majority but a several seat majority where several of us could have been absent and we would have voted and still won - we had a Mmanagement committee where the PPP/C had five members and the opposition had five members. Now there is the slimmest of majority, one person, and we come to change that management committee, irrespective of the agreements that we have reached amongst parties many years ago to have five members from the Government and five members from the Opposition. So when Members speak of wanting to work together it must be more than a fancy headline. It must be more than something that sounds nice on the record. The people of Guyana must judge us based on what we do and not what we say. I am wondering whether it is inclusive governance the opposition wants or whether it is the government that the Opposition wants. Inclusive governance is what we are prepared to work towards; government, they are going to have to speak to the people of Guyana who have told them, “no”. We are wondering, and I would genuinely like to know, whether the Opposition wants to work with us so that we can develop this Nation or whether they want to pick up their bat and ball and go home, and come back only when they can sit on this side of the House. Because if that is what they want that is not a genuine call for working together.
I wish to focus on the education system, but before I do that I would like for us in this Hon. House, and the Nation at large, to recognise Mr. Sheik K. Baksh, a man who served as the Minister of Education for five years immediately preceding me, and who served the people of Guyana in this National Assembly for 15 years before. The records of this country would highlght the best results in every sector of the education system occurring under his watch. While we do not have the Education Digest from 1983 to 1994 they just could not print it because they had no money to do that - the Education Digest would show that what I am saying is accurate. I would like to say on behalf of the people of Guyana that we thank former Minister Baksh for his service.
Education in any part of this world is important. It is perhaps the most important sector that any country is going to have to deal with. We are vibrantly aware in the Ministry of Education that what we do now will determine what our country looks like in the future. We are aware of that. We are not alone in our questions; we are not alone in our quest for perfection. All across this world conversations are taking place about why the investment we make is not matching the results we should get; why boys are not as interested in education as girls; how we can stem the dropout rates. Conversations are taking place all across this world and Guyana is no different. We are not only having conversations on these issues, we in the Ministry of Education are doing tangible things which will give us answers to some of the problems we have. We are not perfect at all. In fact, we have many problems, but we have to sit down and discuss a way forward for those problems to be resolved. The easiest thing to do is come here and find a leaking roof, a paling stave that fell down, a child who does not have a pair of boots, somebody’s lunch kit that is not filled, and a teacher who was not trained. It is easy to do that. The hard part, the challenging part, would be for us to sit down together and chart the way forward so that our children can be the beneficiaries of our combined efforts. But we have to first be interested in taking this sector forward.
A marked feature of the education system, in fact of every sector under the PPP/C, is equity. I heard Ms. Ally doing a dangerous thing just now – attributing to politics a school that did not have something, or a place that did not have something to politics. If there is one thing that politics should stay out of it is the education system. If there is one thing that we should not politicise, is the education system. [Mrs. Backer: What about Genevieve Whyte-Nedd that never got confirm and the board at UG? How do we keep politics out?]
Mr. Speaker: Could we allow the Minister to complete, please?
Ms. Manickchand: Sir, this education system where we have seen equity, or constantly practiced policies to equitably deliver services, has seen results. I remember when I was in primary school all the children that went to Queens College (QC), Bishops High School, and St. Stanislaus College almost exclusively came from two schools, Stella Maris and St. Margaret’s Primary; now we are seeing children from Sparta, Cumberland and Regma Primary, In fact, the child who topped last was a little boy from Regma Primary in Region 10. A number of top students came from all across this country last year. That is equity in service. When I was going to High School all the top students at Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advance Proficiency Examination (CAPE) almost exclusively came from QC, Bishops, St. Roses High (Roses) and Saints. Last year two students topped this country and the Caribbean with fifteen grade ones, Anuradha Dev from QC and a little girl called… [Interruptions by Opposition Members]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members there about fifteen different debates going on and we need to hear from the Minister of Education. When Ms. Ally was speaking I did not hear these interruptions. Could we allow the Minister to proceed with the minimum of interruptions and interference, please?
Ms. Manickchand: …a little girl from New Amsterdam Multilateral School named Shalita Appadu. That is the equity of service, the result of it. We spread your service all across this country and this is what we get – children all across this country doing well. We must continue this trend. There is continuous attention and expenditure to education sector. This year we are dedicating more than 13% of the national budget to the education sector when comparatively speaking four percent was dedicated to the sector. Thirteen percent of our budget is going to the education sector. This continuous attention, this continuous expression of love for children through the sector, has seen us achieving Millennium Development Goal No. 2. We have achieved universal primary education. That means children all across Guyana, in every nook and cranny, are accessing primary education, writing the exams so they can access secondary education, and can become self sufficient, but, more importantly, so that they can help to contribute to the development of Guyana. The continuous expenditure has seen us coming closer to a place where we have universal secondary education. We have a plan - we are about to present it and implement it - where we are going to pledge to this nation that we in Guyana will achieve universal secondary education.
We heard from Hon. Member Dawn Hastings that she was a privileged child who got a scholarship to access education and came to town. We are not bringing out the one or two good students to town; we are carrying the school to their homes to thousands. Not one, thousands of our children can access the education. Now, in addition to the schools we boast of 22 dormitories across this country where more than 2,000 children are accessing an education when, before now, they would have been without access to that education.
I would be the first to say that we have problems in the dorms. Homes that have two children have all kinds of problems – rudeness, children getting away, not doing their homework and all other kinds of problems. Where there are several children in a dorm there will be the same problems. We are talking about adolescents, teenagers, children who are becoming naturally curious. There will be problems. We are prepared to address those problems.
While I am at it, let me just say the Hon. Member Ms. Ally said that we were ignoring the Lower Pomeroon children because the Lower Pomeroon votes for the PNC/R or APNU. The Lower Pomeroon children were offered places at the Wakapow dorms. They have refused those places. We understand why and we are making provision for them to access education through other means. So to say we have ignored them at the Ministry of Education is to denigrate all those people who are working hard to deliver education in this country.
The natural result of having more secondary schools is that we have more children writing CSEC and more children passing CSEC. When I wrote CSEC, 5,125 children wrote the examination, and now in 2011, 12,700 plus children were writing. When I wrote there were 20,616 subject entries and in 2011 there were 70,781 subject entries. That is the effect of equitably distributing a service. That is the effect of investing in the education sector. This extra attention we have paid to the education system has seen us getting 70% trained teachers in our system presently. We are hoping that by 2016 all the teachers in our system can be trained.
The representation this Hon. House got just now, which incidentally is a misrepresentation, is that in the Essequibo there is one teacher to 100 students. We have moved away from the “one-teacher schools”. And I say to the Hon. Member that if she knows of a school like that, let me know. Because now the ratio is one teacher to 35 students in the secondary schools, and in the remediation programme it is one teacher to 25 students. In fact, we have no shortage in Region 2. There is an excess of teachers in Region 2 and we are trying to spread them out. These are the facts; these are the results of the investments we have made in the education system. [Cross talking between Opposition and Government Members.]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members do we proceed with the debate or do I rise and go out of the Chamber and allow this to go on? I do not know what to do today. Please proceed Hon. Minister.
Ms. Manickchand: Mr. Speaker, we recognise in the PPP/C that teachers are the backbone of our education system and that is why we pay specific attention to them. Through our policies and programmes, our salary scales and other benefits we say, “We love you and thank you”. We have been saying that repeatedly. It is true there was a time in this country when teachers fled. When trends like that start and if you look at the 1993 Guyana Public Sector Review written by the World Bank, not the PPP/C, wrote this:
“The most notable change has been the sharp decline in spending on teachers’ salaries both by the Ministry and the regional administration. Over this period spending salaries by the Ministry dropped from 62% of total recurrent spending to 25%.”
So when Ms. Ally says the history of this country did not start in 1992 she is right, and we are suffering because of the history that started before under the PNC.
Mrs. Backer: Mr. Speaker, on a Point of Order, it is absolutely inaccurate, and I call on the Member to withdraw the fact, that prior to 1992 there was no education. If it means that it means that a lot of us here, including Mr. Neendkumar… [Ms Teixeira: She did not say that.] She did say that. She said that prior to 1992…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member Mrs. Backer, you have put a Point of Order and then you continue a discussion with Ms. Teixeira.
Mr. Backer: Sorry, Sir.
Mr. Speaker: I have heard the Point of Order. Hon. Minister could you give the context in which you made the statement and let us move on, please.
Ms. Manickchand: For your benefit your Honour, with the greatest respect, I did not say we did not have education before 1992. I said I agree with Mrs. Ally that the history of this country did not start in 1992 but it started way before, and it was because of what happened way before that we are now suffering. That is what I said. And there is a man sitting out there with a copy of the Hansard that could tell us what we said. But in 1992 I was fifteen so I do not want to speak from a 15-year-old perspective.
Let me tell you what the official record of this country was. This is represented in the World Bank Report. The Guyana Public Sector Review which is in two volumes. I will read one paragraph. The Report is for 1993 and it is our history that the Hon. Member wants to hear about. This is what it says about education:
“In the 1960s Guyana educational system was considered one of the best in the Caribbean. Today (in 1993) it is very probably the weakest; learning in the schools measured by national and Caribbean wide examinations is extremely low; a large proportion of teaching force is unqualified and untrained; text books and other teaching aids are seldom available.
Guyana’s success in achieving universal access to primary school in the early 1970s appears to be eroding, and is accompanied by rising repetition and drop-out rates.
The sector’s problems are further acerbated by education subsidies which tend to be regressive favouring wealthy rather than poor children and tertiary rather than primary education.”
In 2012, what we have is a state where we have achieved universal primary education. In 2012, what we have is a place where we are closer to delivering text books to all our children even though we still have ‘a way to go’. In 2012, we have 70% of our teachers trained instead of a large portion exiting this country, and the untrained teaching this country’s children. In 2012, we have a system where not only rich people are benefitting; we have a system where every single child in Guyana could equitably access service. That is what we have in 2012.
I did not intend to go back to the report but Ms. Ally is forcing me. Teachers are the backbone of this system. We have established 10 strategic training centres all across this country, again, so that we could equitably train our teachers. Because of that we have seen 70% of our teachers being trained. I believe it is because of this attention that we have seen 63% of our teachers in the nursery system being trained, 67% of our primary school teachers being trained with the hinterland moving from 38% to 43%. We have seen the secondary sector moving from 59%percent of trained teachers in 2007/2008 to 63% of trained teachers in 2009/2010.
Last week I sat with teachers who were delegates from the Guyana Teachers Union and I heard their concerns. I also heard their deep commitment to the development of this nation. I am confident that with the teachers we have in the system we are going to take that extra leap forward, year by year, until Guyana is developed to the point when we can all be proud and to the point when we can all say, “We have arrived”.
I heard two sad stories. Two separate teachers from two separate schools, both pregnant, were beaten by guardians and parents. Three days after one of them was beaten she lost her baby. This is something that is absolutely unacceptable. Our teachers must not face violence in school. And I ask this House to stand with me today and denounce violence against our teachers. And I say that we in this Ministry of Education are not going to tolerate any violence against teachers. Complaints we will take; any violence against teachers we shall personally ensure that the perpetrators face the full force of the law. We stand with our teachers in solidarity against violence that is being meted out to them.
Mr. Speaker, much was said about Mathematics and English, and the fact that we have instituted an intervention programme tells you that we too are worried about Mathematics and English, particularly because we need passes in Mathematics and English before children can matriculate. We are deeply worried about this matter. We are going to continue to strategically employ strategies that we hope will see results.
I wish to read this to your honour. It is an article called “What are Science and Mathematics Scores Really Telling Us”. It was written by Allan Brown and Linda LaVine Brown. I am talking about the United States.
“Maybe you remember the headlines: “Math and science tests find fourth and eighth graders in U.S. still lag many peers”, proclaimed the New York Times. “No gain by U.S. students on international exam”, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. “Economic time bomb: U.S. teens are among worst at math”, warned the Wall Street Journal.
Of course, every commentator has a seemingly obvious solution. “Spend less time motivating students and more time enforcing standards”, proclaimed the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Give parents school vouchers, and open charter schools”, demanded Newark Star-Ledger columnist. “Throw away the calculators, and get back to basics”, insisted a coalition of conservative Californians.”
It is true that we have problems, and I always remember Justice Bernard saying we are really good at self flagellation. We are excellent at beating up ourselves without seeing a bigger picture. When I wrote CSEC a much smaller number wrote CSEC. When I wrote CXC 9% of us passed English, and 18% passed Mathematics. [Mrs. Backer: Which school?] Nationally, across this nation.
When our Hon. Friend James Bond wrote CSEC in 1997 13% of our children passed English and 13% passed Mathematics. Our 30 percent for Mathematics now is bad but it is better than it was before. The point has to be made that it is now that we are doing bad in Mathematics, the country has a history of doing bad in Mathematics; it has a history of doing bad in English. We must examine why. If we really want a solution then I invite you come and sit down and let us examine why. Let us take this forward.
In 2011, 30 %of our students passed Mathematics and 6o % of our students passed English. I want to say this: while it is true we have done poorly we are not alone. Let me give you what the other CARICOM countries did in 2011. Antigua and Barbuda 28% of their students passed Mathematics; Dominica 34 % of their students passed Mathematics; Grenada 31 % of their students passed Mathematics; Jamaica 33% of their students passed Mathematics; Montserrat 32% of their students passed Mathematics; St. Lucia, 28%; St Vincent and the Grenadines, 25%; Suriname, 5%; Guyana, 30%. There were four countries which lead the Caribbean, and the highest of those countries got 51%, barely over the pass.
So, Sir, what we came up with last year is a five-person partnership – government, parents, students, teachers and volunteers to help us monitor this. The government was to provide equipment and materials and resource s - textbooks, calculators, geometry sets, graph paper, past papers, and revision DVDs. We met with almost all the students who were present, more than once, from November to now, to inspire them and talk about attitudes we need to employ if we are going to be successful at these exams. We met with all the parents who turned up, more than once again. The number of students we are looking at is more than half of the present cohort writing CSEC in the public schools; and more than 41 schools are benefiting in every single region of this country from those resources. Then there are volunteers who have kindly consented to check with these schools daily or weekly, however often they want, to ensure the system we put in place is actually working. Our teachers, whom we must commend, have not only embraced this programme but are enthusiastic about carrying it on. They have been putting in extra hours so that our students could pass Mathematics and English. We must thank them and say congratulations to our teachers.
And yes, it is true that we have to wait until the results to say whether this method worked. But this is what I will tell you, whether we see immediate results or not I can say with every confidence that what we have done is reinvigorate the mathematical conversation across this country even to the point where they call us crazy people at the Ministry. Let us start this debate, let us start talking about some of the solutions, irrespective of how you voted, irrespective of how you look, let us have that conversation in a constructive way.
The Guyana Learning Channel started in 2011. When we listened to the Hon. Member, the Chief Whip, Hon. Amna Ally, we would believe we had this programme forever but it is not working and there are so many problems with it. This programme started on 1st April, 2011 and from then to now we have provided a 24-hour service in Regions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9 and 10. We are putting in infrastructural works in Region 8. We are at different stages of setting up at Karasabai, Ituni, and Orealla. Mabaruma is experiencing some power problems that will be fixed shortly, and as soon as it is fixed we will be on air. From then to now 2,641 programmes were broadcasted targeting learning skills such as problem solving, collaborative learning, language skills, and different levels of reading proficiency. Over 60 local programmes were produced, but we want to take this learning channel to a different stage.
We want to take it to a place where we can say, “Listen Guyana, big or small, adult or child, if you watch and follow these programmes on Spanish and Portuguese every day at this particular hour, by x number of days or x period of time, you will be proficient in these two languages”. Those are the kinds of innovative, visionary methods we have to use if we are to take our education system from a place where none of us are happy with, to a place where we can all be happy.
The Hon. Amna Ally raised a few issues that I would like to address. The Hon. Member said that we would... well I want to address this one first, the Hon. Member said the person who was appointed head of the TVET (Technical and Vocational Education Training) Centres was unqualified and went on to give enough characteristics of that person so that she was identifiable, including to retort to a heckle that it was not a male, it was a female. That Hon. Member is not capable of defending herself in this Hon. House. She is a former Chief Education Officer (acting) and she is continuing to provide sterling service to this nation. If you want to attack us, attack me, do not speak about my Officers; do not attack my officers... [Interruption] They have spent their entire life giving service; all of them. Some of them started working from the age of 16 and they continue giving service and in any event... [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Ms. Ally, allow the Minister to respond please.
Ms. Manickchand: In any event, the Hon. Member was wrong, as usual. The Officer is the coordinator of the school boards under which the TVET Centres function. She is not the person in charge of the Technical and Vocational Education and Training. I say on behalf of Guyana, thank you Mrs. Melcita Bovell. [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Can we have the Minister proceed please.
Ms. Manickchand: The Hon. Member made much of us hiring cronies and giving jobs to the boys. Sir, I look across the education sector and I am very happy, very please and very grateful that I can rely on the persons who are behind me here today, to take this sector forward. These persons are not cronies. Look at them; they started working since they were 16 and 17 years old in this education system. How did they become cronies? Look at our Chief Education Officer, young, bright and thorough, how is he a crony?The Hon. Member spoke about monitoring and evaluation. We have one of the best persons in our system, Ms. Donna Chapman, who is going to make sure our monitoring and evaluation is at a different level.
We recognise we have problems, but you cannot come to this Hon. House and make out as though all the persons from the Ministry of Education are a waste. When you say we have done nothing, you are not speaking to Manickchand; you are speaking to the thousands of persons who work daily in this system. You are telling them their whole life they spent teaching and administrating, they did nothing. That is what you are telling them and that cannot be acceptable. [Interruption]
On the issue of computers, again, the Hon. Member did not represent to this House the truth. We have set up infrastructure across this country and an entire unit headed by Ms. Marcia Thomas who is going region to region to make sure those computers are installed and to make sure they are working. This is a bigger strategy; this is a part of bringing education to our people and giving them computers not only in schools... [Interruption]
Sir, the Ministry of Education recognises that while we have to steal from the Hon. Kwame Mcoy, we have come a far way. Even from year to year within the period that this Government was in office and I believe that we can fairly say that the education system now for over two decades is the best that it has ever been. But, I would say with equal surety that we are not where we want to be, it is a work in progress that we dedicate ourselves to every single day. Not only the persons at the Ministry, but the 10,000 teachers teaching out there, the parents of the 300,000 students that we have in our systems, the managers of the almost 1,000 schools that we have in this country, every day we are working to make it better. I cannot tell you, that if we spend 50% of our budget on education that we are not going to get those leaky roofs somewhere in this country; that we are not going to get a step that needs repairing; or we are not going to get a students who need a different textbook. I could tell you Sir that we have a lot of work to do in the system.
Our vision for this year is going to encompass us starting to or continuing along the track in a focused way to attain universal secondary education. We will be focusing on science and right now we are recognised in the region for the various programmes we have put in the science system. We are going to be focusing on the field of science and how we are going to better deliver this so that we will make children interested and not only interested, but that that interest will translate into graduation from science fields which our country needs.
We are going to be focusing on how we could provide better for our children with disabilities and our special needs children. We are going to be focusing on how we can improve the mathematics and English grades. I would be the first to tell you that four months is the most undesirable period to have to change a grade. We know it has to start at nursery school, we know continuing the primary school. This will be the only four-month programme this country sees because we intent to start it and put the measures in place, which needs to be put in place so that three or four years from now mathematics will not be posing as big of a problem as it was posing for us for the last two decades.
We are going to be focusing on how to do more on the Learning Channel that allows us to use this as a resource that is not only visionary, but could realise the vision we saw when we put it in place. We are going to be focusing more on monitoring and evaluation. It needs to be done and we have capable persons who can carry that programme out. I have met personally, more than once, the Regional Education Officers, telling them that they have our support and what we need from them in terms of monitoring. As we speak, we are looking, we have a consultant doing a study on what our schools need. By the time she is finished we are going to know, not only which schools needs a better sanitary facility or a better child friendly area, but we are going to know the costs that are attached to this.
Even as we speak, even as we can celebrate here right now, today in 2012, the progress we have made in this sector. I would be the first to tell you that we know every time one student does well, we have twenty more that we have to work with. Even as we celebrate our progress we must continue to strive to make sure that we take this to a different height. We take education in Guyana to a different height, a higher height. In this effort, the Government alone cannot do it; the Government alone does not want to do it. The Hon. Vanessa Kissoon can tell me better about how the automatic promotion policy is working, because she is in the schools, she is there, we have spoken about it and we have to speak about it some more.
I want to; and I invite, with every sincerity, the contributions that the Members of this Hon. House have to make, whether they are critical or supportive. We must be supportive, we must, “Gave Jack his jacket” we must recognise when things have gone well, but I have no objections to being told that things are not going well and where they are not going well and what is going badly about it.
I have given to Ms. Ally, the shadow Minister, all the telephone numbers she can possibly get me on, home, office and cell. I have offered to Ms. Hastings, who is in the region, all the telephone numbers she can get me on. I said the same thing to Mr. Alicock.
I want to say, the Government is reaching out, we are reaching our hands out and asking you, the Members of the Opposition, to hold our hands and let us take Guyana forward, but there is only so far we can reach. If every time we reach out, because it is political expedient to do so, the Members of the Opposition hide their hands behind their backs, Guyana will progress, but not as quickly as we can progress if we worked together. We welcome not only the Opposition Members, but all the citizens of this dear land to work along with us, to take us to the place where we can all celebrate a Guyana where we are doing better in our homes individually and where we are doing better across the nation in every single sector.
The World Bank says that we have to cut poverty in half, we used to be 67% I believe in 1991 and in 2006 they did a report and said we now have poverty at a level of 35%. We have cut poverty in half, but I wonder if we went this route alone and if we had seen the kind of cooperation, I believe we can see in this House, then how much further would we have cut it?
While we have cut poverty on this side of the House, the Government has provided an environment where poverty has been reduced by half, we still have 35% of our people living in poverty and so until there is no person left living in poverty, this Hon. House and every Member herein has work to do. I invite the Hon. Members, genuinely, to work along with us so that we can bring this poverty level down much further and much quicker with a view only to providing service to the people we have stood up here and sworn to serve. I thank you Sir. [Applause]