Here's a journal entry I wrote about my first impressions of the Guyana school system:
Hampton Court Primary school has over 200 students and is fully staffed. Of the entire staff (8 teachers and one head teacher), four teachers do not show up. Two are on medical leave (One teacher had a still birth), one is on personal leave without approval from the Ministry of Education (MOE), and one moved to Barbados without resigning or notifying the MOE. The school has recently developed a sewage drainage problem and the toilets and sink drains in both bathrooms are backed up. This is an indefinite problem my head mistress tells me and the children have to wash up with the rain water, yet there is only so much rain water in the school tanks.
The 6th grade teacher, Ms Doss, instructs 65 students in a 20ft x 15ft classroom (about the same dimensions of a volleyball court). Schools in Guyana are built with windows that have no screens or glass to allow airflow, which makes it great for the humidity, but horrible for sound. The school has two levels and the bottom floor has no individual rooms, each classroom is separated by free standing chalkboards and the noise level makes the first and second graders anxious and rowdy. The school is situated next to the seawall to get a good breeze, but when it rains the desks have to be moved away from the windows or the children and their books will get wet. Power outages are frequent.
About 1/5 of the student body comes to school hungry. Children cannot learn when they are hungry.
The children are fascinated to learn, but many of them are illiterate or read years below their age level. They are shy with us Americans at first, but then they warm up and are very friendly and ask lots of questions. They are extremely perceptive and many grasp concepts well. Rote learning is the standard form of instruction in Guyana, so many students repeat information but have no idea what it means. For example:
Me: "Do you know the word 'abstinence'?"
Student: "Abstinence is spelled A-b-s-t-i-n-a-n-c-e."
Me: "Good, but do you know what abstinence means?"
Student: "I don't know"
In the western hemisphere, HIV/AIDS is most prevalent in Haiti and Guyana. We are not allowed to mention words like condom in the classroom.
There is no intervention program, no PE program, no RSP program, and no special needs program at the primary level. Most teachers teach to the MOE 1st, 4th, and 6th grade assessment tests because if a 6th grader cannot pass their primary exit exam, they cannot attend a secondary school (i.e. high school). Attrition rates in Guyana are very high.
My head mistress can convey the entire state the education system in Guyana simply through the look in her eyes when she begins to speak to you. If eyes are the window into the soul, then this soul is both proud and defeated at the same time. Proud of her own accomplishments and selfless, life-long fight for the proper education of all the students who have passed through her classrooms. Defeated because of how the education system and apathy from parents continually fails her time and time again. Every time I visited Hampton Court Primary, my teammates and I would sit for a good hour with Ms Sandra and discuss education in Guyana and in America. From these repeated visits, I began to see similarities and differences between our two countries and how teachers must always struggle to combat apathy and negligence: two great factors that work to corrode the foundation of even the most proud and formidable. Ms Sandra's eyes both intimidating and melancholic, and this resonates from her face all the way down to her fingertips and toes as she moves from her office to humbly teach the 4th grade class whose teacher has abandoned them.
My mentor teacher, Ms Reshmi Persaud, began teaching after she finished high school. She is 29 and has never gone back to school to get her teaching certificate because her family needs the income. She is a natural at teaching and does a superior job teaching her 25 1st graders. As of yesterday, she has taken on the second 1st grade class (an additional 28 students) because that teacher has moved up to 6th grade to help Ms Dass prepare her 6th graders for their assessments. Most teachers in Guyana are not certified.