In April 2018, Global Partnership for Education (GPE), an international organization devoted to advancing childhood education, reaffirmed its commitment to improving education in Guyana with a $1.7 million grant. This grant intends to strengthen the Early Childhood Education Program, which strives to improve literacy and numeracy levels in several remote regions of the country. Backed by the GPE and The World Bank, this grant will also positively contribute to girls’ education in Guyana.
Literacy and Numeracy Results
The results of these efforts are notable in literacy and numeracy scores among nursery school students. The percentage of students attaining a level of “approaching mastery” or higher in emergent literacy assessments rose from 39.58 percent to 68.30 percent between 2016 and 2017. Similar gains occurred in emergent numeracy levels, in which the percentage of students achieving a level of “approaching mastery” or higher rose from 41.91 percent in 2016 to 77.03 percent in 2017. These gains indicate significant improvements in boys’ and girls’ education in Guyana.
A Gender Gap in Education
According to certain indicators, girls’ education in Guyana has grown stronger than boys’ education. In June, the University of Guyana hosted a symposium on the underperformance of boys in the Guyanese education system. During the symposium, Dr. Mairette Newman, representative of The Commonwealth of Learning, noted three key statistics, which indicate a widening gender gap in Guyanese education:
- Girls outperform boys in literacy tests, once they transition into higher grade levels.
- Boys are more likely to drop out of secondary school than their female counterparts. (In early education, the ratio of boys to girls is one to one. However, at the secondary school level, the ratio is two to one, in favor of girls).
- Boys are less likely to transition into tertiary education programs.
According to Dr. Newman, girls normally have an advantage, since teachers prefer “female” qualities in the classroom, such as the ability to work well in groups and be introspective. All of these factors contribute to girls outpacing boys in the Guyanese education system.
While the symposium touched on this gender inequality in education, it did not address how these inequalities and gendered expectations also affect girls’ education in Guyana or limit girls in society. Though growing numbers of Guyanese women succeed in school and participate actively in public life, significant gender-related barriers still exist.
The Guyana Empowered Peoples Action Network (GEPAN) explains that children take on specific gender roles early in life. While girls take on household tasks, society encourages boys to be independent, as future “providers.” These gender roles continue into adulthood and expose women to limitations and violence in Guyana. For example, in 2014, UNICEF reported that at least one-third of Guyanese women experience sexual violence. These barriers and violence make it difficult for women to reach their full social and economic potential.
Luckily, Guyana’s First Lady, Mrs. Sandra Granger, has already begun to address these gender-related issues. Last month, she held a Girls’ Empowerment Workshop, designed to inspire and empower girls (ages 10-15), encouraged girls to pursue non-traditional career paths and fight through prejudices to achieve their goals. As the First Lady emphasized, education is the first step to empowerment for women, which will strengthen economic development. For the First Lady, women’s empowerment and girls’ education in Guyana are crucial to the future success of Guyana. This movement for women’s empowerment also goes beyond the First Lady’s initiatives.
In April 2018, the Ministry of Public Telecommunications launched a program for girls and women in Information and Communications Technology, a field dominated by males in Guyana. The program, Guyanese Girls Code, is a free, three-month course which teaches beginning coding and programming to girls (ages 11-14). Over forty girls enrolled in the initial class. According to Cathy Hughes, the Minister of Public Telecommunications, the classes strive to bring women into the ICT sector and give them opportunities to gain the education they’ll need to succeed. Hughes hopes that bringing girls into the ICT sector will offer new perspectives and talent, which will be crucial for advancing Guyanese society.
Thus, education and women’s empowerment in Guyana are intimately linked. For women’s empowerment to advance in Guyana, education must remain a priority. With the support of organizations such as GPE and World Bank, Guyanese leaders strive to continue strengthening education and addressing gender inequalities in the classroom and society.
– Morgan Harden