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Guyana needs a community college in its education system

(5 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)
Written on 2-Jul-2015 by Fidel A. Captain

Open letter to the Minister of Education

The following is an open letter to the Minister of Education of Guyana outlining why a community college in should be added to Guyana's post-secondary education system and how such an institution can be financed:

In the light of recent changes in Guyana I feel that it is time to discuss an idea that I have had for several years, a transformative idea whose time has come and should be acted upon in the very near future. I believe that a national community college should be added to Guyana's post-secondary education system. A community college with branches across the country would greatly enhance the skills of the nation’s workforce by offering specific and relevant short programs complimented with recognized qualifications, and it would also ensure an easy transition from secondary school to university by serving as a bridge between secondary and university education for those unable to obtain admission to the University of Guyana or other universities.

Purposes of a Community College in Guyana

The primary purposes of such a community college would be to prepare students for baccalaureate programs at the University of Guyana and universities worldwide by offering associate degree programs, and to enhance the skills of the Guyanese workforce by offering certificate programs that guarantee a certain level of knowledge, skills and competence in specific areas. The associate degrees should be completed over no more than two and a half years by a full time student and upon successful completion would guarantee such a student direct entry into the University of Guyana with credits for completed courses allowing a shorter Bachelor’s Degree completion; and the certificate programs should be constructed and conducted in conjunction with the Public Service Ministries and local businesses nationwide to offer programs that will allow successful students to acquire the skills, knowledge and recognized qualifications necessary to better function at their jobs and to gain promotions.

Another major purpose of such a community college would be to offer remedial classes for students who were not fully successful at the CXC examinations but would nonetheless like to pursue higher education. Such courses and programs would bring successful students to the level they need to be at to start an associate’s degree program, thus giving them an opportunity to further their studies if they are academically equipped to do so. However, such students must have taken the relevant CXC examinations and have received a certain minimum grade; remedial classes would not be an alternative nor a replacement to CXC, which should remain the basis of judging secondary achievement and suitability for post secondary academic education. However, we need to recognize that suitable students sometimes falter in one or two areas (mostly mathematics and English) and would need to be brought up to the level needed for post-secondary academic work, and should be given the opportunity to try to make up the difference in their weak areas.

Associate Degree Programs

The associate degree programs at the community college should be for students who would like to further their studies in a particular area, and should be a mandatory pre-cursor to entering the University of Guyana for students who have not done CAPE. Direct entry into the University from secondary school should only be via CAPE and the University’s programs should be [re]structured as such, enabling CAPE students to do additional classes, at the community college, to bring them up to university level so that both sets of students (CAPE and Associate Degree) are at the same level entering the second year at the university. Certain programs and courses being done at the university should be relegated to the community college, leaving the university to focus primarily on research and academic work, producing intellectually and academically astute students, and conducting national and global impacting research.

The role of the University of Guyana should be mostly academic, focusing on research and administering baccalaureate and postgraduate degrees. The university should, at the baccalaureate level, impart to its students the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in their respective careers, and above all, create critical thinkers who are able to analyze and constructively criticize a wide range of issues within and outside of their discipline. At the postgraduate level, the university should aim to attract and retain students who are able to conduct research on issues critical to the development of Guyana, and more broadly the world. It should be the go-to institution for analysis and research on critical [and mundane] issues relating to development of Guyana. In addition, the university can assist the community college by mandating that postgraduate students teach at least one course at the community college per academic year.

Certificate Programs

The certificate programs at the community college should be for individuals who want to enhance their skills and knowledge so that they can better perform at their jobs, or get a formal qualification that would have otherwise been unattainable because of their formal education or lack thereof. Guyana’s workforce is filled with employees who have learned on the job and are good at what they do, but do not have any formal education after secondary school, and as a result can only rise to a certain level if they are employed in a small or large business, and will always be underpaid because they are not qualified. The certificate programs would target these individuals and in at least one year give them the qualifications that would enable them to easily rise to supervisory positions that may have otherwise been unattainable because of the encumbrances faced because of their lack of recognized qualifications. Students should be able to complete the certificate in at least one year and these programs should be developed and maintained in conjunction with local business nationwide and the ministries in the public service so that they will always satisfy the needs of the country’s workforce.

While the certificate programs would enhance individuals’ knowledge and skills and give them a formal qualification that they otherwise might not have been able to acquire, the entry requirements should ensure that potential students have basic math and English skills, and if not, require them to take remedial classes to bring their skills set in these areas up to the level required for the certificate programs. If carefully and prudently managed, these programs can lead to the overall raising of the standard of education, skills, and knowledge of Guyana’s workforce, to one that is comparable to the rest of the world.

Professional Development Programs

In addition to associate degrees and certificate programs, the community college can offer short professional development courses, six to fifteen weeks long, sponsored by the companies and organizations that want them, and geared towards the specific needs of that company or organization, groups of companies or organizations, or public demand. The college should have an entire department dedicated to developing, conducting, and monitoring these courses to ensure that they meet the demand of the public and that the quality of the content and delivery of these courses is of the highest standard. Companies and organizations should also be able to request professional development courses tailored to their specific needs, and the college would then work with them to create and deliver these courses. These short professional development courses can become the chief revenue earner of the community college while being one of the core educational services it provides.


Financing

The financing of the construction and maintenance of such a transformative institution would not be simple. However, there are many different models that can be used to finance the construction and maintenance of a community college in Guyana, and I would suggest using grants and/or loans for a portion of the capital funding for the construction of this college. The IDB “…provide[s] loans, grants, and technical assistance… [and] work[s] to improve lives in Latin America and the Caribbean… Through financial and technical support for countries working to reduce poverty and inequality, we help improve health and education, and advance infrastructure…” and they have funded 175 education related projects across Latin America and the Caribbean in the last five years (iadb.org). This would be a great multinational institution to approach to assist with the funding for the construction of a community college in Guyana.

Additional funding for the construction of a community college in Guyana can come from financial or material donations from companies large and small across Guyana. These companies can donate financial, physical or intellectual resources that can be used in the construction of the college. The government can offer incentives, such as tax deductions, which can be applied to these donations, whether the donations are financial or material.

Financing the maintenance of such an institution would be tricky, because we do not want to ask the students to pay ridiculously unaffordable amounts to attend, which would lead to low attendance, which would then cause the financial collapse of the college. Rather than high tuition, the government should offer incentives, such as tax credits/rebates, to employed individuals, who sign up at the college to take certificate or associate degree programs and successfully complete them. I am sure that we can come up with many other government backed incentives that will help to finance the recurring expenditures of the college while promoting the development of Guyana’s labor force through education and professional development.

As I mentioned earlier, the college can make a lot of money by running short professional development courses that are designed in conjunction with the companies or organizations that request these courses. The college should be built with facilities that will accommodate such courses and then charge for the use of these facilities and its human resources, if utilized. This is an area that can be actively marketed by the college because it has the potential to attract companies large and small that would pay to send their employees on short professional development courses that would increase efficiency and productivity. In addition, the government can also offer incentives, such as tax credits or deductions, to employers that utilize the college for professional development for their employers.

Conclusion

In its 2008 – 2013 Strategic Plan, the Ministry of Education recognizes the “interconnected nature of the education system” in Guyana, and suggests, “Concerted efforts must be made to strengthen the linkages that exist throughout the system, and specifically, those between our secondary, post-secondary and tertiary institutions.” (p. 62) I believe that the addition of a community college to Guyana’s post-secondary education system would definitely strengthen the linkages in our education system by serving as a bridge between secondary and university education, by ensuring an easy transition from secondary school to university, and by enhancing the skills of the Guyanese workforce.

Guyana’s post-secondary education system requires serious evaluation and transformation. This transformation, I believe, should be in the form of the addition of a community college that would prepare students for baccalaureate programs at the University of Guyana and that would enhance the knowledge, skills and competence of the Guyanese workforce by offering certificate programs. This, of course, would necessitate a new thinking about education and education in Guyana, one that is in line with the rest of the modern world and one that is best for our nation.