Education Policy and the Teaching Profession
The postindependence government placed particular emphasis on education, both to develop a skilled labor force and to increase opportunity for disadvantaged people. Primary and secondary education was supervised by the Education Department of the Ministry of Education, Social Development, and Culture. District officers inspected schools at the local level. The university and institutions of technical education were administered by the Ministry of Higher Education, established in 1980. In 1988 expenditures on education constituted 6.4 percent of government spending. Many leading members of the government, including presidents Burnham and Hoyte, were former schoolteachers; others were the children of teachers. Yet critics of the government asserted that the education system had undergone decline in the 1970s and 1980s, despite the priority given it by the government. Critics also charged the government with using the school system to disseminate political propaganda.
In 1976 the government abolished private education and became responsible for providing free education from nursery school through the university level. The government took over about 600 schools. The great majority of the private schools taken over by the government had been religious. Most of them had been Christian, and a few had been Hindu or Muslim. The takeover was opposed by the churches and by a large segment of the middle class, which feared a decline in education standards and increased competition from lower-class students.
Guyana had no shortage of teachers through the 1980s. The teaching profession remained an honored one, even though teachers were no longer the most educated members of their community. Teaching had long been a means of advancement for Afro-Guyanese, who made up the majority of teachers until the 1950s; they instructed both Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese children. IndoGuyanese began to enter the profession in the 1920s, but there was little room for advancement for non-Christians in the denominational schools. After World War II, Indo-Guyanese took a greater interest in schooling and a large number went into education. Schoolteachers became the largest professional group among the Indo-Guyanese; they tended to teach in government schools, where religious differences were less important. About 7 percent of the primary school instructors in the country were IndoGuyanese in 1935; by 1965, this segment had increased to 54 percent; surpassing the proportion of Indo-Guyanese in the general population.
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