One day after Guyana celebrated the top performers at the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA), a symposium on education heard that over 40% of the 14,145 students who wrote the examinations would likely not graduate secondary school.

Education Specialist Audrey Rodrigues and Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist Micheal Gillis, in a presentation titled “Consideration for Accelerating Attendance, Participation and Performance,” told the Symposium on Boys’ Education at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre, that only 55% of Guyanese students graduate secondary school.

In fact, based on the data presented by the two UNICEF employees, only 47% of Guyanese boys and 57% of girls matriculate.

They explained that many students are finding the transition from Primary to Secondary education daunting and therefore both boys and girls are dropping out at a much higher rate in the lower secondary than in primary.

Specifically, 5.2% of boys leave school between Grade 7 (Form One) and Grade 9 (Form Three), while 2.7% of girls leave during that period with several communities recording multiple teenage pregnancies in Grade 7.

During the 25-minute presentation the audience was provided with analysis of attendance and participation in education across various indicators such as age, gender, ethnicity and geographical location.

The presenters stressed that based on the data, while girls who identify as being of African descent record the highest rate of matriculation at 72%, Amerindian boys are matriculating at the much lower 14%.

Across all ethnic groups, boys are matriculating at a lower rate, with 44% of boys of African descent completing secondary school compared with 72% of girls, and 52% of Amerindian girls compared to 14% of boys, and 58% of Indian girls compared to 48% of Indian boys.

Further disparities were recorded in the comparison of performance in hinterland and coastal regions.

“Hinterland regions are the most inequitable, and they need the attention as much as possible,” Gillis indicated, while noting that while conducting research one teacher asked how a child who has never seen a traffic light could be tested on its colours.

Rodrigues also questioned whether the period and methods of teaching and testing are equitable when students in Region Nine regularly miss months of instruction due to yearly flooding or when the language of instruction is not their native language. Further, questions were asked about provisions for students with disabilities or who have suffered trauma.

According to the data, 23.6% of students in Region Two leave school in lower secondary, 20.5% in Region Seven and 15.6% in Region One.

Rodrigues noted that the reasons offered for this decision include such varied responses as poverty, teenage pregnancy, being left unsupervised by parents for long periods, parental illiteracy, substance abuse, bullying, verbal abuse from teachers, poor academic performance, the distance between home and school and a poor school environment

She related stories of children who live in the mining and logging districts being left unsupervised for weeks and forced to fend for themselves in the face of this neglect.

Additionally, many students in the hinterland regions who have to paddle for miles and miles or walk for miles to get to school often make the decision to leave school.

Gillis noted that it has also been observed that in areas which offer a hot meal, some students and parents have made the decisions to have the child walk two miles to school, so they can access that meal.

Having conducted several studies, the two specialists advised that meaningful reform must go beyond participation and voices and must demonstrate agency for both boys and girls.

They stressed that bottlenecks must be examined and stakeholders must seek to ensure that the curriculum is appropriate and matches a child’s interest and aptitude as well as the employment needs of the community.

“The realities of a potential excluded child must be considered… use the data to determine inequities and decide which groups we must compensate for, which groups to focus on, why we should focus on those groups, when, and where we should focus and with whom we should collaborate,” Rodrigues stressed.