Feb 18, 2018

Saints Annual Dinner/Dance 2018

Alumnus Dr. David Singh addresses U.G. Conference

Education for a Green Economy
David Singh, Vice President, Conservation International
January 31, 2018
Image result for photo of david singh conservation international
I would like to thank the University of Guyana for the opportunity to speak, and to acknowledge the presentations of the previous speakers who have thoughtfully addressed education reform in the context of Guyana’s socio-economic development; and to add that a truly sustainable future for Guyana requires equal attention to the three dimensions of economic, social and environmental wellbeing.
In speaking of education and our future, I would like to emphasise that in a most fundamental way we are focused on human capital, which is proven to be the basis for any sustainable economy. It also presupposes that we have a common view on what are the current challenges and opportunities, and perhaps more importantly, that we have a common understanding of the future we want.
I would like to associate my remarks closely with those of Mr Chris Fernandes. He has distilled out some clear steps to address the big challenges in our education system.
As we think of the future we want, there are two distinct possibilities.
Our current economy has always been commodity driven, always exposed to external forces. Our brain drain has been unchecked and the rate of out-migration of our most qualified has outstripped every other country on the planet.[1] But on the flipside, our natural capital – our ecosystems, especially when measured against the size of the population, is among the highest, most intact, and most valuable in the world. And yes, there is the promise of oil revenues from 2020, just two years from now.
Our choice of future will be determined today. Do we continue blithely along and accept a future in which we depend on commodities such as oil, over which we have little control – an economy characterized by the so-called resource curse? Or do we create a future by building a solid human capital foundation, addressing our infrastructural needs and social inequities, while maintaining our truly world class ecosystems?
Exactly two weeks ago and in this very room, one of the world’s leading green economy specialists Pavan Sukhdev described an economy that “results in improved human well-being and social equity, whilst significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.” That my friends, describes a green economy and one that we all would want. It is a necessary choice to secure a future for humanity.
This green economy path is the right turn at the crossroad where we now find ourselves. From my perspective working for an organization that helps people care for nature, a green economy future for Guyana is only possible through an obsessive focus to turn our human capital from the deficit where it has been for decades, into a net positive. From the skills we need, through to a fundamental shift in human behaviour, all will be required to achieve a green economy.
But this requires education reform. Not education reform in small fontsize, but big and bold and with obsession. We are in a state of emergency.
In 2015, the Registrar of CXC Dr Didacus Jules called for a paradigm shift in education, where, “Content will give way to competence; analytical skills will supersede memorization; and interdisciplinarity will reinforce key competencies.” He stated that our education systems in the Caribbean are no longer working, and we simply cannot continue to tinker with the system.
That was 2015, and we have continued to tinker. Our current education system, has failed to help Guyana to deliver the human capital that we require – one may argue that it trains people for the market abroad; it alienates us from our land and resources, our natural patrimony. A big part of the issue relates I believe to the metrics we use to measure performance. We say that we cannot manage what we do not measure, but often we only manage what we measure. And so, we manage through simple indicators such as percentage passes; number of schools built; number of teachers graduated; number of CXC subjects our children write. The inventory list in the supply chain of human capital improvement delivery is long.
But what if we measure against impact? I would like to propose three benchmarks that ought to form the foundational goals of a reformed education programme.
Firstly, we must see a reduction and ultimately a reversal in the net out-migration of tertiary trained graduates and school leavers. We cannot begin to think of building a critical mass to move our development forward without training Guyanese for Guyana.
Secondly, and related to this, we must increase the relevance of education for our regions and communities. We are increasingly South American even as we honour our Caribbean history. We cannot hope to build pride in our people all around Guyana if the education and training they receive alienates them from their family’s culture and community’s way of life.
And thirdly, we must reduce the amount of retraining that employers must undertake before new employees can become productive. This affects the balance sheets of our private sector and speaks to the relevance and effectiveness of our educational system to the needs of our society. [2]
Colleagues, Guyana can be a world class destination of excellence in a green economy. But we cannot and will not achieve this without an obsessive focus on education reform today, now, and long before 2020.
A dream? Perhaps, unless we have the guts and the spirit to take a non-partisan state of emergency approach to the issue; where we pitch our minds to foundational goals and real impact. For most Guyanese, your lifetimes are ahead of you; for some, your lifetimes have already been etched in the sands of time; and for some, this is our lifetime.
We have a chance that will not come again for the foreseeable future by which we can do something. Something that can take us out of the barren barrel called “potential” and into a reality and a future that we all want and deserve.
Guyana’s world class natural capital found in its intact ecosystems and oil wealth is the basis for a world-class green economy, provided that there is the human and social capital to make this happen. This ambition is achievable: Guyana’s economy is small and can be readily influenced; its population is small and highly trainable; and the opportunity costs for this economic transformation are low given the nascence of our private sector and the intactness of its ecosystems.
Let us act now.

[1] A 2016 World Bank study titled Global Talent Flows, highlights that for Guyana, the emigration rate of high‐skilled workers to OECD destinations was 93% in 2010 – the highest of the over 200 countries studied. But this trend in out-migration in the Caribbean is not unique to Guyana. Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados are also among the highest in the world.
[2] Most recent studies show that 44% of all new employees have to be retrained by their employers before they can become productive staff. From, Skills for Green Jobs Study – Guyana, International Labour Organisation, Office of the Caribbean, 2017

Of Interest

Turkeyen and Tain Talks 11 - Education Reform Materials
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