Today’s world moves faster than ever before. We live in an era of technological advancement, with the internet and social media transferring information across the globe in milliseconds.
At the heart of this surge in growth is education. For humanity to develop, we must constantly be pushing forward and striving to learn more, both in universities and in secondary schools. We optimise and refine our processes but what if, in the process, we are losing something?
I spent a year teaching secondary school English in Guyana, an ex-British colony and one of the poorest countries in South America. Guyana’s education system was modelled after the British one but has seen very little change or amendments since the country’s independence was gained in 1966. During my time there, I noticed plenty of differences between the Guyanese system and the current British one, many of which I think we can learn from.
A Brief Introduction to Guyana
Guyana is located in north-eastern South America, bordering Venezuela, Suriname and Brazil. The country’s economy is driven by its natural resources of sugar cane, rice, bauxite and gold. Its almost completely untouched rainforest is beautiful but challenging, resulting in a very poor infrastructure across the country.
Guyana’s population is ethnically diverse. The native Amerindian population mainly reside in the southern half of the country, away from the coast in the savannah, which is where I was working. The northern portion of the country hosts the capital, Georgetown, a wealthier region which is dominated by the Afro-Guyanese who are descendant from ex-slaves. Besides these two nationalities, there is also a large Indian population, descendant from indentured labourers brought in after the abolishment of slavery, as well as pockets of other nationalities.
All of these details impacted the education system that I experienced whilst there (if interested, you can find out more about the country here).
Some Positives of the Guyanese Education System
Community Involvement and Understanding
With a poor infrastructure that meant it took four hours on a motorbike to reach the closest major town, the community of the village where I worked was extremely tight knit. Parents and teachers were often neighbours and knew each other on a first name basis, simply because they would walk past each other’s homes regularly. This created a truly cohesive educational system, where the school and the community would work together for the sake of the children.
Extra-curricular activities, sports days and other school events were run by everyone, not just by the school’s staff. This created an ownership of the students, where the whole community strived to push the children further, helping with both behaviour and achievement in class. This community support is absent from many of our own schools and we are missing out on the power of group encouragement towards students.
As mentioned previously, I would regularly meet parents of the children that I taught during weekends and evenings and in turn, I would also regularly see students. This came with its challenges, primarily the struggles of maintaining a student/teacher relationship despite consistently seeing each other outside of school time, but it was ultimately beneficial.
Through this time outside of class, it was significantly easier to build rapport with students and share their successes, congratulating and encouraging them when seeing them outside of school which led to better behaviour, respect and attainment. Maybe we, as teachers, should view seeing children outside of class as an opportunity to inspire them as opposed to finding it stressful and frustrating?
Use of Nature
Guyana is extremely hot, most days hovering around 35oC. The school building was all concrete, with no electricity and little ventilation. This made teaching challenging on particularly hot days, simply because of how much it would distract the children – my answer was to bring them outside for the lesson.
There has been plenty of research into student attention and nature, all of which indicate outdoor spaces lead to improved student retention and learning. Having tried it myself, I found that a weekly lesson outside was incredibly productive, particularly during recap lessons to embed knowledge from the week’s lessons. Our current systems don’t utilise the outdoors nearly enough to make use of this. Though there is one thing we have that the Guyanese don’t – great school playgrounds. So, whilst we might struggle on the nature front, we do have the appropriate equipment to make use of what we can.
Each of these positives has been reduced or challenged by the current education system in the UK, sometimes not consciously but simply because of technological developments. We should do our best to create mechanisms that allow us to take advantage of these little details during education.
Here in the UK, we’re lucky. We have technology, we have wealth and we have infrastructure, all of which make education easier. Though, somewhere along the way, not necessarily as a fault of our own, we might have lost something special.
The people of Guyana don’t have much but what they do have they use to the fullest by working together, both in education and elsewhere. The whole community joins forces to push the next generation, helping to organise and run school activities as well as checking on their own children regularly. With such a tightknit community, teachers can become teammates as well as educators, supporting their students far beyond the classroom.
Maybe we can learn something from this? Maybe we should start focusing our efforts on community involvement and parent interaction, instead of solely on what happens inside school? In the end, there’s always something we can learn from other schools and systems, so it’s definitely worth thinking about.
About the Author
Gianluca became a teacher right out of the gate, spending a full academic year teaching English Literature and English Language in the South American country of Guyana. During this time, Gianluca taught children in years 7-10, from lesson planning through to implementation and examination. In school, he helped organise the implementation of a girl guide group and assisted in running multiple after-school clubs. During his year of teaching, he also wrote a report analysing gender norms in Guyanese society, analysing their effect on not only his students but the country as a whole.