July 24, 2016

Caricom and criminal deportations

 

The issue of developed countries, more particularly the US, deporting Caribbean nationals to their country of birth without providing much information as to their medical and criminal backgrounds and even more importantly, providing some form of support regarding their smooth integration into their home countries, has always been a concern for regional Governments.

Not surprisingly, the matter was raised again, a few days ago, by newly elected Prime Minister of St Lucia, Allen Chastanet and St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Ralph Gonsalves, who complained bitterly that the practice was having a severe negative impact on the region, especially as it relates to crime and security issues. Prime Ministers Chastanet and Gonsalves also belaboured the point that very little information or help is provided by the US in terms of reintegrating the deportees in their home countries.

It is no secret that while some deportees try as much as possible to turn their lives around in their new environment, many of them gravitate towards crime, which in most cases places a huge burden on the State to deal with. For this reason, regional Governments have been lobbying the US authorities to be more understanding as to the tremendous negative impact the practice is having on countries. However, the US officials have resisted the argument that the deportations are to be blamed for the increase in violent crimes in the region.

For the record, the US has deported hundreds of convicted criminals to the Caribbean annually since 1996, when Congress mandated that every non-citizen sentenced to a year or more in prison be deported upon release.

In an analysis of deportation data for Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, a Caricom study found that almost 30,000 criminal offenders had been deported to those countries between 1990 and 2005.  Over 17,000 had been deported for drug offences; almost 1800 for possession of illegal firearms, and more than 600 for murder.  The US is responsible for more than seventy-five percent of all criminal deportations to the region.

It should be noted that security officials in Guyana have routinely placed the blame for some high level crimes on criminal deportees, particularly those that occurred during the 2002 to 2004 crime wave that gripped the nation when the Government was forced to enact the 2002 Amendment to the Crime Prevention Act, which stated that any deportee who poses a threat to public safety can be placed under police surveillance.

Additionally deportation has caused devastating socio-psychological effects, not only for deported persons, but for other family members, and in particular their children, the vast majority of whom have been left behind in the US, Canada or other countries, and who have little or no contact with the deported parent.

There is no need to elaborate on the challenges that confront countries such as ours when persons who have migrated many years ago are sent back after serving their time in jails overseas. What Caricom Governments need to focus on now is establishing an effective deportee resettlement programme for such persons to cater for their smooth reintegration into the society, so that once again they can become productive and useful citizens.

Many would want to believe that most of the persons who are deported are willing to reform their lives, but the absence of an effective and functioning support mechanism makes this process very difficult.

The main concerns for regional Governments are to ensure more focus is placed on information and intelligence sharing with respect to criminal deportees, in particular access to complete dossiers on medical and criminal history and consideration of financial and technical assistance to establish re-integration programmes within Caricom Member States.

These are reasonable concerns and Caricom representatives should continue to raise them at the relevant forums and lobby their partners for the necessary support in this regard.

 

Population change and migration

The Bureau of Statistics earlier this week released the official data of the 2012 National Population and Housing Census. Interesting enough, the changes in the ethnic composition during the period 1980 to 2012 shows that the two main groups recording the highest percentage growth are the Amerindians and the mixed heritage groups. The numbers of each of these two groups have nearly doubled since 1980 and have almost offset the absolute decline noted for the same period in the two major ethnic groups.
According to the just released report, the Bureau of Statistics notes that with the reduction in the size of the entire population, the relative shares of the ethnic groups have expectedly changed with the two groups (Mixed and Amerindians), which have been consistently growing now, accounting for a greater share of the population at the expense of the two traditional dominant groups – the East Indian and African groups.
As it is, Guyana’s final population stands at 746,955, a decline of 4268. Undeniably, migration plays a major role in this decline. Migration has become deeply embedded in the psyche of Caribbean peoples over the past century and a half.
According to the World Bank data, it has evolved as the main avenue for upward mobility through the accumulation of capital – financial and social. Thus, the propensity for migration is high and there is a general responsiveness to the opportunities for moving whenever they occur.
As a consequence, there is a tendency for Caribbean countries to lose a disproportionate number of educated and skilled persons through migration, with a potentially negative impact upon small, developing states.
Education Minister, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine was quoted in the media as saying that according to a World Bank report, 89 per cent of tertiary-educated nationals aged 25 and older have migrated. The report titled “A Gendered Assessment of Highly Skilled Emigration”, by Frédéric Docquier, B Lindsay Lowell and Abdeslam Marfouk, stated that Guyana has the highest rate of migration of tertiary education graduates in the world and has really allowed itself to become “one of those cases where catastrophe has succeeded in remaining one stride ahead”.
Migration over the years has had tremendous impact on the strength of Guyana’s economy, with the educated and skilled citizens moving away to other countries.
Guyana is not an isolated case as brain drain is a matter of serious concern for almost all countries in the Caribbean. Globalisation has many complex effects, which will directly influence future trends in skilled migration from the developing world. However, it is time to explore solutions to maximise the benefits and minimise the losses encumbered. Initiatives need to be sought to retain qualified professionals and to encourage them to return from overseas.
Dr Lomarsh Roopnarine, in his paper “Guyana Population Movement and Societal Development”, stated that the return and transnational migration have had a profound impact on Guyanese society. The positive aspect is that returning Guyanese tend to introduce new skills, ideas, techniques as well as capital, which are much needed for growth and development.
Guyanese returnees are important sources of investment, as remittances have led to unprecedented levels of infrastructural development. However, there appears to be no sound action or procedure to capitalise on the benefits to be had from the Guyanese overseas Diaspora.
The final prognosis is that migration from and to Guyana will continue as long as there are unsound political and economic development in Guyana. As oil is expected to improve the economy, the administration needs to act now, to have policies, programmes and incentives to encourage Guyanese to return home.

Committees in Parliament

The passage this week of the Telecommunications (Amendment) Bill 2016 exposed citizens to the work, possibilities and shortcomings of “Committees” in our parliamentary system of governance. In this system, Members of Parliament (MPs) are supposed to be engaged in three tasks – representing the interests of their constituencies, legislating laws introduced by the Executive, and oversight of the Government’s work.
While MPs are supposed to be “representing” at all times, they are afforded the opportunity to selectively perform the last two in the two types of committees of Parliament. These are the “Select” ad hoc committees that consider specific Bills and issues that have been laid before the Assembly and “Standing Committees”, which are constituted with every Parliament and generally exist for the duration of the Parliament. The Committee to which the Telecommunications Bill was sent since 2013 by the then PPP Executive, was an example of the “Select” type. The Public Accounts Committee exemplifies a Standing Committee, in this case one that is supposed to scrutinise the work of the Executive. In addition to “scrutinising”, Standing Committees such as the “Privileges Committee” are also constituted to facilitate the functioning of the National Assembly.
Committees are crucial for the entrenchment of substantive democracy in the parliamentary system, but we saw one of the constraints exposed this week. When the Telecommunications Bill was originally introduced, the members of the then Opposition parties APNU and AFC on the Select Committee felt that too many powers were placed into the hands of the subject Minister. Since at that time there was the unique situation where the Opposition parties also had a majority in the Parliament, the Government was unable to pass the legislation.
While there must have been some MPs from the Opposition benches that felt strongly enough about the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector, because of the power of the political parties to insist their MPs literally “toe the party line”, the duty to represent their constituencies’ interest was sacrificed at the altar of political expediency. The party Whips can “whip” support into line for their party’s position because of their power to “recall” contrary MPs. The political expediency was exposed when the APNU and AFC parties – now in government – supported the bill in the new Select Committee formed for this Parliament and was able to have it passed on the floor of the House since they also had a majority of votes there.
The PPP, now in Opposition, objected to the powers placed into the hands of the Telecommunications Minister. The shoe was now on the other foot. The challenge for greater substantive democracy, then, would be to facilitate MPs to take a more independent stance when Bills are being considered in Committee and in the National Assembly. In the US system where there is a more explicit “division of powers” between the Executive and the Legislature, the former does not sit in the latter, as is the case here, and Members of Congress are more independent. One way to rectify this matter here would be to eliminate the “party list” system where the party leaders have total control over which candidate on their list during elections are later selected as parliamentarians. This power, along with the desire of the MPs to move into Executive office, keeps them behind the “party line”. A reversion to a total constituency system of elections would also assist in allowing MPs to better fulfil their representative function.
The Parliament of Guyana also has Standings Committees, including the four Sectoral Committees – Economic, Natural Resources, Social Services and Foreign Affairs – which are not used sufficiently to scrutinise the work of the Executive. In the instance of the Telecommunications Bill, the Economic Services Committee could have called officials of the Government and the telecommunications companies to give evidence on the issue. In the presence of the media and with the assistance of experts they could hire, democracy would have been better served. But this was trumped by party discipline.

Coping mechanisms

It should come as no surprise to anyone that many persons suffer from the debilitating epidemic that is suicide. Guyana is touted as the country with the highest per capita rate of suicide in the Caribbean and around the world,
Just recently, a 51-year-old father living in Berbice, the “suicide belt” as it is commonly referred to, ended his life; two days before that, a 41-year-old male in Linden took his life. It seems regardless of how hard we try to prevent this scourge, persons, regardless of their expected wisdom and age, are finding it necessary to go down this route.
Suicide, the act of intentionally taking one’s life, is attributed to many factors, including despair, mental disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and addiction among many others too numerous to mention. The World Health Organisation (WHO) posits that more than 800,000 persons commit suicide every year, equivalent to one death every 40 seconds.
According to the WHO, globally among young adults aged 15-29, suicide accounts for 8.5 per cent of all deaths and is ranked as the second leading cause of death. Among adults aged 30?49, it accounts for 4.1 per cent of all deaths and is ranked the fifth leading cause of death.
Contrary to what many may think, persons who commit suicide or persons who show the signs – for example: saying that they want to die or are willing to take their lives – do not really want to kill themselves. Research has shown that people who talk about committing suicide are really reaching out for help since they might be suffering from anxiety, depression and hopelessness which might be occasioned by a multitude of factors, such as job loss, discrimination and even an unstable economic environment, among many others.
According to the health body, suicide impacts on the most vulnerable of the world’s population and is highly prevalent in already marginalised and discriminated groups of society. “It is not just a serious public health problem in developed countries; in fact, most suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries where resources and services, if they do exist, are often scarce and limited for early identification, treatment and support of people in need. These striking facts and the lack of implemented timely interventions make suicide a global public health problem that needs to be tackled imperatively.”
The WHO has identified a host of measures to be used which might mitigate the prevalence of suicide, some of which include, creating national strategies for suicide prevention; restricting access to the most common means of suicide, including pesticides, firearms and certain medicines; incorporating suicide prevention as a central component in health services; providing medical follow-ups for persons who have attempted suicide; identifying and treating mental health and substance abuse disorders as early as possible; and responsible reporting on suicide by the news media.
The Government, over the years, has instituted a host of mechanisms to deal with the epidemic, including incorporating mechanisms advanced by the WHO, but suicide still remains a predominant feature on the tapestry of Guyana’s fabric.
Some scholars have argued that the mechanisms which are being advanced will do no good for Guyana, since they are only addressing the symptoms of suicide and not the disease. In Guyana’s case, some theorists have argued that suicide is so rampant because of “widespread illiteracy, inadequate health care, soaring joblessness, deep poverty, dysfunctional politics, bloated corruption, protracted alcoholism, high prevalence of mental health issues, abuse, turbulent ethnic/race relations, marginalisation and a succession of dysfunctional governments”.
Maybe some of the unorthodox factors listed above should be addressed and then we might start seeing a reduction in the number of suicide cases being registered.
Moreover, there is a need to change how we as Guyanese are socialised about suicide, possibly incorporating within our homes, as well as school, religious and education systems from a young age, social teachings that are often overlooked, such are building confidence, self-esteem and tolerance, etc.
By reinforcing positive behaviours and displacing negative stereotypes over a period of time, change will take place, as the populace will have more defined coping mechanisms to deal with the stresses associated with life and will be less inclined to choose the option of death.

Political institutions and social cohesion

 

The Government is on a quest to increase social cohesion here. A week ago, the Minister tasked with achieving this happy circumstance sent out invitations to a number of individuals she selected to form a “Social Cohesion Peer Group (SCPG), an informal network of professionals who will be involved in advising the Ministry of Social Cohesion in its formulation of a 5-year Strategic Plan.”

It is hoped the minister will be more forthcoming with the workings and formulations of the SCPG than she was with the results of the claimed massively attended “Social Cohesion Conclave Roundtable Discussion” at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre last September. That also was supposed to produce a “Five-year Strategic Plan for Social Cohesion”. Did it die stillborn?

This newspaper believes Guyana remains a “divided society” fifty years after independence. And that this (ethnic) division is one of the primary reasons for its comparative lack of progress among the cohort of nations which also became independent in that era. It hopes to stimulate wider discussion on “social cohesion”.

While the original notion of “social cohesion” was mooted by the European Union to deal with “minorities” occasioned by new immigrants into countries that had been formed in some “hoary past”, of recent their analysis and proposals have also been adjusted and applied to divided plural societies as Guyana. One formulation from the latter school describes social cohesion as “the willingness of members of a society to cooperate with each other in order to survive and prosper.”

The authors conclude, “Social cohesion is said to be high when nearly all members of a society voluntarily “play by the rules of the game,” and when tolerance for differences is demonstrated in the day-to-day interactions across social groups within that society.” From this expansive perspective, it is clear that social cohesion has to be inculcated through institutions embedded in several dimensions that include political, social, cultural and economic ones where the “rules of the game” would be explicit.

In Guyana, the political institutions would appear to be quite high on the agenda for inducing social cohesion since at the most visible level it is in the political realm, especially during elections, that the division’s along ethnic lines are most visible. The most important political institutions in Guyana are political parties and the institutions of the state, namely the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary.

From the beginning of modern political mobilisation in 1950, when the first political party, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was launched, it sought to increase social cohesion through bringing representatives of the various ethnic groups into its leadership ranks. However, that soon changed when the party was split and even though each new party – as well as the original PPP – attempted to replicate that original unity, it has proved impossible up to the present. The Guyanese electorate insisted in voting along ethnic lines for parties that became de facto ethnic parties.

Because of that facticity, some theorists proposed that social cohesion could possibly be furthered by ensuring as wide an agglomeration of representatives of the various groups be created in the composition of the Executive and the Legislature. In our Parliamentary system, the Executive emanates out of the latter at General Elections. Electoral innovations, divisions of the electorate, grand coalitions, decentralisation and federalism have all been proffered to effect social cohesion from this angle.

Because of the coterminous nature of the Executive and the Legislature in Guyana, it is also felt that the adversarial rules of the latter, especially during the public debates on legislation before the house or the budget, is divisive. It has been suggested this might lead to lack of social cohesion since the electorate may be influenced by the fractiousness in that forum.

Some have proposed that the extant parliamentary committee system, which operates along more collegial lines, might be strengthened and its work publicised to also counter centrifugal tendencies.

 

National happiness anyone?

One of the ironies of the last century and a half is that while the great ideological battle between capitalism and communism ended two decades ago with the victory of the capitalists, the latter by then had completely accepted their opponents’ premise that fundamentally, man was an economic animal.
As a result, we all measure progress and development using various economic metrics especially Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But in the last decade, there has been a dramatic shift away from this orientation and towards a recognition that when all is said and done, man’s activity is basically intended to deliver greater happiness. And a grudging acceptance that material goods alone do not automatically guarantee happiness.
While the latter viewpoint had long been articulated by religiously-minded individuals and institutions, it had been denigrated by “hard-nosed realists” and economists as being too “otherworldly”. Its introduction into the realm of national policy came from an unlikely source: the king of the remote Himalayan Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, back in 1972.
Given epistemological rigour by the Centre for Bhutan Studies, a Gross National Happiness (GNH) index was devised which rested on the promotion of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and the establishment of good governance. These four pillars supported eight more detailed contributors to happiness: physical, mental and spiritual health; time-balance; social and community vitality; cultural vitality; education; living standards; good governance; and ecological vitality.
Initially, the economic powerhouses in the West that set the pace for what was considered “development” pooh-poohed the notion that “happiness” of nations could be the goal of governments. However, economists from the Indian subcontinent, ensconced in Western institutions but imbued with the notions from their own culture that “well-being” went beyond the traditional economic metrics, began to introduce Bhutan’s orientation into mainstream economic thinking.
Bhutan’s idea was taken up by the UNDP’s programme and refined by economists like Mahbubul Haq of Pakistan, Britain’s Lord Meghnad Desai and the Indian Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen as the “Human Development Index”, which seeks to incorporate life expectancy, education and standards of living as indicators of a country’s development. From this platform, the idea of a GNH has now taken centre stage in some of the countries that were most sceptical in the beginning.
In 2009, a panel of economists commissioned by Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, proposed the replacement of “Gross Domestic Product” with a “Net National Product” which would take into account the contentment of the people, the quality of public services and free services available within communities. In November 2010, Britain’s PM, David Cameron also announced plans for a ‘happiness index’ and said the Office for National Statistics would invite people to grade their own contentment from April 2022. He explained, “We’ll continue to measure GDP as we’ve always done, but it is high time we admitted that, taken on its own, GDP is an incomplete way of measuring a country’s progress.”
In January of that year, German politicians also began investigating ways to gauge the country’s quality of life and prosperity as a way to complement GDP figures in Europe’s top economy. A committee headed by Speaker of Parliament Norbert Lammert issued its recommendations in 2015. The so-called “Progress Index” measures Germany’s economic wealth, as well as advancements in education, environment and quality of life.
Another country to jump on the “happiness” bandwagon was China – the fastest growing economy in the world that is projected to overtake the US as the largest economy in a few decades. As part of its drive to find greater happiness, local Chinese officials are typically being set ten targets to meet – five being economic or GDP-related, and five being assessed on more nebulous, happiness- related criteria linked to social well-being. Our Government’s “green economy” incorporates some premises of the GNH position. Maybe it’s time we investigate the concept further?

New Age Reading

There has been much handwringing recently about the state of reading in our country. Things have got so bad, according to some, that we may be witnessing its actual demise. And we are not just referring to the reading of books.
Few today would conceive that in the middle of the last century we had more than a half-a-dozen newspapers – including one evening edition.
One may hear (since we do not read) that we are not alone in this predicament: the developed countries have conducted reams of research to demonstrate the declining place reading occupies in the lives of citizens. The usual suspects have been identified – TV, video games, I-Pods, smart phones and all the other gadgets that compete, and have evidently displaced books, for our spare time. It would seem that we are following an inevitably trend.
But what is that trend, and is it necessarily bad for us? At its most fundamental level, reading was simply a revolution in communications that occurred several thousand years ago, when mankind invented writing. Before that, we humans were communicating via speech for tens of thousands of years.
Writing and reading were not immediately enthusiastically embraced. We note Plato’s record (in writing!) of Socrates’ complaint that writing would weaken memories and the power of reasoning and questioning. And in acknowledgement of such critiques, the elements of the oral tradition — memorisation, rhetoric, recital – were preserved over the millennia.
The invention of the printing press some 500 years ago further revolutionised communication by making books much more easily available to everyone in society. This created its own storm of protests: would the great unwashed masses have the discipline to imbibe the processes of thinking to make use of the knowledge contained in the books? We invented schools and libraries –
not to mention popularisers called “magazines” and “newspapers” – to accomplish that task.
Reading became part and parcel of our tradition: books signified “civilization”.
But the development in sophistication and efficiency of books to transmit information created its own inexorable impetus. Before long, we were plunged through the invention of the telegraph and the telephone in the 19th century into the present revolution in communications represented by radio, movies, TV, computers and the internet, etc. And we return to the question of the fate of reading in an era of instantaneous electronic communications.
Our intent in outlining the changes in communication methodologies is to emphasise the inevitable nostalgia engendered when we move from one dominant form into another.
The point we want to make is that we cannot remain stuck in the past: when it comes to human affairs, change is inevitable. In grappling with the technique of communication we cannot lose sight of the intent of communication. Contrary to the popular aphorism, we cannot afford for the medium to become the message.
Human advances and success have been based on our ability to communicate knowledge gained by one generation to succeeding generations in ever-increasingly faster ways. This is salutary in view of the exponential growth in our knowledge base.
Rather than decrying the reduced prevalence of reading and insist like Socrates about retaining the oral tradition, we have to marry the old tradition of books and reading to the new vistas open to us.
It is perhaps ironic that the newer modes of communication may revive the foundations of the older oral tradition. If the reading of books decreases, to cope successfully with the explosion of information in the modern world, we may have to stress the importance of memorisation.
Our educational system will have to become au fait with the potential of the new technologies and combine them with the benefits of reading. The secret is not to insist on rote memorisation of arcane facts but on the ability to reason with and manipulate those facts that are now available literally at our fingertips.

Making the best use of time

 

Now that another school year has ended our children will be proceeding on an extended holiday break for approximately two months. This is quite a lot of time they will have at their disposal and it would be to their benefit if they are encouraged to utilise it in a constructive fashion. Certainly, parents have a critical role to play in ensuring this happens.

Some students who have not done so well during the past year; or perhaps those that encounter difficulties in certain key areas in any of the subject areas, could use the time to do remedial academic work to catch up with the rest of their colleagues.

Also, some children usually go off on ‘summer’ camps hosted by religious/youth groups or other organisations including the government-sponsored programmes. This is also another effective way in which our children could spend their time wisely as they would be given an opportunity to interact with their peers and engage in extracurricular activities which would help them to become better rounded individuals.

The bottom line is that it is necessary for them to be meaningfully engaged as it is well known that those who have achieved successes in life or have gone on to do great things, are the ones who have utilised their time wisely.

It is a known fact that many of our young people are falling prey to the use and trafficking of illicit drugs and engaging in criminal activities, in the process completely destroying their lives and a great future they could have had if better choices were made and the necessary support systems were put in place to ensure their proper upbringing.

Every effort must therefore be made to ensure this segment of our population reform themselves and lead more productive and rewarding lives.

To begin with, institutions such as the family and religious groups need to take their roles more seriously as happened before.

Historically, the older generation had managed to transmit their beliefs, values, traditions, customs and institutions to the younger members of their societies and had contributed in some way to their disciplined upbringing.

This was achieved largely due to the impact of agencies of socialisation, such as the family, religious organisations and the schools to a large extent. Today, the impact of these institutions has been challenged and undermined by new forces, particularly television, the internet, and the pop culture as a whole.

We believe that if our adolescents are to move from the less mature and irresponsible ways of thinking and acting, to making more mature and responsible judgments and engaging in activities that are the hallmark of a socially productive adulthood, certain support systems must be provided. In addition to the various interventions which the government should make, there are numerous organisations including the private sector, which could rise to the occasion and contribute more towards saving our youth population. They need to come on board and sponsor programmes that would see our children and young people become well equipped with the necessary skills to develop themselves and the society as a whole.

Coordinating and sponsoring such programmes during the ‘summer’ break when children are away from school for a long period is a good way to start. These programmes should include assessment and identification of ways to build competency and skills supportive of healthy behaviours to help persons as they mature into adulthood. Such programmes need to be engaging and interesting in order to attract youths, and they should have elements of excitement and challenge to retain participants’ interest.

Successful programmes typically incorporate specific components, such as providing a sense of belonging, promoting a supportive relationship with adults, and affording opportunities to enhance decision-making and leadership skills.

Further, sport could also play a very important role in bringing the youth population back on track so that they could interact with their peers and elders in a more meaningful and dignified manner.

 

The monstrous head of HIV

The monstrous head of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has raised its head globally and closer to home. The UNAIDS has revealed that there has been a nine per cent increase of HIV infections in the Caribbean during the last five years, in a report on the need for increased HIV prevention efforts and investments, released ahead of next week’s International AIDS Conference, to be held in Durban.

Alarmingly, the report highlighted that after years of steady decline, the Caribbean has experienced a rise in annual new HIV infections among adults between 2010 and 2015. More worrisome is the fact that after the report was released two days ago, the Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton confirmed that Guyana was among the countries battling the increase. Even more troubling is the fact that the HIV increase in Guyana is among young people. Young people are deemed the world’s greatest hope in the struggle against this fatal disease. It is disappointing that a generation that is exposed to up-to-date information, a generation that has more education, a generation that has more access to knowledge and health care, has fallen prey to this dreaded monster of a disease.

There is no doubt, and local records will show that, hundreds of millions were spent educating young people about HIV, and teaching them skills in negotiation, conflict resolution, critical thinking, decision-making and communication in order to improve their self-confidence and ability to make informed choices.

Sexual activity begins in adolescence for the majority of people. According to a UN report on young people and HIV/AIDS, in many countries, unmarried girls and boys are sexually active before the age of 15. Recent surveys of boys aged 15 to 19 in Brazil, for example, found that more than a quarter reported having sex before they were 15. As a result, adolescents who start having sex early are more likely to have sex with high-risk partners or multiple partners, and are less likely to use condoms. Delaying the age at which young people first have sex can significantly protect them from infection. According to the newly released report, data provided reveals that donor funding to fight HIV/AIDS has declined to its lowest levels since 2010, with international donor contributions dropping from a peak of US$9.7 billion in 2013 to US$8.1 billion in 2015. Over the years, strengthened global political commitment to HIV prevention was followed by strengthened financial commitment which resulted in the successes of the global AIDS response. That response to date has been fuelled by extraordinary investment. However, low- and middle-income countries are stepping up to fill the recent donor gap, with domestic resources accounting for 57 per cent of total funding in 2015.

The data provided by the UNAIDS 2016 report highlights that international funding for in-country services in 2015 declined for the second year in a row to US$8.2 billion – a seven per cent reduction from the US$8.7 billion in 2014. There is no doubt that building on the momentum established at the 2016 United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS requires translating the commitments within the political declaration into action. Global targets and milestones, as being advocated for, need to be translated into national and sub-national targets. At the local level, stakeholders need to analyse and understand their local prevention needs and mount an appropriate combination prevention response.

Prevention is the key to reducing infection rates. Interventions must be tailored to the differences between boys and girls, and rural and urban youths.

Policymakers must recognise that HIV prevention efforts must also recognise young people’s immediate needs for shelter and food.

Government must contain this epidemic by mobilising all sectors of society to reach out to young people. Religious leaders, parents and community leaders also need to recognise the importance of their own roles in providing life-saving information and skills to our young generation on the prevention of the spread of HIV.

 

Science Education

The quest for a sustainable development model must surely be the Holy Grail for all policy-makers in the poorer countries of the world, not least here in Guyana. There is now a consensus that unless the educational standards of the people match their countries’ development needs, the latter will never be sustainable. President David Granger has asserted that the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) have to be the foundation of any such educational improvement at this stage of Guyana’s development. And in the STEM curricula, the natural sciences take centre stage.
But this recognition of the STEM foundation of our educational thrust is not new and the previous Administration launched several initiatives to raise standards in this area. It is important to investigate what has happened to these efforts so that the same mistakes are not repeated as we go forward. One of the initial hurdles faced by the PPP Government was a pernicious attitude developed during the 1980s’ collapsed economy that education in general, and science in particular, was of no import. There were no jobs available for persons with “papers”.
With the post-1992 rehabilitation of the economic base, this view has been altered somewhat but rather disappointingly, the enthusiasm for science in our students at all levels remain abysmally low. It would appear that, as in the US, science is still perceived as “hard”, even though at the primary level it is compulsory. By the time students reach third form in the secondary schools, where they are “streamed”, only a tiny minority opt for the sciences. This voluntary winnowing-out process continues even more dramatically at the tertiary level with only a literal handful sticking with the natural sciences.
Five years ago, the World Bank approved a credit of US$10 million to finance the UG Science and Technology Support Project. An estimated 6300 students and faculty were supposed to benefit from this project, intended to “strengthen science and technology tertiary education in order to advance Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS)”.
The Ministry of Education simultaneously moved on several fronts to rectify the multifaceted problem of – low interest in science in the primary and secondary schools, which serve as the feeder for UG. There was firstly the challenge of having adequate numbers of trained teachers; secondly, the building of labs and thirdly, the challenge of motivating students from the very lowest levels to stick with the natural sciences. The Ministry offered scholarships to teachers who elected to study the sciences (and mathematics) at the tertiary level, while at the student level considered waiving the examination fees for students writing the sciences at the CSEC Examinations. It has also built some labs, but these are very expensive. What is the result and status of these initiatives?
There was also another innovation that many felt had the greatest potential. NCERD collaborated with UNESCO to develop a “National Science and Technology Policy” and also to find ways to implement such policies. Then, in 2011, the Ministry of Education announced its collaboration with UNESCO on what has been labelled the “Global Microscience Experiments Project”.
This hands-on project had been tried in dozens of other countries in Eastern Europe and Africa that wanted to increase the scientific coverage in their curriculum delivery. It consisted of booklets that described the basic experiments underlying the scientific knowledge that in Guyana most science students had to cram. But more germanely, used five types of “microscience” kits, the components of which could be recombined to match specific curricula that individual countries may design. These kits could have been used from the primary levels. The lack of exposure to actual experiments had been the single greatest impediment in making science attractive to our students. This was especially true for boys who are socialised to need more “hands-on” active learning environments.
Could someone advise on the status of the above before reinventing the wheel?