Quality education not quantity at UG is important

Quality education not quantity at UG is important

Dear Editor,
Much commentary is made of the announcement of UWI to train Guyanese workers, as opposed to UG. Almost every response is of the view that UG is not in the same academic league as UWI. The same was obtained from views obtained from my interactions with former and current lecturers and students at UG. This comment suggests that UG is in need of much improvement.

Human resource development is critical for Guyana as it realigns into a petrol economy. But it must be quality education – people provided, with a minimum applicable skill set that can help guide Guyana’s development a la Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, etc. Education for education’s sake will not serve Guyana’s development interests.

I interacted with many respected (current and former) lecturers at UG. They complain that the quality of students admitted at the university is not on par with what obtained a couple decades ago. They claim standards have declined significantly, with many graduates lacking basic skills set. They say that many students can barely read and write, or calculate basic math. (The students can be excused, since our judges don’t know that 33 is a majority of 65, or comprehend simple English language in the constitution, that says the Opposition Leader nominates six potential nominees and the President selects one as GECOM Chair).

There must be minimum pre-requisites for admission as well as graduation at UG. When I was admitted at university in New York as a sixteen-year-old in 1977, I had to meet the minimum requirements and pass an exam. I also had to take a placement exam after admission. Remedial courses were required when students performed poorly in English and Math in placement or admission exams.
When I was admitted at graduate school, a minimum B average was the requirement, in addition to minimum scores on the GRE; a written essay was mandatory. For doctoral admission, a B Plus average was required in addition to high GRE scores and a written essay.

It is not clear what the standards are for admission at UG in any programme. Is there a written test and a placement exam? Also, it is not clear whether UG has remedial courses to prepare students for courses in their field of major. But, as related to me, too many students are not ready for the rigours of university. One senior lecturer informed me: “Most can’t string together a few sentences in a coherent paragraph or an essay. And their grammar is horrendous”. Another lecturer said, “Too many don’t comprehend what they read, and cannot paraphrase the ideas of the excerpt of a book, or express themselves clearly”.
My interaction with some graduates reveals they cannot communicate properly, and their English is poor. They may communicate better in Guyanese Creolese.

All courses should require students to demonstrate some level of reading and writing skills. When I did my BS in Bio-Chem, Professors required a weekly written report in every lab course, some fifteen courses, with each meeting fourteen times a semester or over 200 reports of over ten pages each). In post-graduate in social sciences, papers were required. In law courses, the Professor gave hypothetical cases which required written reports with case citations.
Students must be taught how, and be encouraged to write.

There is need for reforms at UG, and in education nationally. The Ministry of Education needs to focus on the quality of education being provided at UG, to determine whether we are graduating workers who are sufficiently skilled and literate to expedite our development. Otherwise, we will end up with the kind of workers or judges who don’t know that 33 is a majority of 65. When I was an undergraduate student, a graduate needed to demonstrate competence in writing. I took and passed the writing exam in my sophomore year, a full three years before I obtained my degree. A minimum standard on literacy and writing competency should be set before a student is awarded a degree.

Government should not pump money into a bad project that graduates students who lack skill set to survive in the private sector. One should not be fooled by quantity, but pay attention to quality of education.
Government and university educators in higher education around the world are grappling with admission issues as the number of secondary students finishing high school increases.
The general trend over the last two decades has been to admit increasing numbers of students in public tertiary institutions, often ignoring quality. In the process, the quality of higher education drops substantially, and employers are forced to turn to India, Philippines, China, and Vietnam for STEM scholars. Government should encourage students to pursue STEM.

UG needs to set higher standards for admission. Students should not be admitted at UG unless they meet minimum reading, writing, and math skills – CXC and CAPE may not be enough. The university must also have its own minimum standards of an entrance exam. Perhaps Government should consider privatising the university, or putting it under private management. Or give autonomy to select students who have the aptitude and are serious university studies. There should be an admission test. Students should be mandated to take prerequisite and remedial classes before taking courses in a major. Also, a premier private multi-discipline university is badly needed to encourage competition with UG; this may help to elevate standards.

Yours truly,
Vishnu Bisram

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