Traditionally, Guyana’s hinterland regions faced several disadvantages in early childhood education compared to coastal areas. These remote regions suffered from a lack of appropriate learning materials in schools. Teachers were required to improvise using what was donated by parents, community groups and NGOs or make their own. Therefore, learning materials were frequently not aligned with the curriculum, nor available when needed.
The lack of trained teachers also posed a challenge: in 2011-2012, 53% of early childhood education (ECE) teachers in hinterland areas were untrained. Even among trained teachers, their instructional methods didn’t follow best practices; many of them were unaware of how play can stimulate cognitive thinking and develop social and motor skills just as much as learning letters and numbers.
Moreover, these regions had the highest poverty rates in the country. While quality ECE is essential to all children, the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children benefit the most.
The combination of poverty, inadequate teaching practices and the lack of appropriate learning materials had a negative effect on learning outcomes.
In 2013, the ministry of Education (MoE) administered a diagnostic assessment to more than 700 children entering grade 1 in hinterland areas. The findings were alarming: approximately 60% of children had not mastered pre-requisite skills for reading, and less than 10% could demonstrate any understanding of text. Additionally, 40% showed very little or no ability to identify any numbers from 1 to 10.
A commitment to improve early childhood education
Based on evidence of the clear benefits of investing in students’ early years, the government of Guyana decided to prioritize investments in early learning.
GPE supported the government’s objective and provided a US$1.7 million grant for the period 2015-2018. The goal of the program was to improve literacy and numeracy skills for children living in hinterland regions and remote riverine areas, from preschool to grade 1.
To achieve this goal, the GPE-supported program promoted an integrated intervention that focused on three pillars: providing capacity building for teachers; improving the supply of teaching and learning materials; and providing training to primary caregivers.
Strengthening the teaching force
To improve teacher effectiveness, 526 teachers participated in a compulsory, annual training program which covered pedagogy, phonemic awareness, phonics instruction, and the use of resource toolkits. The training was delivered by master trainers, the best and brightest teachers across the different regions, whose role was to not just to train, but also monitor and mentor early childhood education teachers.
This training was vital for many teachers. Most of them had weak or no academic background. The training helped them acquire new techniques for teaching in the classroom, while putting them in a better position to deliver the content of the curriculum.
Monitoring and evaluation was one of the key elements of the program’s success. Master trainers visited the teachers up to twice per semester to observe and support the implementation of instructional methods and learning activities, as well as provide support on the spot.
Providing effective learning materials
Along with improving teacher training, GPE supported the distribution of 750 early childhood education resource kits to schools as well as teachers’ manuals explaining their use. These included 30+ learning resources such as stackable cubes, numeracy flash cards, mega blocks building bags, alphabet and numbers foam puzzles, among others.
Aiming to promote more experiential and inquiry-based learning activities for children, the learning materials helped students learn independently and in small groups through play. The teachers’ manual helped teachers develop learning materials from locally available resources that are culturally specific to the learning environment.
Training programs for primary caregivers
In Guyana, few parents are exposed to methods to support their children’s learning and are unaware of the behaviors that can help their children succeed.
Recognizing that parents and caregivers play a key role in reinforcing lessons from school at home, the ministry of Education, with support from GPE, decided to make primary caregiver education a critical area of intervention.
The program supported face-to-face training sessions for primary caregivers at school and during parent-teachers associations meetings, parent-teacher conferences, learning resource centers; and home visits, to name a few.
To reinforce these messages, GPE funded the “Read. Play. Love.” campaign, the first (and internationally award-winning) literacy and numeracy mass media campaign for parents and caregivers of children under 5 that encourages them to start modelling pro-educational behaviors at home.
As a result, parents learned about their role in supporting their child’s development while acquiring the necessary skills to support their children’s’ learning more effectively.
A sustainable investment in learning and equity
Ensuring sustainability after the GPE-supported program ended was a key priority for the ministry of Education. To achieve this, teachers and master trainers will continue to receive training as part of the ministry’s continuous professional development program. In addition, the replenishment of the learning materials toolkits is already budgeted in the next financial plans.
Thanks to the program, according to the ministry of Education, more than 8,000 school children living in hinterland and riverine areas improved their literacy skills by 139% and their numeracy skills by 133% (compared to 90% and 75% respectively in coastal areas).
GPE’ support to Guyana has gone beyond financial resources. With GPE’s support, Guyana developed an education sector plan for 2014-2018 that was robust and evidence-based. Additionally, the GPE program helped the government take a more holistic approach to ECE, moving away from fragmented interventions in the past.
GPE has supported the government of Guyana in making a long-term investment in ensuring that future generations of children have equal learning opportunities. These children, who will be tomorrow’s workforce and the nation’s future leaders, are now better prepared to undertake any challenge.
A special thanks to Nicolette Henry, Honorable Minister of Education; Marcel Hutson, Chief Education Officer; Quenita Walrond, Nursery Technical Coordinator; Evelyn Hamilton, Chief Planning Officer; and Hongyu Yang, Senior Education Specialist, for taking the time to talk to us about the GPE-supported program in Guyana.
Figures have been extracted from the Guyana early childhood education project program document