Earlier this week, we were invited to attend the closing ceremony of the Guyana Early Childhood Education Project (GECEP). Financed by a US$1.7 million GPE grant, the program was implemented under the leadership of the government of Guyana with support from the World Bank.
The goal of GECEP was to improve literacy and numeracy skills for children in preschool through grade 1 in remote areas of the country. The program ran from 2015 to 2018 and it achieved remarkable results in improving learning and equity in early childhood education.
Gathering over 150 participants, the ceremony was an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the program as well as to pay tribute to everyone who contributed to its success.
In attendance were the First Lady of Guyana, Sandra Granger; Honorable Minister of Education Nicolette Henry; Chief Education Officer Marcel Hutson; World Bank Task Team Leader Hongyu Yang; GECEP Coordinator Quenita Walrond and Evelyn Hamilton, Chief Planning Officer. Program beneficiaries were also among the audience including master trainers and children.
As we stepped in inside Umana Yana, the conference center located in the country capital of Georgetown, we experienced the vibrant and energetic atmosphere that was immediately contagious. A display of classroom settings showed learning materials that the program helped procure and distribute, such as toys, books, and games; and children were eagerly waiting to perform.
GECEP coordinator Quenita Walrond took us through the journey of the program, describing it as “A love story of passion, purpose, and the indomitable power of the human spirit”. During her presentation, she also highlighted some of the remarkable results achieved.
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
“The numbers tell the story… As much as children started out lower than their coastal counterparts they ended stronger. They finished stronger quite possible because our teachers were better prepared, they had better teaching and learning materials, had the trust, backing and support of the parents and primary caregivers and they were monitored...The monitoring and supervision makes the difference.”
In her remarks, the minister of Education stressed the efforts of the ministry to develop and implement systems to ensure the sustainability of the program; and stressed the importance of investing in the early years. “Investments in quality early childhood education pay most significant returns than investments in education at any other level” she added.
I (Kana) echoed the minister’ words. During my speech, I emphasized that the program’s focus on the early years will give the students more chances to succeed in the future.
"I believe that this project has a significant impact on children’s education in Guyana because we know that these first years are such an important foundation for children’s learning."
Program beneficiaries had also the opportunity to share their experiences. One by one a group of master trainers expressed their appreciation to GECEP. They particularly noted the importance of child-friendly schools, improved learning materials, and empowered parents.
Throughout the ceremony, children were the stars of the program. By reciting poems, singing and dancing, they transmitted the importance of acquiring numeracy and literacy skills.
When reciting a poem, one of the school girls said: “[With education] The sky is the limit for me”. We couldn’t agree more.
We left the ceremony feeling exceptionally proud. Proud of the tangible results achieved by the GPE program in improving learning and equity. Proud of the teachers and the parents for their commitment and determination. And certainly - proud of the children, who know from a young age that education will help them thrive.