Guyana: Closing the learning gap for the most vulnerable students

This student is among the 8,700 school children living in hinterland and riverine areas who benefitted from the GPE-supported program. Beach View Nursery. Credit: GPE/Carolina Valenzuela
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  • The quality and equity of early childhood education (ECE) were the most critical issues in need of attention in the hinterland and remote riverine areas of Guyana where education services were below national standards.
  • In these areas, a high percentage of teachers were untrained, operated with inadequate teaching materials, and served children of parents with low levels of adult literacy.
  • With GPE’s support, the government of Guyana was able to close the learning gap for the youngest most vulnerable children living in remote regions of the country. Now the most marginalized students can learn at the same rate as their more privileged peers.
Map of Guyana

At the Precious Gems Nursery School in the region of Bartica, Guyana, teachers are making learning fun for their young learners. In the playground, a group of children concentrates as their teacher prepares to throw them a ball.

This fun and simple exercise helps improve children’s motor skills while enhancing hand-eye coordination.

Inside a classroom, teachers and students sit in a semicircle, singing. In an adjacent classroom, students are learning the alphabet: using playdough, they must follow the outline of the letter which has been written in chalk on their desks.

The school walls are painted in bright colors and display several learning resources, posters and drawings, reflecting the school’s values and celebrating the children’s learning achievements.

Precious Gems Nursery School is among several schools that have benefitted from a GPE-funded program implemented under the leadership of the government of Guyana and with support from the World Bank during 2015-2018.

The program focused on improving literacy and numeracy skills for children in preschool through grade 1 in remote hinterland and riverine regions.

  • A young girl in class at the Beach View Nursery school. Guyana.
    Credit: GPE/Carolina Valenzuela

Past challenges

Traditionally, Guyana’s hinterland and riverine 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. Learning materials were either lacking entirely, or not aligned with the curriculum.

Teachers were required to improvise using what was donated by parents, community groups and NGOs, or make their own materials. To teach children to count, teachers built abacuses using seeds; to teach music, they fashioned impromptu percussion instruments beaten with sticks.

“Basically, you had to take extra time to make a whole lot of different learning materials. They weren’t durable and got damaged fast. Then you had to find the time to make more.”

Carnita Williams
Teacher, Precious Gems Nursery School

The lack of trained teachers also posed a challenge: in 2011-2012, 53% of early childhood education teachers in hinterland and riverine areas were untrained. Even among trained teachers, instructional methods didn’t follow best practices.

Many were unaware of the role of play in stimulating cognitive thinking and developing social and motor skills.

“Before, teachers had difficulties delivering the lessons. You could see the frustration on their faces…”

Pamela Daniels
Head Teacher, Hill View Nursery School

The combination of inadequate teaching practices and the lack of appropriate learning materials, in the context of historic regional poverty, had a negative effect on learning outcomes.

In 2013, the Ministry of Education administered a diagnostic assessment to more than 700 children entering grade 1 in hinterland areas. The findings were alarming: approximately 60% of the children had not mastered the prerequisite skills for reading, and less than 10% could demonstrate any understanding of text.

Additionally, 40% showed very little or no ability to identify even basic numbers.

Dismantling the barriers to quality education

To overcome these challenges, 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
  • providing training to primary caregivers to help them better support their children’s learning at home.

Thanks to the training program, teachers feel more confident during class. They can effectively tailor lessons to meet the needs of the children and know how to create an environment that stimulates children’s learning, engagement and creativity.

Teachers also monitor their students more closely and regularly, with the support of formal guidelines, which helps to ensure improved learning outcomes.

And, with curriculum-specific learning materials now available, thanks to the distribution of early childhood education resource kits, lessons have become easier to deliver for teachers and more interactive and interesting for students.

Teachers report far greater engagement when the lessons incorporate the new learning materials and children are also more motivated to come to school.

“When the children first saw the new learning materials, they screamed in happiness and couldn’t stop exploring and playing with them.”

Carolina Joseph
Head Teacher, Precious Gems Nursery School
  • Abacuses were distributed as part of the learning materials that schools received.
    Credit GPE/Carolina Valenzuela

More involved parents

The GPE-supported program organized training sessions for parents or primary caregivers during parent-teacher association meetings. Other initiatives included setting up parent-teacher conferences, establishing learning resource centers and conducting home visits to promote parents’ engagement in their children’s learning.

Additionally, GPE funded the award-winning “Read. Play. Love.” campaign, the first literacy and numeracy mass media campaign for parents and caregivers of children under 5. The campaign encourages parents to start modelling pro-educational behaviors at home.

  • At the Beach View Nursery School, students have benefited from learning materials and trained teachers.
    Credit: GPE/Carolina Valenzuela

Reaping the benefits of early childhood education

Several head teachers have reported an increase in enrollments since the GPE-supported improvements and that children are better prepared for primary school. Primary teachers agree that children are acquiring a strong foundation that will help them to succeed in the next phase of their education.

The GPE-funded program has brought tangible results in improving learning and equity in Guyana’s hinterland regions:

  • 8,700 school vulnerable students living in hinterland and riverine areas benefitted from the program
  • 88% of vulnerable young children living in remote areas master early reading and math skills at the end of preschool. These children now have similar levels of pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills than their most privileged peers
  • 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, high-performing teachers selected for initial training from the different regions, whose role was to train early childhood education teachers as well as monitor and mentor them
  • 750 early childhood education resource kits were distributed to schools along with teachers manuals. These kits included more than 30 learning resources such as stackable cubes, numeracy flash cards, mega blocks building bags, and alphabet and numbers foam puzzles. In line with the aim to promote more experiential and inquiry-based learning activities for children, the learning materials help students learn independently and in small groups through play.

Ensuring sustainability after the 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 professional development program.

In addition, the replenishment of the early childhood education resource kits has been budgeted for in the following financial plans.

GPE interventions improved maths and reading skills
“When I looked at the data to see the percentage in terms of success and growth that we have seen in the Hinterland, it certainly tells a very good story. A story of growth, a story of hope, and a story of encouragement, particularly for our most vulnerable and disadvantaged population.”
Nicolette Henry
Former Minister of Education

GPE has supported the government of Guyana in making an investment in education that will have long-term impact, ensuring that future generations of children have equal learning opportunities.

Now young children living in the most disadvantaged areas of the country can get off to a good start, which will set them up for success in their schooling career.

October 2020