Some thoughts on STEM education in Guyana. An article printed in the Guyana Times Magazine (pages 7 and 13) –

The development of a STEM Education Programme in Guyana is the right thing to do. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education is a critical component of national development for any nation. In order for countries to be able to participate fully in a global economy that is knowledge-based and driven by technology in every industrial sector, the development of a robust STEM education system is necessary for national survival.

In the Caribbean region national economies have been based primarily on natural resource extraction and tourism. The unprecedented ferocity of the hurricanes and storms in this time of global climate change highlights the fragility of sea and sand tourism economies. Focusing narrowly on national resource extraction is equally fragile. The inability to benefit from all segments of the extraction and production process leads to economic dependency. Due to the lack of technological capacity, resources are extracted then exported to be transformed into valuable commodities and then sold back to the very countries from which the original materials came. Breaking that cycle of dependency is precisely the reason that STEM education is so important.

Strong national systems of STEM education are the first step. Exposing students to STEM related activities early and often is essential to developing their interest in these fields. Having strong mathematics and science skills in school is not enough for students to fully appreciate the array of possibilities available to them. When hands-on robotics, computing, science and engineering activities are woven into young people’s educational experiences they build a foundation for students’ curiosity. These skills give students a new lens through which to look at the world and consider solutions to problems that they see in new ways.

A national STEM programme has to continue through post-secondary education. Student exposure and engagement in primary and secondary school are insufficient for developing the skills necessary to participate at a level that can change national trajectory. Post-secondary education is required. Public sector investment in higher education institutions has to reflect a national emphasis that is tied to economic priorities. Reforming the institutional capacity of both the traditional university and the array of alternative post-secondary institutions has to be a part of a national STEM Programme.

With oil on the horizon in Guyana, intentional focus on STEM education is essential. The economic future of the nation faces a potential dramatic disruption that will be felt across all sectors. The nation’s ability to take advantage of the shift in the economy will depend on the population’s preparation to seize that advantage. It is entirely possible for the main beneficiaries of an oil boom to be high-end engineers, technologists and scientists from abroad. Guyana could play host to a boom that does not include Guyanese people.

Risks are a certainty that come with living. Confronting them is an indication of courage. This moment is a tremendous opportunity for Guyana. The development of the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology, for example, is an indication of commitment of the government to build the capacity for new and innovative means of delivering education, communication, and electronic transactions – the cornerstones of a robust STEM programme.

60 percent of the national population is less than 35 years old. The future of the nation rests on the skills and ambitions of young people. Our responsibility as policy makers, elders and educators is to open the doors for them as widely as possible. With students educated to have a commitment to Guyana and a sense of protection of its future, STEM education is the foundation of nation building.