I am writing in response to the Guyana Pacific (Atlantic) Reader’s Report which was published to help young people read. I commend the efforts of the Ministry of Education (staff and Minister) for attempting to publish a book on reading to help children master the art of reading. There are negative reactions to the book on social media as well as in Guyanese newspapers claiming that it marginalizes sections (ethnic groups) of society. This brings back memories of a failed education policy during the dictatorship that marginalized and discriminated against ethnic groups. I don’t think it is/was the intention of the writers and/or editors of the Reader or the ministry to marginalize any group or underrepresent any culture. During the period when I went to public school, just after independence, a foreign “culture” was imposed on students who could not identify with it. British or white imperial culture was considered excellent during the colonial period and we were forced to absorb it. British culture was replaced by a dominant Creole culture (Caribbean readers) of the group that ran the government, immediately after independence, and we were forced to absorb it. Indian culture was marginalized. Creole culture was considered the best for the country, although it led to the alienation and marginalization of Indians and Native Americans, who both rejected it. Protests and objections did not lead to change.
To counter the dominant Creole culture, Indian culture was imparted in private after-school sessions in mandirs and masjids. In public schools, we were forced to imitate a cultural perspective and read stories and novels that were completely foreign to us, especially in rural neighborhoods. At one point, we were required to salute Comrade Leader’s portrait and his party flag every morning and say the national pledge and sing the national anthem. And when they were
resisted in private schools, opponents were victims, teachers and principals or senior officers were transferred or dismissed. Burnham nationalized all private schools, imposing on all of them his single culture policy (Creole without anything Indian or Native American). The government forced us to sing Creole folk songs and read Creole folk stories and poems that had no connection or connection to the Indians. I remember that the children, encouraged by the adults, we ridiculed the songs, the poems, the Creole stories. We were also forced to sing the national anthem and say the pledge. This policy of forced foreign culture on people changed with the restoration of democracy after 1992. A foreign culture was no longer imposed on any group and cultural diffusion occurred naturally for those who wished to embrace the cultures of others groups. The government must take care in its educational policy not to revive bad memories of the discredited educational policy of an authoritarian era. In the effort to teach reading, which should be compulsory in all early grades, especially in the choice of books and reading materials, the Ministry of Education should be sensitive in its choice so as not to alienate or marginalize the diverse groups of our multi-cultural society. Everything presented in a book must be accurate and accurately reflect society. However, it is inevitable or natural that anyone who writes a book does so from their own bias of cultural upbringing and understanding of life in society.
To avoid such bias, it is essential to have representatives of all cultures in the preparation of a reading book for children or adults produced by the Ministry of Education. To teach reading comprehension, texts must accurately reflect the cultures of the various groups. Differences in cultural background cannot be overlooked. Reading materials should accurately reflect the cultural beliefs, behaviors and experiences of students or the population in order to enhance students’ ability to read and understand the material they read in the classroom. Materials should provide opportunities for students to foster an appreciation of their culture and the cultures of others and to be proud of their own. The ministry should call back the text of the readers and start again to invite reading specialists and experts of the various cultures to prepare a text which would faithfully reflect the culture, the civilization, the presence of our various peoples without alienating or marginalizing any group.