Empowering Guyana’s Youth for STE[A]M Success: The Key to a Transformed Nation

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By Dr. Terrence Blackman and Dr. Carolyn Walcott

Guyana’s oil and gas industry is flourishing, presenting a unique opportunity for growth and development. However, it is crucial to understand that a nation’s true strength lies in investing in human and social development. In this regard, empowering and engaging the youth becomes paramount. The young population of Guyana represents not just the future but also the present, and it is essential to equip them with the necessary skills and opportunities to contribute to the country’s transformation.

One initiative that is pivotal in empowering Guyana’s youth is STEM Guyana which aims to prepare the next generation of innovators and intellectually curious individuals by combining scientific exploration and cultivating literary skills. Over the past seven years, STEM Guyana has established 42 learning pods nationwide, bridging the gap between academics and technology. A notable example of their work is the production of the television series “Robin the Robot,” which showcases the integration of innovation, literacy interventions, and the importance of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). In addition, STEM Guyana trainees are developing artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities and coding skills as Guyana continues progressing, positioning the country for global engagement.

STEM education is not merely about restoring literacy and numeracy skills among the youth of Guyana; it is also crucial for national development. In this regard, the national underperformance in core subjects such as Mathematics and English in the Caribbean Examinations is a reason for concern. Despite an increase in the number of subjects students choose to take in pursuit of the Caribbean Examinations Council’s (CXC) Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) over the past decade, 80% of Guyanese youths need help with Math and English. This undermines the potential of a fully functional labor force. Furthermore, this lack of foundational literacies excludes job opportunities in the oil and gas economy and beyond. Innovative educational approaches to national development are crucial for transforming the nation. The Math and English competency crisis is an opportunity that allows us to take a proactive approach to stimulate educational reform and innovation. By focusing on curriculum redesign, teacher training, technology integration, collaborative learning, and community partnerships, we can work towards improving students’ math and English skills and preparing them for success in an increasingly competitive global landscape.

Cardinal Warde, leader of the Caribbean Science Foundation, has often highlighted two significant obstacles to commercialising science and technology for economic development in Caribbean countries. First, he points to the inadequate cultural emphasis on “engineering” within the region and a lack of comprehensive understanding and appreciation for the mathematics curriculum required for most engineers. To be precise, the curriculum for aspiring engineers must encompass essential subjects such as single-variable and multi-variable calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, vector calculus, probability theory, statistics, and functions of complex variables. This must be built on a strong Primary and Secondary curricular foundation. Furthermore, incorporating computer programming is crucial as modern engineers and scientists extensively employ this tool to model and simulate the problems they aim to solve. Warde has emphasized the importance of nurturing such expertise to foster technological development and economic growth in the Caribbean region. Unfortunately, students who struggle with mathematics will find it challenging to pursue careers in engineering, computer science, and computer engineering. The implications of a 20% success rate for Guyanese youth in mathematics are clear. 

In the 2023 budget, the government has allocated GY$94.4 billion to the education sector, reflecting the infusion of oil and gas proceeds back into supporting the local economy, which is almost a 30% increase from the GY$72.8 billion allocation in 2022. The budget laudably demonstrates the government’s commitment to expanding access to education for all citizens, including universal primary and secondary education, increased access to tertiary education, technical and vocational education, and enhancing overall educational quality. Recognising the significance of curriculum reform in delivering high-quality education, the government must also be commended for developing new curricula for nursery and primary levels. These curricula are expected to be rolled out in 2023, accompanied by training programs to facilitate effective implementation.

We must prioritise transformative educational investments today to create a modern, world-class education system that provides improved access, quality, and relevance. Investing in STEM education equips young learners with the necessary skills, knowledge, and mindset to excel in fields related to the oil and gas industry and other STEM disciplines. STEM education cultivates critical thinking, problem-solving, and innovation skills, essential for addressing complex challenges in the energy sector and beyond. By engaging students in hands-on activities, project-based learning, and real-world applications, STEM education inspires curiosity, creativity, and a passion for learning. It also fosters collaboration, teamwork, and communication skills, preparing students to thrive in the global workforce.

Initiatives like STEM Guyana provide platforms for young learners to explore STEM fields and participate in robotics competitions, coding camps, and other STEM-focused activities. These initiatives expose students to the practical applications of STEM and promote inclusivity, diversity, and equal opportunities in STEM education.

Transformative educational investments must also address access issues, ensuring all students have equal opportunities for quality education regardless of their background or location. This can be achieved through educational infrastructure development, providing necessary resources and technology, and supporting teachers with professional development and training.

Additionally, it is essential to emphasize the relevance of education by connecting it to the needs and opportunities of the oil and gas industry. This will necessitate collaboration between educational institutions, industry stakeholders, and government agencies to align curriculum and training programs with industry requirements. Doing so will create a skilled workforce ready to contribute to Guyana’s sustainable development and economic growth.

By investing in STEM education, improving access, quality, and relevance, and promoting transformative educational initiatives like STEM Guyana, we can empower the youth of Guyana to become active participants in the nation’s sustainable development. This will advance Guyana’s human capital and foster economic and social growth, positioning Guyana as a global leader in the oil and gas industry and beyond.

About the Authors

Dr. Carolyn Walcott is a media and communications educator and scholar with a diverse background in journalism education, international communication, and media development. She received her undergraduate degree in Communication and her Graduate Diploma in International Studies at the University of Guyana. She completed her M.A. in Communication and Development at Ohio University and her Ph.D. in Communication at Georgia State University. Her research agenda focuses on media pedagogy and practice, national identity, rhetoric, and political communication.

Dr. Terrence Richard Blackman is a member of the Guyanese diaspora. He is an associate professor of mathematics and a founding member of the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics at Medgar Evers College. In addition, he is a former Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor at MIT and a member of The School of Mathematics at The Institute for Advanced Study. He previously served as Chair of the Mathematics Department and Dean of the School of Science, Health, and Technology at Medgar Evers College, where he has worked for more than twenty-five years. He graduated from Queen’s College, Guyana, Brooklyn College, CUNY, and the City University of New York Graduate School.

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