I grew up in Stanleytown, New Amsterdam, and attended the Overwinning Primary School on the East Bank of Berbice. My school was destroyed by fire during the disturbances of 1962-63 and my parents, perhaps detecting some academic promise, sacrificed greatly to send me to a private school to prepare for the Common Entrance Examination. I remember vividly the Headmaster of Queens College at the time, Mr. Doodnauth Hetram, congratulating my mother, who took me to Georgetown (my first visit to the capital) to register for the 1964-65 school year. “He placed number 43 in the colony”, he said, as my mother beamed proudly.
My seven years at Queens were transformative. I was a diligent student and did well at both the “O” and “A” levels GCE. The teachers who provided mentorship and life lessons beyond the classroom are the ones to whom I owe a particular debt of gratitude: Yango, Balance, Pryor Jonas and, later, Joel Benjamin, who became a good friend in adulthood. Among my classmates, I still value today friendships that were formed in lower school at Queens.
From my perspective today, gaining acceptance into Queens was life-changing. I was one of the lucky ones. But when I returned to Guyana in 1980 after completing my graduate studies abroad, I found myself one of fewer than half a dozen former classmates who had returned home after university abroad.
In today’s Guyana, the lucky ones are too few. Of the nearly 15,000 pupils who sat the NGSA this year, fewer than 10 per cent gained entrance into top schools. And of those who did and will later acquire a university education, more than 80 per cent will pursue employment opportunities abroad. Nearly 60 per cent of our labour force have had only a primary education or no schooling at all and fewer than 6 per cent have benefited from post-secondary education.
Therein lies our greatest challenge as we stand on the cusp of a new Guyana. Let a hundred top high schools bloom. Or at least the equivalent of a Queens College in every region of our country and a strengthened network of primary schools to feed into them.
It is good and fitting to pause and reflect on the contribution of our venerable alma mater and its alumni to Guyana and the world. But only for a moment. The future requires our undivided attention.