A five-year multilateral school in Georgetown
Courtesy Leslie B. Johnson, Sr.
Graduates at the University of Guyana's graduation exercises
Courtesy Leslie B. Johnson, Sr.
Free education from nursery school through university was a
major reason for Guyana's 1990 estimated literacy rate of 96
percent, one of the highest in the Western Hemisphere. As of 1985,
the average worker in Guyana had completed 6.8 years of schooling.
Families of all ethnic groups and classes took interest in the
schooling of their children, and education reform has had a central
place in government policy since the 1960s.
The earliest record of schooling in Guyana dates back to Dutch
rule and the arrival of a religious instructor in Essequibo in
1685. Because seventeenth- and eighteenth-century planters sent
their children to Europe to study, local education developed
slowly. Private schools and academies for the children of
prospering non-British colonists were established and maintained in
the colony during the nineteenth century; the first known reference
to the establishment of public schools was made early in the 1800s.
By 1834 there were numerous schools, both elementary and
secondary, in British Guiana's urban centers. After the cessation
of slavery in 1838, many Africans quickly made use of the
educational opportunities open to them. By 1841 there were 101
elementary schools, most of them under the direction of the London
Missionary Society. A teacher-training school and a college were
opened in the 1850s. Primary education became compulsory in 1876.
Truancy, however, was common.
The British planters and bureaucrats discouraged the education
of the Indo-Guyanese indentured laborers. The government stated in
1904 that Indo-Guyanese should not be prosecuted if they objected
on religious grounds to sending their daughters to school. Planters
used this policy to discourage workers from sending their children
to school. Not until 1933 was the Indo-Guyanese leadership
successful in changing government policy.
For most of the colonial period, secondary education was
restricted to the upper and middle classes. With the exception of
a very few scholarships, secondary education was paid for by
parents, not the government. Thus, most of the students who
completed primary school were excluded from a secondary education.
Guiding the development of the colonial school system was the
traditional British view that the purpose of secondary education
was to prepare the elite for its role in society. The two best
secondary schools, Queen's College and Bishop's High School, both
in Georgetown, employed the same curricula and methods used in
British "public" schools. During most of the colonial period, there
was little interest either in vocational training or in expanding
educational opportunities. The requirement of a single, standard
certificate based on a highly literary curriculum prevented
education reform well into the twentieth century.
In 1961 the government took steps that greatly increased access
to education. Many new secondary schools were opened, especially in
rural areas, and school fees were abolished. Two years later, the
University of Guyana was established. The percentage of children
between the ages of twelve and seventeen attending school increased
from 63 percent in 1960 to 76 percent in 1985. For those between
ages eighteen and twenty-three, school attendance increased almost
threefold, from 4.7 percent to 12.9 percent, between 1960 and 1985
table 5, Appendix A).
Data as of January 1992