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Guyana, or in official circles, the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, is a sovereign and independent nation on the northern coast of South America, with a total geographic area of 83,000 square miles, making it, by area, the third-smallest country on the South American mainland, after Uruguay and Suriname. Formerly a colony of the United Kingdom called British Guiana, Guyana claimed its independence in May of 1966, and although the country is physically part of the South American continent, its culture is more closely related to, and much more associated with that of the Anglophone Caribbean. The capital and largest city in Guyana is Georgetown.
The total permanent population of Guyana is an estimated 753,000, of which 91 percent live on a narrow coastal strip, ranging from between 10 to 40 miles in width and representing only 10 percent of the total land area. Like most South American countries, the population of Guyana is very ethnically diverse, comprised primarily of descendants of foreign immigrants who came to Guyana as either enslaved or indentured workers, from African and India respectively. Ethnic groups in the country, therefore, consist of those with African, Indian, European, Chinese and Aboriginal or indigenous backgrounds. The official language of Guyana is English, a language used for all official dealings of the government, including serving as the primary language of instruction in Guyanese schools. More commonly spoken, however, is the language known as Guyanese Creole, a mix of English and a number of indigenous languages. Approximately 57 percent of the Guyanese population is Christian, mostly Roman Catholic, while 27 percent practices Hindi and 7 percent adheres to Islam.
Education in Guyana
For many years, the Guyanese system of education was considered among the best in Central and South America, but in the 1980s that system began to deteriorate significantly. Mass emigration from Guyana, especially by those citizens who were highly educated, including some of the country’s best teachers, professors and scientists, was the prime culprit for this unfortunate downturn, and while the system has recovered some in recent years it has yet to witness the same level of success it had enjoyed prior to this exodus. Even today, according to educational experts in the country, Guyana and its school system does not produce enough qualified students who, after completing their education, can help lead the efforts towards a more modernized and economically stable society.
The education system in Guyana is modeled after that of the British, and includes three stages: primary school, secondary school and higher education. Primary school, the only compulsory level of education, spans 6 years (grade levels) for students aged 6-12, after which they are required to sit for and pass the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA), a national examination required for placement into seventh grade, the beginning of high school.
Following successful completion of the 5-year secondary education program—grades 7-12—Guyanese students become eligible to attend one of the tertiary educational institutions in the country, consisting of both traditional universities, where students can pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in a select number of academic areas; and technical-vocational institutions, where they’ll receive the occupational and technical training they will need to enter into and become a productive member of the workforce.
There is a significant gap in educational attainment among Guyanese residents, a gap that coincides with the actual number of educational opportunities available to students in different parts of the country. Students living in rural areas, for example, are much less educated than their urban counterparts, and rarely attend school past the compulsory primary stage. Poverty certainly plays a role in this statistic, but some say it is because of this poverty that the number of educational opportunities in these rural areas is significantly lower, thus creating a permanent underclass—one that will remain unless bold steps are taken to improve educational access for these children.