First Lady Of Guyana Sandra Granger’s Address [National Youth Week Symposium]
NATIONAL YOUTH WEEK SYMPOSIUM
Georgetown, Guyana Thursday, 25 May 2017
Honourable Minister within the Ministry of Education;
Upcoming Leaders of Guyana;
Members of the Media;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
First, I wish to thank the Honourable Nicolette Henry, Minister within the Ministry of Education for inviting me to speak today at our National Youth Week Symposium whose theme is, “Inspiring our Youth, Celebrating their Achievements.”
It is very easy for the people of my own generation to consider that our lives have been harder, our struggle greater and our minds and bodies stronger than those of you, the young people gathered here today. But if we really think about it, the environment in which we grew was different – we knew and were free to haunt the alleyways and byroads of our communities; our society was different – everyone knew you, and if they didn’t know you, they knew your mother or father or some other relative. They believed it was their duty as responsible adults to discipline you if they thought you were doing wrong or endangering yourself; and the challenges we faced very, very different from those which you confront on a daily basis. Somehow, the world in which we grew and evolved was less harsh, less dangerous, and provided us the stability to determine who we wanted to be.
You will have already heard of, or interacted with, the diverse role models – parents, teachers, religious leaders, captains of industry and so on – who have guided and inspired younger folk. Somehow, we older folk have it in our minds that we are the ones who inspire the younger generation.
That may be so, up to a point.
However, I would like to acknowledge many young people from myriad backgrounds who themselves serve as an inspiration to us all as we build a stronger, more cohesive society here in our beloved native land. This National Youth Week and this National Youth Week Symposium provide a fitting occasion for me to recognise and salute them.
Let us be inspired by the teenage mothers who struggle to raise their children in the best way possible while continuing their education and serving as mentors for their peers.
Let us be inspired by the eldest sibling in a household who takes on the burden of raising the younger children so that her or his mother can earn a living.
Let us be inspired by the differently-able child who wants to lead an independent life.
Let us be inspired by the young women and men who decide to become entrepreneurs.
Let us be inspired by the young girls who have been trafficked, who take their courage in their hands and hearts and identify the predators. Even more so, when they begin to develop a sense of self-worth and recognise and stand up for their own humanity.
Let us be inspired by the young members of the LGBT community who demand equality.
Let us be inspired by the youth who speak out against HIV stigma and discrimination.
Let us be inspired by victims of domestic violence who walk away from abuse.
All of them are telling the rest of us: “This is who I am. I am a person, a citizen of Guyana, entitled to equal rights and justice. Just like you.”
They demonstrate to me that our Guyanese civilization is growing and developing in a positive way, because if we can let our minds roam free and understand and appreciate the views and values of others, we will become a better-informed, more open-minded society.
When we accept that we are all equal, regardless of race, gender, sexual-orientation, religious affiliation, economic or social status, we breed a nation of educated, tolerant citizens who appreciate that each one of us is a vital and valued link in the chain of humanity. We begin to understand the power of our diversity.
Today, I would like to also examine an area upon which we should focus our inspiration and our aspirations: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Think of one example of the evolution that has taken place in our world. I consider the changes which have occurred within my life time in relation to the music industry. When I was little – very little – there was the Victrola which had to be wound up, and had a tin of needles, so that one could be inserted to play the record. Then we had electric gramophones and 33 1/3 rpm and 45 rpm discs; followed by tape recorders and cassette players, from large spools dwindling to microcassette size; followed the Walkman, then the compact disc, then flash drives, then downloading off You Tube and streaming on your PC, your laptop, iPad, tablet and, to date, your smart phone. These technological innovations and possibilities boggle the mind.
We can use WhatsApp, Face Time or Skype to carry on conversations or business meetings with persons all over the world at any hour of the day or night, once we are connected to the World Wide Web. We can pay our bills and transact our business; buy our airline tickets and make hotel reservations on our phones. Through modern information and communication technology, we can find out about the state of our health, the news and the weather; we can design, develop and print pieces of equipment using 3-D printers.
And think of the power of social media, where you can create a flash mob or plan a demonstration (Please be clear: I am not encouraging insurrection; I am only indicating the possibilities available to us with the benefit of technology.) The fact is that we can communicate with one person or ten thousand persons at the touch of a button. The evidence is all around: computers and software have changed, and continue to change, the way we live.
Young people are lucky to be living in the Age of Technology, where the world – yours and mine – has encouraged the visions and given us the tools to let our minds explore limitless possibilities.
Consider the theme of this Symposium, “Inspiring our Youth, Celebrating their Achievements.” This is a huge task, given that our youth comprise over a half of the Guyanese population.
How do we inspire our young people?
I believe this requires giving our youth a structure in which they feel safe and supported, while encouraging them to dream big, to let their imaginations soar and to believe in their ability to attain their dreams.
It is not through giving them a false sense of security, or by putting whatever gadget they desire in their hands, or buying a piece of so-called designer clothing so that they can show their peers they are “on flic.”
The adults – the older generation among whom I count myself – must accept that the torch is already passing to you, the young people of our beloved Guyana. Therefore, you must be nurtured, guided and encouraged to pursue the path to your own and our country’s development.
The recent Lancet Studies on Early Childhood Development, Advancing Early Childhood Development: From Science to Scale, recognises the imperative of enfolding our children in that nurturing environment from conception – not from nursery, primary or secondary school age. Allow me to quote the analysis of the data –
Poverty and adverse childhood experiences have long-term physiological and epigenetic effects on brain development and cognition. Neural processes, influenced by genetic and epigenetic variation, underlie the attachment and early learning systems, influencing subsequent health and development. Longitudinal follow-up studies among children exposed to poverty and other adverse conditions show beneficial effects of interventions on adult wage earning, competence (e.g., intelligence quotient, educational attainment, and general knowledge), health biomarkers, reductions in violence, depressive symptoms and social inhibition, and growth in the subsequent generation. These findings provide strong economic justification for investment in early childhood, especially in children younger than 3 years (under-3s).
“Nurturing care” is defined as being
“…characterized by a home environment that is sensitive to children’s health and nutritional needs, responsive, emotionally supportive, and developmentally stimulating and appropriate, with opportunities for play and exploration and protection from adversities.”
It extends beyond families “to include community caregivers and support for families.”
Children exposed to nurturing care grow into young people who are socially engaged and adept, and whose brains are firing on all cylinders, if I may be permitted to mix a metaphor.
I have spent some time on this because logically, if empirical evidence indicates that a child who is not nurtured from birth cannot develop optimally, the onus is on us, the adults, to inspire our children from the earliest stage of development so that they can attain their fullest potential. It means exposing our children to the stimulation of the natural environment; to interactions with other humans of all ages. It means exposing them to education in the fullest sense of the word.
Our Ministry of Education has to re-examine the way in which it delivers knowledge to our children at all levels and become more creative and tech-oriented in curriculum development. This generation is an audiovisual generation, more comfortable with video games, cartoons, social media and YouTube. They communicate, read their books, conduct research, do and dispatch their assignments using the internet.
There must be no more “Chalk and Talk.”
Teacher training and the classroom environment must be re-conceptualised to encourage creativity and stimulate minds. Our schools must teach computer science so that every single girl and boy, from the earliest age, can participate meaningfully in the sustainable development of our country.
We can inspire our young people by teaching them about algorithms, how to make apps and how the internet works. We must inspire them by steeping them in computer science, because our world is developing at a rapid pace and nearly three quarters of the new jobs in STEM are in computer science. You already know this, because the beneficial use of robots and drones in the arts, agriculture, industry and medicine, to name a few, is already well-publicised.
My own experience of the excitement and interest generated among our young people from all walks of life when the STEM Guyana project was launched last year has underlined the capability and capacity of our young Guyanese children. The robotics camps had kids 9-14 years-old who had never seen or touched a robot in their lives, building and experimenting with those Lego Mindstorm robot kits.
Our primary school children quickly downloaded the NGSA Math app and began practicing their Grade Six Mathematics. So much so that one mother begged that apps be created soon for the other subjects offered in the National Grade Six exams because her son, whom she could not get to pick up a book, had downloaded the app and was focusing on doing the math exams.
This year, STEM Guyana was invited to participate in the first ever robotics Olympics, which will be held in Washington, DC, in mid-July. Our team is already busy practicing and preparing to compete. And here I must acknowledge the commitment of Hon. Nicolette Henry and the Ministry of Education’s Department of Culture Youth and Sport to assist in funding the team’s participation in the Olympics; the alacrity with which Mr. Christopher Jones, the Director of Sport, made available a room in the Cliff Anderson Sports Hall for practice sessions; the ready assistance provided by Hon. David Patterson, Minister of Public Infrastructure in providing materials to build the practice field; the commitment of support offered by Hon. Cathy Hughes, Minister of Public Telecommunications; and last but by no means least, the logistical and other support provided by the Ministry of the Presidency for our STEM Coordinator, Mrs. Karen Abrams who is providing her expertise and service free of cost to the young people of Guyana. In addition, we have been most heartened to receive the support of members of the private sector and Guyanese public at home and abroad, as well as kind friends from the Caribbean, who know the value of STEM and have not hesitated to support our young team.
As we inspire our youth, it stands to reason that we must also celebrate their achievements in their various fields of endeavour. And in that celebration, let us not be constrained by our own concepts of the universe, or what we believe is “right.”
Having given our youth the environment and the tools through which their minds can blossom, let us celebrate their creativity, their innovation, their boundless energy and enthusiasm as they contribute to the growth and development of our beautiful country, this dear land of Guyana.
I would like to close by quoting some extracts from the poem, “Generation Now”, written by young Guyanese Nickasey Gordon-Abrams, which she read yesterday at the National Youth Expo at Durban Park.
We are not confined or limited, the only boundaries we have are in our minds. Plagued with self-doubt and insecurities we have allowed ourselves to believe we can’t achieve the impossible. But is it not possible that this generation can be the one to cure our minds? Set us free from the bars we have set up [?]. Mental freedom I say!
Let’s inspire each other, instead of throwing darts at dreams, And celebrate our achievements big or small. Let’s leave a legacy of great men and women and let them know we were here. And that we made a difference by God’s grace. It’s time to let the world see that we are Generation Now.”