Have you ever noticed that in our everyday conversations with friends the frequency with which we often contrast ourselves to other Caribbean nations as soon as a topic emerges on national issues?
At some point in our lives we have all heard or even made the statement “Guyanese people are too passive!” and sometimes this statement slithers off our tongues with such ease that we forget how poisonous it actually is to the future of our nation. In addition, it is sad how we always say it when we are about to make an excuse to appease our own guilt as to why we are not as active in the fight against injustice in our country. Consequently, for a while now, my thoughts have been plagued with the following question: How can I explain the stance taken by most University of Guyana (UG) students on issues affecting us at UG and the country at large, without coming across as confirming to said statement or making another type of excuse?
Personally, I am the type of person who become easily troubled by the injustice I am seeing been done at UG and in this country at large. Interestingly, I believe most of the other UG students share the same view. However, the problem isn’t recognizing the injustice that is being done but, in fact I believe the problem is the lack of ability to do something about it. This I believe is a problem that has three compounding factors.
Firstly, like most other citizens of this the Republic of Guyana, we as UG students aren’t aware of our rights and responsibilities as both citizens and students. As a result, we are ignorant of what we can do remedy the situation when we see injustice being done. We are also oblivious of the impact our contribution to effecting change can, should and will be. Then, the question to be answered now is, why our students fail to think for themselves and why are we so uneducated on the issues that are affecting us? The answer, I believe, can be found through understanding the reasoning for this kind of thinking towards issues that some may even consider being “over their heads”. In my opinion, the origin of such deficiencies in our thought process can be best explained by Brazilian author Paulo Freire, in the second chapter of his Book Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In this chapter Freire analyzed and critiqued the “Banking” concept of education and its effects on the teacher student relationship both in and outside of the classroom. He concluded that:
“In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing. Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry. ” He further went on to explain that, “It is not surprising that the banking concept of education regards men as adaptable, manageable beings. The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world. The more completely they accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is and to the fragmented view of reality deposited in them.”
Unfortunately, the banking concept of education is still to a large extent the basis of our educational system here in Guyana. Anyone, who attended an educational institution in Guyana can attest to the fact that throughout every level of our education system we were/are taught that the teacher/person in charge is ALWAYS right and that the students/common man is always wrong. This is exactly the tenant critiqued by Friere, where the teacher is the only one who is knowledgeable and can deposit said knowledge into the empty students. In turn the students can only withdraw what was deposited into them. The results of which is very evident as the majority of our students are unable to consciously question things that we may not either agree with or to even relay our own understanding of a particular situation. As such, we have been programmed to think not for ourselves but to accept whatever we are told as gospel. The end result of such an education system is the confirming of most students to one way of thinking and the acceptance of the situation we have found ourselves in.
Although the majority of students at UG are still either oblivious at the first stage or fighting to overcome it, there is a smaller number of us who have gotten past this first part of the problem. We have begun to ask questions, we have begun to think for ourselves and we have begun to challenge the status quo.
However, we are faced with something even more sinister and it goes by the name of VINDICTIVENESS. This virus that we as a nation have contracted ages ago and which has now been seeded and has implanted itself in our social and institutional constructs proves to be a function of our society.
I will even go further to say that it acts as a vicious form of checks and balances especially for the persons at the bottom. Moreover, it serves as a containment for students so that we “know our place”, so that we “don’t ask questions or else” , so that self-preservation becomes the goal of most academics at the University. The consequence of which lead to a group of students who out of fear are not interested in standing up nor standing out. In other words it’s the silent killer of the voice of the students. Throughout my academic life and throughout UG I can vividly remember getting upset about several issues in the past that I and others deemed to be injustice. However, the problem that always arise when you suggest doing something to remedy the situation is that you are instantly reminded that there will be a venomous backlash. Furthermore, several times my friends, colleagues, and even other UG students have voiced the concern that it makes no sense doing something because nothing will be done or if something is being done it will be at a sluggish pace. Sadly, at first I too found myself agreeing with them. The reason been is that I have experienced and I have also heard that we cannot challenge authority since as students we should be happy for the opportunity we have to get a degree and that should be enough. In addition, I have been warned by both friends and even those of influence that if I want to have a professional future in this country I must think about preserving myself and refrain from stepping on anyone toes. It is situations like these that I believe leave us second guessing ourselves. We are no longer confident in asking the questions that need to be asked. We are no longer active in speaking out neither are we willing to stand up because we are fearful of the consequences.
Fortunately, there seems to be some shimmer of hope as the light at the end of the tunnel has finally been switched on for a minute few of us. A microscopic few of us have actually overcomed the ignorance and the fear. We have decided to let our voices be heard. We are actively trying our best to right the wrongs inflicted upon us. However, our efforts as valiant as they may be are still unable to effectively change the current situation. The major hindrance to any glimpse of change is the lack of support that the few of us get from our fellow friends, colleagues, and countrymen. The mere fact that most of our students are still stuck in the first two stages makes it even more difficult for them to actually be able to lend their support. Coupled with the fact that there seems to be a growing trend that people are looking for saviors and some are even contented with the hand they were dealt as a result we find ourselves in a very thick sauce. One where we are being thrown left, right and center without care for our contributions towards the continued existence of the institution and the country at large.
Finally, it would be two-faced of me if I said that at no point I fit into any of the first two categories of UG students. Most of my UG life I spent either being ignorant of the facts or being scared to do anything about it. Luckily, I have matured to the level where I care more about making sure that I am actively being a part of the change I WANT TO SEE. That is, a university where the rights of the students are respected and that the administration are held accountable. Over the last two years I have been actively trying my best especially over the last year to see this become a reality in my department. Idealistic as it sounds I believe it is possible but it will take more than just a few good men and women. Instead it will take all of us to bring about this change we are so hungry for. I believe we first need to start pointing the figures at the right people and hopefully we will begin to realize that in doing so we will see that more fingers are actually being pointed back at us. It is only when we do some introspection that we can begin to uncover the real problem that is keeping us back. For instance, last Christmas Eve I made a Facebook status that read:
“the cause of Guyana’s problems isn’t the incompetent government. Nope! Not at all, the cause is indeed the citizens who are too comfortable/ okay with the current state of affairs in the country and could care less or do not want to be the change WE NEED!”
I believe the same sentiments can be shared about the situation at the University of Guyana. I believe the problems faced at UG aren’t due to administrative ineptitude, but in actuality they are due to the students who are still infected with the first two parts of the problem. Moreover, most students are more concerned with just getting their degrees and getting out of the system. However, if students in every department would be more active in improving the infrastructure and resolving issues faced in their respective departments then, and only then we can begin to see some resemblance of the change we as students “claim” we want to see. Conversely, I know some may argue that those changes may be too small and that we need something done on a larger scale for it to at least “seem” like we are doing something that is effecting change at the university. However I would like to posit that:
It is the little things that we seemingly deem insignificant that will actually be the same things to have the biggest positive lasting effects years to come.
Thus, I implore my fellow UG students to stop relying on others to be the change but instead and as cliché as it may seem/sound we should endeavor to BE THAT CHANGE, starting yesterday!