Guyana: PPP Congress Mocks Teachers in Skit

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By Sham Samaroo, Ph.D.

(May 11, 2024) — Teachers are the sin qua non of education. They play an indispensable role in molding the young minds, and by extension, the nation and, indeed, the world. That is why so many are shaking their heads in collective disbelief that members of the PPP used a skit at their recent party Congress to mock and denigrate teachers’ legitimate demands for collective bargaining, better salaries and working conditions. Guyanese, both at home and abroad, find it disturbing that such luminaries as party General Secretary, Bharrat Jagdeo, and President Irfaan Ali were in attendance.

Sometimes the best of us overthink things and often fail to grasp the reason for the actions of our leaders. But like the child who cried that the emperor had no clothes, more often than not, it’s the man in the street who sees things clearly. On a stroll down Liberty Avenue (co-named Little Guyana Avenue) last week, I saw someone I thought I knew from back home. We shoot the breeze for a while on the state of West Indies cricket. Soon the conversation turned to the recent PPP Congress; wondering why such education stalwarts as Bharrat Jagdeo and Irfaan Ali would condone the public ridiculing of teachers and the education profession. What stalwarts, he asked. The education credentials of both Bharrat Jagdeo and Irfaan Ali are at best questionable; worse, who knows? Their belittling of educators should come as no surprise.

But both Jagdeo and Ali attended university, I noted. He was quiet for a few moments before offering a few reflections: Didn’t Bharrat Jagdeo attend the Social Science Faculty of the Patrice Lamumba University in Moscow? Yes, I believe so, I replied. Isn’t that the faculty where regular attendance, good conduct, and sworn allegiance to Marxist-Leninist dogma are among the most important criteria for graduation? At the party Congress last week Bharrat Jagdeo said that the PPP approved a resolution to erase Marxism-Leninism and Socialism from its Constitution. But at a previous PPP Congress, wasn’t Jagdeo one of the strongest opponents of that very resolution, he asked. Maybe “Workers of the World Unite” is erased too, he said with a smile before continuing; perhaps the bourgeois engine is only now being oiled. The Enmore Martyrs who gave their lives for improved wages and working conditions must be rolling over in their graves, not to mention Dr. Cheddi Jagan, he added with a regretful shake of the head.

Actually the resolution to erase Marxism-Leninism and socialism is only making official something that was already a fait accompli in the post Jaganite era, I said. By then we had made our way to Lefferts Boulevard and were eyeing some mouth-watering buxton-spice mangoes while he continued. Questions about the authenticity of Irfaan Ali’s academic qualifications were raised but never fully answered. Irfaan Ali got a Master’s degree from an Indian University. Did he ever complete a Bachelor’s degree? How anyone could gain admission to a Master’s program without producing a bona fide transcript? I reminded him that it was stated that Irfaan Ali was issued a transcript from a school on the West Bank of Demerara. Is that the one about the Chambers Business School on West Bank Demerara, he asked with a quizzical look. Inquiries at the National Accreditation Council apparently found no record of that school’s existence. He told me that he was from the West Coast and often visited the home country. To the best of his knowledge no one from Vreed-en-Hoop to Parika had ever heard of such a school.

If there are credible doubts about his Bachelor’s degree; then how did Irfaan Ali gain admission to, and aced a Master’s program in one year? There must be some explanation. The gentleman smiled derisively before pointing out that when someone legitimately earned a doctorate degree, they usually have a dissertation. I acknowledged as much and added that Irfaan Ali stated that he wrote his dissertation on “Design and Development of an Integrated Land Management Model in Guyana”. If that is so, then where is it, he asked. Dissertations are made available to the public. It is something that one is proud of, as it reflects one’s knowledge, insight, and opinions which one wishes to add to the already existing body of knowledge on the subject.

Academic honesty lies at the very heart of the doctoral discipline. To the best of my knowledge, he said, there is no record of such a dissertation. Money sometimes has a way of making things happen. Perhaps in time one may materialize, he joked as he paid for his mangoes. Before leaving I shared this thought: An investment in knowledge pays the best interest, Benjamin Franklin once famously said. In times of a windfall, or oilfall, it may behoove leaders to remember those words; invest in our teachers and be more respectful and grateful to them. The gentleman had the last word. That may be so, he said, and then reminded me of another famous quote, this one by Confucius: As the wind blows, so the grass bends, or as the leaders…well you know the rest, he said, as he tore into a juicy mango on Little Guyana Avenue.

Sham Samaroo is an education consultant in New York. He is a Guyana Scholar and Alumnus of Queen’s College, the premier secondary school in Guyana.

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The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.