Today education has become a staple for young students eager for the promise of a career and more opportunities. But it was a slippery slope in 1973 Guyana. According to many, there was no end in sight. The president was soon to be king. Someone needed to stand up. And education took on a new meaning in times of hardship.
As many witnessed “a liberal democracy crumble to a one part-de facto party”, Chaitram Singh, a teacher at Corentyne High School, desired change. His journey was one of much travel, challenges, and successes. He was given a grant to study in the U.S. West Point Military Academy in 1969 and later received a contract to serve the Guyana Defence Force (GDF). After feeling like the party was paramount to the government, he chose to teach.
Now as an author of three novels, and the Dean of Berry College in Georgia, he has chosen to write a fiction book titled the “February 23 Coup” a novel based on his idea of the circumstances in which a coup were to take place in Guyana during the era of an oppressive regime.
The book beginning with a scene from Kaieteur Restaurant in Queens, was actually launched in August of 2011 at Kaieteur restaurant located at 87-12 Lefferts Boulevard. Many members of the crowd were friends, students, or family of Chait.
During the Q&A session of the book launching, Chait was asked by a member of the audience about relevance of education concerning The Corentyne High School Strike in which some students who participated had to take time out from school in a strike for various societies led by teachers such as Chaitram Singh.
The individual’s question to Chaitram Singh was, “You played a pivotal role in the battle for the establishment or acceptance for religious societies. We allowed students to demand what they want. But after that there was a 3 month period where schools from Rose Hall town as far as New Amsterdam went on strikes because they wanted religious societies and other societies. At the time I was a student at New Amsterdam and watched students join that strike. Mr. Singh, I wonder if your role did good for the students, or did harm for the students?”
The individual noted that he became an accounting teacher later that year and watched 160 students drawn out from the GCA exam that year. It was his belief that they lost valuable classroom lecture time and the strike did greater harm than good.
But what interested me most was Mr. Chaitram Singh’s reply in reference to his meaning of education, “You can give people an education to pass an exam and they will live in servility, because you have an oppressive regime and you have five different levels of people and you can’t find a job. And if you look at what has happened in societies that have transformed themselves. Students that are budding intelligiencia have looked beyond education as passing exams to a greater education and that struggle really makes you. Former President Nixon once said, “The hardest steel comes from the hottest fires.”
After asking about the different learning environment Chait has experienced as a Dean in Georgia he said, “It’s a different classroom setting now. Students come in with Ipads and earplugs in their ears and cellphones. And while you’re teaching some students may be texting. It’s a different challenge teaching now.”
But he made a point that education hasn’t really changed, “General education composites humanities, some science courses, and social sciences. It is meant to give a broader education and to be literate citizens in a democratic society.
Sometimes there really is a difference between obtaining a perfect score on a test and actually going out there and learning from hardship. Perhaps that lesson may be an even greater education that serves a higher purpose. In terms of preparation for life’s challenges, and in a time to be against policies for an oppressive regime, it is important to stand up to the challenges of life. As the author Chaitram Singh stated, “Education is much more than passing levels.”