Ministry of Education, Guyana

Thursday, 23 January 2014 13:13

Rise up Queen's College, Rise Up

The feature address made by the Chief Education Officer, Mr. Olato Sam at the Queen's College Annual Speech Night Ceremony, 2013

We are gathered here tonight at a critical juncture in the evolution of this noble institution.

Opportunities such as these give us a chance to assess where we are vis-à-vis the goals we have set for ourselves as an institution and more importantly, in my opinion, where we are in relation to the broader national structures. The principal outlined the laudable accomplishments and the concerning challenges faced by the institution over the past year. I must commend the highly dedicated staff of this institution for their unwavering commitment to ensuring Queens College remains the institution of excellence it is. I am heartened that we have been able, to some extent, to address a number of the pressing staffing issues that plagued the institution, I will commit to working to resolve those that remain. The work of the Board of Governors should also be recognized and applauded. The goals set for 2014 seem practical and achievable and we stand ready to again support any sound initiatives aimed at improving this school.

As it relates to our position nationally, I think it was inevitable that we would have arrived at the day in education in Guyana when the other institutions would have begun to not just compare themselves to but openly compete with Queens College. I have been privy to conversations where individuals have declared that we are witnessing the decline of Guyana’s premier institution. Many have assumed that because Queens College was noticeably absent from most of the national awards in 2012, and did not sweep the top awards in 2013, the institution is slipping. The prevailing mindset out there is that in all things academic Queens College should dominate and rightly so in my opinion. Within these hallowed walls are the best and brightest minds this country has to offer and the expectations of dominance are not misplaced and the angst which accompanies seemingly mediocre performances is therefore appropriate. You, my young friends, are the brain trust of this nation and as such, great are the expectations regarding your performances. I would hasten to add however, that such expectations should not be limited to things academic.

As a student, I always hated it when the old students would go on their nostalgic escapades and imply that things were better when they were here, so I will spare you such an episode. It must be stated however, that this institution’s mandate is to produce the best students when evaluated on a world-class level—not nationally, not regionally; we are well beyond that. As I stand here, I question the extent to which as students, teachers and extended members of the Queens College family, we have all internalized that reality. It is therefore totally unacceptable to have Queens College students not dominate in every aspect of the schooling experience. This institution must be the embodiment of all that is educationally sound. You must set the standards in every aspect of what education is to be in Guyana. We have allowed others to rewrite the scripts we are using at this institution and that must stop now. For example, the thinnest part of the Head teacher’s report is in relation to sports, where we heard that QC participated in this activity or that tournament—just participated and that is unacceptable.

Students of Queens College do not just participate, or for that matter, get beaten by those margins I have seen reported in relation to some of these tournaments—unheard of. We have a rich history of dominance across the board and we should never allow ourselves to lose those key elements of who we are. I attended a rather elitist College not known for its athletic program and when we were getting trounced by the opposing team we would chant “that’s all right, that’s ok, you’re gonna work for us some day”. But it’s not all right, nor is it ok, that is just not who you are—the best in the country cannot be one-dimensional automatons. You are the most dynamic, creative, balanced individuals with varied interests and skills but there are scores of those types of individuals out there. What makes you special is your ability to excel in whatever it is you engage in. I have said this on numerous occasions, on speech night you will award the best of the best as you should, but that student who got the inglorious 24th position in a class of 24 students will ultimately leave this institution and do wonderful things in this world. You are all highly gifted individuals but that must ring true for everything we commit to or we are selling ourselves short. As such, someone must be held accountable when QC does not win the National Science Fair, or the national debating competition. Someone should have been called to explain why we did not win the Sagicor Science Challenge or National Drama Competition or the Steelband Competition or a number of the other pursuits that round out this educational experience. You are the leaders and need to take your rightful place within the structures of nation. Push the envelope, be innovative, be the trendsetters to usher in a new era in education. Can someone tell me why at this institution of excellence we are still using CSEC as the measure of exit behavior for all students? That might be fine for some, but for many of our students it is now a waste of precious time. Getting a grade one at CSEC for students here is no longer a challenge, and so waiting to write ten subjects in Grade 11 when you could have been doing CAPE subjects instead is a tragedy. There is no rule that says we cannot write CSEC earlier if we are ready, one just needs to create the enabling environment for that to happen. I heard the most ridiculous thing a while ago; that students were made to rewrite subjects they already passed so that the school’s national rank won’t be adversely affected—and I confirmed that it was happening. How idiotic. Therein lies the problem my friends, clearly there is no true appreciation of the fact that Queens College is in a category of its own and is not even considered in the Ministry’s national ranking of schools—this is the best institution of learning in the country, end of story, full stop; so please start acting like it. We should be overwhelmed by the news of the great innovations occurring at Queen College.

I met with the staff of this institution well over a year ago and asked a question that I think is still relevant today; “who are the keepers of the Queens College traditions?” Who are the individuals among us who are charged with the responsibility of perpetuating the culture of excellence? Who are the ones steeped in the practices both formal and informal that set this institution apart from every other out there. Who are the ones charged with taking on the iconoclastic buffoons who spread the myth that “QC students are no different from any other students, and QC is just another school”? My worry as I stand here today is that that mindset has taken hold in some quarters to the extent that individuals feel that they can enter this culturally affluent and historic institution and tinker with its traditions. New comers should be in awe and humbled by the cultural opulence emanating from within these walls. They must be made to learn how things are done at Queens College before they are allowed to participate, because great institutions thrive on their traditions. So my message to you this evening is rise up from your complacency and dominate the educational landscape of this nation, this Region and the World.

Rise up Queen's College, Rise Up.

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