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Education & Community Engagement in the Age of Oil and Gas


Dr. Terrence Richard Blackman

Guyana is on the verge of a momentous economic shift driven by its rapidly growing oil and gas industry. Navigating this new era requires a deliberate focus on two crucial pillars: education and community engagement. These elements were recently explored in a timely webinar, “Transforming Guyana: Season II, Episode XI, Community Engagement in the Era of Oil & Gas,” hosted by the Caribbean Policy Consortium and Guyana Business Journal.

The dialogue brought to the forefront the critical importance of arming our youth with the essential tools required to excel in the new socio-economic environment. Ms. Karen Abrams, the architect of STEM Guyana, highlighted data showing that Guyana is not meeting the mark for 50% of young learners regarding basic literacy and numeracy skills at the nursery level—a setback from which many do not recover. Ms. Abrams believes that before we embark on extensive STEM initiatives, we must significantly boost literacy and numeracy among these early learners. She underscored that these basic skills form the bedrock on which we can build and enhance our pool of STEM talent. Ms. Abrams emphasized the importance of weaving STEM education seamlessly into our foundational educational programs. She remarked, “As a nation with hefty infrastructure needs,” stressing that cultivating young, innovative minds is essential to driving Guyana beyond the confines of an oil-dependent economy. Programs like STEM Guyana are a testament to the innate potential of our young people, who, with the right support and opportunities, can reach impressive heights.

Dr. Riyad Insanally, former Guyanese Ambassador to the U.S., reiterated Ms. Abrams’ remarks, stating, “The future of Guyana is in the hands of our young people.” This necessitates a strong foundation in literacy, the cornerstone of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. Literacy fosters critical thinking and problem-solving skills – essential weapons in the arsenal of tomorrow’s innovators.

The Webinar participants also focused on the broader human capital needs for engaging effectively with the oil and gas sector, arguing that “technology our skills must be at the cutting edge” and that they must go beyond mere proficiency with new technologies to foster a Guyanese technological mindset that embraces continuous learning, efficiency, and sustainability.

However, the panelists argued that education is only one piece of the puzzle. Community engagement is critical for building trust and resilience and ensuring equitable distribution of the economic benefits generated by our oil wealth. We must create a two-way street where communities are beneficiaries and active participants in our growth. This requires open dialogue, a deep understanding of community needs, and strategically aligning these needs with opportunities arising from the oil and gas industry.

The webinar’s participants served a powerful reminder: a well-educated populace and a robust framework for community engagement are vital for navigating the complexities of the oil and gas era. The speakers collectively advocated for:

  • Foundational Education: Equipping our youth with the literacy skills necessary for further learning and development.
  • STEM Education: Nurturing a generation of innovators and entrepreneurs through early exposure to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
  • Broadened Economic Opportunities: Ensuring the benefits of oil wealth reach all corners of Guyanese society by creating inclusive, knowledge-based industries.

Guyana’s economic narrative is being rewritten, bringing immense opportunities and significant challenges. The potential to elevate our economic standing and invest in public services and infrastructure is vast. However, fostering inclusive and sustainable growth requires focused attention.

Investing in Our People, not Just Resources

Simply extracting oil is not enough. We must invest heavily in our human resources, not just through education and training but also by creating opportunities for our people to utilize their skills and contribute to our evolving economy. This means fostering an environment that values innovation and rewards creativity.

A Catalyst for Enlightened Dialogue

As we look to the future, our commitment to informed and meaningful discussions on pivotal issues must transcend mere reporting to actively involve the community in comprehending and molding our nation’s economic trajectory. Crafting a sustainable tomorrow together requires we move beyond treating education and community engagement as mere buzzwords. Instead, they should be solidified as the foundational pillars for a sustainable future in Guyana. By embracing this approach, we are not just preparing for current challenges but also laying down the groundwork for a prosperous future where every citizen of Guyana has the chance to succeed.

Dr. Terrence Richard Blackman is a member of the Guyanese diaspora. He is an associate professor of mathematics, Chair, and a founding member of the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics at Medgar Evers College. Dr. Blackman is a former Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor at MIT and a Visitor of The School of Mathematics at The Institute for Advanced Study. He previously served as Dean of the School of Science, Health, and Technology at Medgar Evers College, where he has worked for almost thirty years. He graduated from Queen’s College, Guyana, Brooklyn College, CUNY, and the City University of New York Graduate School.


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