Science, technology, innovation in Guyana?

Science, technology, innovation in Guyana?

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Team Stem Guyana working on their project for the Robot Olympics

By Vidyaratha Kissoon

It is a rainy Saturday afternoon. The Cliff Anderson Sports Hall is mostly closed. It is quiet – a change from the last time I visited for a steel band competition. There are some young people in one of the rooms. They are laughing and talking. Some of them are building a robot. Some are working on the programming for the robot. The young people are working on their robot for the “Global Robot Olympics”. It is not often that robotics would meet basketball. Karen Abrams, a former national basketball player is the motivation behind the the group’s participation in the Robot Olympics. She managed to bridge the robotics and the basketball space . The group found a secure space to prepare.

I know claustrophobia would have set in for me in the enclosed room. Fortunately, the young people are not bothered.

I remembered visiting a Robotics research institute in Bonn Germany. The building was built with glass walls and it was possible to see lots of trees outside. It looked like a nice place to do research and to think and develop things.

Guyana has lots of trees and open spaces. Guyana though, does not seem to have many places where people could easily gather to research, design, develop , and implement robots or other solutions. More money seems to be spent on flags than say on stimulating interest in science, technology and innovation.

In 2012, the Sports Hall was the venue for an excellent travelling exhibition of India’s scientific heritage heritage. The exhibition was prepared by the Government of India. One of the posters I remember was the one which detailed how India linked its current science and technology institutions with this heritage. Many countries have publicly funded institutes and councils which enable research, public education on science and technology , and adaptation.

National Science Research Council

Guyana in 1974. Cde LFS Burnham was in power. Jim Jones negotiated the lease for the lands in the Northwest for his People’s Temple. Walter Rodney returned to Guyana from Tanzania and formed the Working People’s Alliance.

The Parliament passed Act 26 of 1974 – The National Science Research Council Act. It must have been a normal thing to do as independent countries tried to harness appropriate technologies for development.

Something must have happened in Guyana’s history though to kill the council. There has been no talk of activating it . Like the Marriott, the Government seems to sustain the previous administration’s reluctance to support publicly funded research and innovation.

Jamaica has a publicly funded Scientific Research Council, and other institutes. Trinidad & Tobago has a National Science Centre . Both entities seem to be engaged with the public and are proactive in developing the appreciation for science and technology in the population.

IAST might be one of the research institutes which would have reported to the NSRC. There is not much information available on the mandate of IAST and what the public should expect from IAST.

NAREI which is focussed on agricultural research seems to be better organised and more accountable to the public.

Last week, Minister of State Joe Harmon shut down the discussion on the planting of industrial hemp. There was no spirit in the statement of inquiry or curiosity, there was no indication that the Government was open to learning.

Guyana born lecturer Samuel Braithwaite appealed in a response “Let’s continue the dialogue. Let’s advance the research. Let’s remove the legal hindrances. Let’s educate ourselves.  Let’s emancipate ourselves from mental slavery.”

NAREI might be the place to explore hemp cultivation. IAST could have been the place to research the derived products. A National Science Research Council would have had the oversight. Minister Harmon could then have deferred to the NSRC and sought advice before killing the idea.

Mahendra Doraisami wrote in 2014, of his frustrations as a young person studying science in a country which did not seem interested in developing the capacity to move beyond the primary exploitation of natural resources.

The young people in the room in the sports hall have received support from Government agencies and the private sector. The study of robotics is extensive. In order to sustain the interest and the good will generated by this initiative, it is time for Guyana to consider the activation of a National Science Research Council.


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