Dr Ritesh Tularam’s drive to improve TVET education took him from Unity village to Delhi

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By Lakhram Bhagirat

Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) education has undergone transformational changes over the years. It has now been repositioned to satisfy the economic and social changes that are happening.

TVET has been recognised as the backbone of any sustained movement of an economy and having TVET education means that one is prepared with the requisite skills, competencies and attitude to satisfy the demands of the workforce. TVET education provides the scaffold for the development of any nation.

A TVET education allows one to meet the demands of the labour market and more countries are grasping this concept, hence the heavy worldwide investment in TVET education.

The drive to improve TVET education in Guyana has seen Dr Ritesh Tularam journey from the deep country village of Unity in Mahaica on the East Coast of Demerara to one of the busiest cities in the world – Delhi in India.

To be able to understand the influence behind his drive to develop the education sector, particularly the technical aspect of it, one needs to go back to Unity village and become aware of Dr Tularam’s earlier days.

The Sunday Times recently sat down with Dr Tularam – who heads the Ministry of Education’s TVET Unit – to get a sense of his developmental vision for the TVET sector, now that he is finished with his PhD studies at the University of Delhi.

The 39-year-old was born at Skeldon in the county of Berbice but moved to Mahaica – the home village of his father – when he was just about two years old. His parents were heavily involved in farming and being from a “country” village meant that he also worked on the farm.

His typical childhood days encompassed waking up at the crack of dawn and going into the farms where he would assist for about two hours before hurrying home to get ready for school. School played an important part in his life as his parents wanted to ensure that he received a quality education.

“Schooling was very essential and important. My mom and dad, they played a very essential role in our childhood days (to prepare us for school), my mom used to ensure that we get up, we have our stuff together, we go to school punctual. (They would make sure) we have all our things there even though we were not living at that level but we were provided with whatever was necessary,” he said.

Like almost every “country” child back in the 80s, Tularam remembered using plastic bags as a book bag and going to school either barefoot or with slippers. However, it never bothered him because he relished the experience and memories made with his friends.

When he sat the Common Entrance Examinations, he was placed at Bygeval Secondary School, where his parents continued the same drive for him to value the importance of education. However, that did not mean that his days on the farm were limited.

By the time he was 14 years old, Tularam was leaving their home at 23:00h with his father to venture to the Bourda Market to sell produce and would return in the mornings just in time to get ready for school. He would return home in the afternoons, have something to eat and go back to the farm.

All of the involvement in farming only taught him, unknowingly, to have a deep appreciation for TVET because of the hands-on nature of it.

At secondary school, he was in the industrial arts class. After he finished secondary school, Tularam immediately moved into the TVET sphere when he began teaching at a practical instruction centre in Mahaica for about two years.

“Recognising the changes and demands that were happening at that time, I was encouraged and motivated by some of my colleagues and former teachers and then I moved to Cyril Potter College of Education where I did the 3 years prevocational programme. I did my training there and came out in 2003 and I went back to Bygeval as a trained teacher teaching the industrial technology subjects,” he said.

He was later appointed as Head of Department and then began reading for his Bachelor’s Degree in Education at the University of Guyana. He graduated from UG in 2009 and continued teaching at the Bygeval Secondary for two more years.

Tularam, in 2011, was identified by the Ministry of Education to train to become a cadet officer – with the potential to act as Education Officers within the Ministry – but a subsequent call quashed the opportunity. He remembered always aiming for a job with the Ministry and the call that took him out of cadet programme remains, to this date, one of the biggest disappointments in his life.

Nevertheless, a few days after that, he received another call from the office of then Education Minister Shaik Baksh who told him that he was identified to take up a post as an inspector with the Council for TVET Education.

The new role would see him monitoring and evaluating technical education for the post-secondary institutes – Leonora Technical Institute, Georgetown Technical Institute, New Amsterdam Technical Institute, Mahaicony Technical Institute, Essequibo Technical Institute.

“I was appointed inspector in 2011 and I worked there for 2 years. The experience was very good because I was now engaging at a junior management level and dealing with principals across the length and breadth of Guyana, monitoring the post-secondary institutions in ensuring that the lecturers are trained to deliver the occupational information,” he said.

In 2013, he became aware of scholarship offers through the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and was encouraged by a friend, Pandit Shankar, to apply to do his masters. He applied and was later identified as a successful applicant.

“My wife was very supportive. I had to explain why it was the best choice for us and it was really hard leaving her and my daughter, who was just 6 years old, behind at that time,” he said.

He left Guyana in 2013 for what would have been a 2-year Master’s programme at the University of Delhi but when Tularam got there, the University decided to make the programme a one-year course. He was also presented with the opportunity to do a double master.

The TVET educator completed his master’s degree with a double major – one in Planning and Financing of Education and the other in Management and Supervision – and returned home in November of 2014.

“In March 2015 I was appointed this position as the Head Coordinator for the SCCP programme with the responsibility of monitoring, evaluating, assessing the SCCP programme. The SCCP programme is the secondary competency certificate programme. I also monitor the CSEC programme, CVQ programme (Caribbean Vocational Qualification programme) across all the schools in Guyana.”

Continuing the trend of upward mobility, in 2017 at the age of 35, Tularam applied for another scholarship, this time to do his PhD in Education through the ICCR again. However, this time the scholarship was through the then Department of Public Service and he was lucky enough to be just pushing the maximum age requirement for a public service scholarship.

Though he applied at the age of 35, he got the scholarship offer when he was 36 years old. Tularam left Guyana in 2017 for another stint at the University of Delhi – this time for three years and returned home in October of 2020 and is now back in his substantive post as Head of the TVET Unit, this time bearing the title of Dr.

When asked how he intends to use his newly gained experience and qualification to further develop the TVET education system in Guyana, this is what Dr Tularam had to say: “Coming back here with a PhD in Education and having done my thesis in continuous professional development for TVET pedagogues in Guyana, significant information emerged from that thesis that will make transformational impact on our education system.

My specialisation area is TVET policy, planning, management and supervision. My whole objective with the Ministry of Education is coming back to work in a collegial, collective, dialogistic mode in ensuring that the TVET Unit and the other units and sectors in the Ministry, for us to have these consortiums or partnership in designing, in crafting and in developing appropriate policy documents. That can streamline the whole movement of TVET education in Guyana.

Over the years, I have recognised that TVET have moved from where it was to a different trajectory. The Government invested significant sums to move TVET to where it should be and I want to interject to make TVET more ready. If we don’t have policy that is guided by what the needs are in terms of the ground reality then we cannot move from one point to another point and in my opinion, a policy is very essential at this time.”

Dr Tularam is now ready to impart his knowledge and develop the TVET sector in Guyana. He promised to use the experiences gained by studying in India to bring best practices and fashion them to suit the needs of the Guyanese sector.