From school dropout to PhD: Tamashwar Budhoo shares his journey of hard work, struggles and success

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Dr Tamashwar Budhoo

By Lakhram Bhagirat

Quite often we come across stories of persons beating the odds to excel in their lives. Odds that are worthy of highlighting in an effort to provide some hope to others who may be going through the same situation.

The story of Dr Tamashwar Budhoo is one such story of overcoming mountainous hurdles to excel in every aspect of life. Moving from a school dropout to a PhD in Education shows how Budhoo’s hard work and determination to plaster his name beyond the banks of the Mahaicony River, succeeded.

Budhoo grew up in Water Dog Creek, Mahaicony with his farmer parents – Sugrim and Sirimati Budhoo – and his siblings. He attended the Karamat Primary School where he wrote the then Common Entrance Examination in 1989 and secured passes to attend Bush Lot Secondary School, a few villages away from his home.

At that time, his parents were under financial duress and they opted to send him to the Primary Top at Karamat Primary School. There he wrote the Secondary Schools Proficiency Examination (SSPE) part one while in Form One and part two in Form Two. Usually, those examinations would be taken in Third and Fourth Forms but he was given the opportunity to do them and passed with flying colours.

He was about 14 years old when he started staying away from school and would eventually drop out and take up farming with his parents. By the time he was 16, Budhoo decided that he needed to pursue a different career path since farming was not for him. So, he applied for a teaching job in his community – because of the remoteness they were always in need of teachers. He was able to secure the position and was placed at the Karamat Primary School as an underqualified teacher.

“I walked from where I live in Water Dog Creek in Mahaicony River to Mahaicony Branch Road on the mud road to uplift my letter of appointment at the District Education Office in Mahaicony. I remember going back home with that letter and I looked at what I had in my closet at that point to go to work and I remember looking at a pair of sneakers and some just regular clothes – jeans and shirt. I said to my mom, at that point, you know I’ll make do with this because this is what I have to start working on.

“I remember the first week, because of the terrain and the condition the sneaker bottom went. I took a bag needle and some cast net twine and I stitched that sneaker around, so it will take me until I get salary, which is three months and because of the remoteness of that community, it’s not easy to get on a boat or transportation to get a new sneaker immediately. So, I wore a sneaker stitched with polythene twine for three additional months until I got my first salary to get a new pair of sneaker and clothes,” he remembered.

Budhoo taught as an underqualified teacher, with a salary of $3000, for two years and then in 1998 he was offered the opportunity to take the Guyana In-Service Distance Education pre-tests, which would position him to gain a place at the Cyril Potter College of Education. He aced those tests and began his training with the Guyana Inservice Distance Education Program Guide.

When he started the Guide Programme training, he and a group of classmates from the Mahaicony River would walk to the Mahaicony Secondary School every Saturday morning. The trek was not a short one and because of the underdeveloped roads, they would sometimes be walking in knee-deep mud slushes just to get to classes. The classes ran from 09:00h to 16:00h and then they would have to walk back home. He remembered walking in the raid on the mud dam with his colleagues and being exposed to vicious dogs, persons questioning them about the reason for being there among other elements.

Sometimes, if they were lucky, their journey would be made easier when they boarded pontoons carrying paddy and drifted on the Mahaicony River to their homes.

After completing the Guide Programme, Budhoo was accepted to CPCE in 2000 and was the only teacher at that time without CXC qualifications. Initially, he got accepted into the primary school teachers’ training programme but his mother urged him to take up a challenge. She told him to push himself and take up the secondary school programme. He did that but was indecisive about whether to pursue math or sciences since he excelled in both subject areas during the Guide Programme training. Again, his mother offered guidance and told him to take up math because of the opportunities for advancement and growth within that subject area.

The programme ran for three years and in 2003 he graduated among the top three in his class as well as taking away the prize in science and education. However, he was a bit gutted about missing the mathematics honours but was happy to take the Ministry of Education’s Permanent Secretary’s prize for Best Graduating Student – Teaching Practise and the Students Council prize for the Best Graduating Student – Teaching Practice.

“It was not without challenges because for the first time I was exposed to advanced concepts like calculus and advanced geometry and trigonometry, but I took those in strides.

At that point, you know, that was one of the big motivations for me because here I am now graduating as a trained teacher, going into college without any CXC and competing with my friends – some of whom had a Bachelor’s degree, Associate’s degree and so on. There I was just from the countryside trying to qualify myself and get through this process and not failing,” he said.

During his CPCE days, Budhoo was attached to the Kingston Community High School in Georgetown and subsequently Cummings Lodge Secondary after he told his administrators that he had difficulties finding his way around the capital city. Upon completion of his CPCE training, he was placed at the Mahaicony Secondary School in the Math Department.

However, he felt that his capacity to acquire knowledge exceeded what he had at that time and then in 2005 he applied to the University of Guyana to read for his degree in mathematics. He graduated from that programme in 2009 was then appointed Head of the Mathematics Department at North Georgetown Secondary School.

Still not being satisfied with his academic achievements, Budhoo once again applied to UG to read for his post-graduate diploma in mathematics.

“I took that programme in 2012 and it was a two-year part-time programme. I graduated with honours on that programme and got the Guyana Teacher’s Union Prize for The Practice of Education. While I was going to UG I was also lecturing at CPCE part-time but after I finished, I was able to transition from North Georgetown Secondary School to a lecturer at CPCE a full-time in the mathematics department.”

There he spent six years and in 2013 the World Bank had a project with CPCE and several of the lecturers there were awarded developmental scholarships. Budhoo was among those awarded and he applied to Walden University in the United States to read for his Master’s Degree in Education with a major in Mathematics. The online programme was two years but Budhoo was able to finish it in just 13 months and graduate with honours early.

In 2016, he also made a foray into politics where he ran in the Local Government Elections and became a Councillor with the Georgetown Mayor and City Council. That career would be short-lived because of his thirst for international exposure.

“I was thinking that you know, I have a Master’s from the US which is an international Master’s but I have no international experience to match my qualification. So, I started applying internationally to see where I could secure a job because I needed funding for my PhD and I didn’t want to go to another scholarship…I was able to secure a job overseas and as soon as I arrived there, I enrolled at Walden to do my Doctorate in Education majoring in Curriculum Instruction and Assessment.

“So, I took a different swing from math and the reason for that is that I felt I had enough content knowledge for math. I had enough pedagogical skills to effectively teach but questioned how do I use all of this to develop the curriculum so that what I have acquired over the years is now transitioning into the education system. I found that one of the ways to do that is to have a skill in Curriculum Instruction and Assessment.”

In 2016, he enrolled in the PhD Programme and completed his reading courses in just about two years. Then he took a year academic break during which he prepared his research proposal and in November 2019, he restarted his studies. He was ready to propose his research which focused on geometry teachers’ efficacy and their ability to effectively deliver.

The research was done in Bermuda where he lives and works currently. There he found that teachers had the content knowledge but it was from what they acquired during their training years. Identifying the problem, Budhoo was able to craft a professional development plan to address the issue and he is hopeful of implementing that in the school he teaches.

He was conferred with his doctoral degree this year.

“I had one of those long these in my academic journey but when I sit down and reflect on it I’m really happy that I did what I did because I can share now and say to young people anywhere in the world, once you have a positive mindset, you can achieve anything.”

Dr Budhoo is currently in Guyana and hopes to come back home to share his expertise and further develop the education sector here – of which he has been a part of for 25 years now.

When asked to sum up what his journey has been like, he said “It’s like Maslow’s hierarchy of structure, I have self-actualised as the son of a farmer, as an educator, I can now say that I’m at the peak of where that structure is. I dropped out of school and started to plant cash crops like bora, boulanger, ochro, cabbage, tomatoes, sweet pepper, hot pepper and so on for the market. My days started at four in the morning and ended at seven or eight in the night. On Wednesday and Sunday, I will paddle a huge canoe in the Mahaicony Creek and sell my crops. As much as I was a teacher, I was still a farmer and did that until I left for college in 2000.

“Nothing is wrong with being a farmer because is one of the most rewarding journeys in life you get satisfaction and you make money. At one point my mom used to laugh and said that you’re making a lot more money being a cash crop farmer than being a teacher because I could make, back then, $10-15,000 on one shipment and that’s on a Wednesday. Then on Sunday when I do another thing and apart from that I had all these wholesalers who used to come and take vegetables so by the end of the week you make $50-60,000 and my teaching salary was $3000. I didn’t give up my teaching dream though because I saw education as a journey of me getting out that farm because farm life wasn’t for me.”