Greater scrutiny for alternative schooling
Questions remain over BEC mass resignation
The resurrection of the Bermuda Educators Council was cited in the Throne Speech as a testament to Governments commitment to the Islands youth.
Teachers union head Mike Charles commended the move — but echoed questions that followed the mass resignation in 2011 of the previous BECs members.
The Council is back now, and they will meet next week to come up with a Chairman. But what happened to the last one? We havent been told and I really dont know, he said.
It seems this group is willing to move on. But one thing I dont think teachers have been able to wrap their heads around is the fact that this council belongs to them, and they have to be the ones driving it.
Mr Charles was speaking exactly one year after BEC members reportedly complained of being caught between the Ministry and the BUT [Bermuda Teachers Union] in an unproductive tug of war.
A new BEC was formally elected last week, six weeks after the start of the school year.
Mr Charles said: One claim about the old council is that they felt caught. If they felt that pressure, all they had to do is call a meeting and say they needed assistance. Its like the Bar Council for lawyers. If things need getting right, why not call a meeting?
Hopefully this group will get things moving, because we need to sort out licence renewal and its fees and set hours for professional development.
According to Education Permanent Secretary Warren Jones, a BEC Chairman is soon to be elected by the 15-member body.
Governments pledge to keep closer watch on alternative education is welcome news for Bermuda Union of Teachers leader Mike Charles.
There are quite a few students being home-schooled — youd be surprised, he told The Royal Gazette.
But the veteran teacher expressed frustration that technical schooling still isnt a priority for Governments educational agenda.
Its something sorely needed, and I still dont see it. We keep hearing references to Job Corps, but I dont see that technical side. We need it at the middle school level.
Jobs Corps Bermuda, touched upon in Fridays Throne Speech, is a programme aimed at getting young people into full-time employment.
Where is it? Mr Charles asked. We all know not every child is going to be an academic. But they dont offer anything and just keep on giving lip service.
He acknowledged that the Career Pathways programme offering work experience is up and running for the Berkeley Institute and CedarBridge Academy.
Thats still different than offering a technical, vocational education, he said.
We have schools with students who are either turned off or dont see what theyre being taught as useful. Im not saying a technical curriculum is going to be a panacea, but its something. We still have a one-size-fits-all system.
Education Minister Dame Jennifer Smiths speech elaborating on Throne Speech initiatives got high marks for addressing unregistered alternative education.
Dame Jennifer noted concerns over the health, safety and quality of schooling going on beneath Governments radar.
In her speech, the Minister added that while such cases hadnt been documented, there were also concerns over truancy and the possibility ... of there being children who are not enrolled in any school — public, private, home-school or tutorial site.
She said there had been limited enforcement of compulsory attendance and registration — and Dame Jennifer called the current rules outdated and insufficient for the supervision of unlicensed schools and tutorial sites.
Consequently, legislation dating back to 1987 will be repealed and replaced.
Mr Charles said the concerns mentioned by the Minister were shared by teachers.
Children attending home schools are going to be held to the same type of standards that children in the school system are, he said. You have in some cases children going back and forth between home school and the public school system, and no oversight over the home schools. Evidently there will be rules introduced allowing the Minister to track these — hopefully.
Adding that talk is easy, the BUT head said he was accustomed to taking Throne Speeches with a grain of salt.
Mr Charles said he appreciated the Ministrys consultation with school PTAs, referenced in the Governors Throne Speech.
That move followed on an August ruling by Chief Justice Ian Kawaley quashing Governments decision to transfer two popular school principals without discussing it with PTAs.
That kind of transparency is great, Mr Charles said. But I hope the PTAs are very active as well, because what happens in a lot of cases is just a few people take part.
I know what happens at the primary level because I was there — theres good attendance in the first few years, but as the student goes up in grades, attendance drops off. This is a time you need parents the most.
Other Government initiatives concerning education:
l Early screening of learning, psychology and development skills, currently offered by the Child Development Programme at the two-year-old level, is to be extended to children aged two to three, and made mandatory;
l Amendments to the Bermuda Government Scholarships Act and Regulations to provide for students with special needs — and to set funding limits consistent with the requirements of overseas institutions;
l The establishment of rules for parents to report to the Minister on student progress;
l Formalising student withdrawal policies, and setting rules for the registration of tutorial sites and private schools.
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