Schools shake-up faces ‘substantial’ hurdles

  • Education expert: Paul Reville

    Education expert: Paul Reville

“Substantial” political challenges will come with efforts to rebuild Bermuda’s public education system, an international expert has warned.

Paul Reville, the Francis Keppel Professor of Practice of Educational Policy and Administration at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said that a request for proposal announced in August, which sought “challenging ideas and a different set of eyes”, was “legitimately desirable”.

Dr Reville added: “I think the aspirations are great.”

But he warned that such a system overhaul would face considerable obstacles.

Dr Reville explained: “Anytime you propose something that is a radical departure from the status quo, people will come out of the woodwork to tell you why you can’t and shouldn’t do it.

“The political challenges that would follow upon doing this are substantial — which is not to say don’t do it — but you have to do it eyes wide open.

“And sometimes the best way to do it is to get an outside consultant to come in and propose something.”

He was speaking after Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, announced that an RFP, open to local and overseas organisations, had been issued for a restructure of public schools.

The RFP states that the Government “is looking to contract a proponent [which could be an individual consultant or organisation] with qualifications and a proven track record in school redesign and design, in order to help develop and help manage the restructuring, school redesign and design process for the Bermuda public school system”.

Dr Reville, the founder of the Education Redesign Lab at the HGSE and the former Massachusetts Secretary of Education, said that such a move would also come with practical challenges — including cost.

He said: “A lot of physical plant problems can be fixed if you just invest at a higher level.

“But that takes money, so you’re going to have to have the funds to do that.

“You can do all kinds of professional development for staff, but you’re going to have to buy their time and you’re going to have to buy the professional development time.”

Dr Reville added that there could also be opposition from within the education system itself.

He explained: “You have a lot of educators on the ground who are accustomed to doing business the way they do business and teaching in the way that they teach.

“If you come along with a radical idea to turn education on its head ... that’s something that’s going to be deeply resisted. You’re going to have a professional development challenge in order to do that.”

Dr Reville said that a problem with public education systems was their tendency to “get stuck in their standard operating procedures”.

He added: “It’s difficult sometimes to get imaginative, creative, outside-the-box thinking generated from inside the system.

“It’s why our public education systems look a lot like they did 100 years ago — they have a few more computers — because change does not come easily.”

Six consultancy services are listed in the RFP:

• The planning and (re)design of the school system and schools

• 21st-century improvements in the quality of teaching and learning, and physical learning environments

• Stakeholder involvement, engagement, communication and consultation

• Implementation and delivery

• Professional development

• The production of reports to include findings, proposals and recommendations, in addition to a post-implementation assessment as part of our efforts towards continuous improvement

Dr Reville said that the cost of the consultancy would be “fairly expensive”.

He added: “The top kind of firms over here who do this kind of thing, this would be a $200,000 or $300,000 contract probably.

“You could do less on it, obviously, but you get a less thorough product or you don’t get all the services you are asking for.”

Dr Reville said that he also had “questions and reservations” about some of the services outlined.

He explained that normal practice would be for a consultant who was providing a redesign model for schools and the school system to likewise provide a plan for stakeholder involvement, implementation, delivery and professional development — rather than provide those services themselves.

He added: “If I were a bidder, I would seek to clarify because the language is unclear here.

“It does make it sound like they expect you to do those things. That would not be desirable in my view.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said that prospective vendors had an opportunity to ask the ministry any clarification questions “as per the published RFP process”.

She added that the intended approach to involve the consultant would be similar to that used to create Plan 2022, Bermuda’s blueprint for education.

The spokeswoman said: “The selected vendor will work collaboratively with the ministry, department and other stakeholders to under- take the schools redesign process.”

The deadline for submissions for the RFP is Friday.

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Published Oct 1, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 1, 2019 at 9:15 am)

Schools shake-up faces ‘substantial’ hurdles

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