Why public education is in crisis
Bermuda is a very small, complex, divided community. Public schools, and those teachers that work there, are dealing with a wider variety of students and a wider variety of parents, all of whom have varying degrees of concern and opinion about the purpose of education.
The education mindset is as diverse as the students’ abilities. Our society has changed and is changing, curriculum objectives have changed, but perhaps, unfortunately, sending your child to private school is a reflection of a parent’s association of “class” or “class attainment”.
Private schools are perceived to be “elitist” and therefore better. It is true, to some extent, based on their admissions process. Private schools have entrance exams and can reject students based on a narrow band of performance/ability. They reject those who do not qualify. People send their children to private schools because it is a way to move up the status ladder or remain on it.
Our society has gone through a lot of cultural shifts, but what has remained is a perception that if you want to move up the status ladder, you need to be with people who are already there. You will find that those who send their children to private schools are extremely concerned and aware of their child’s educational pursuits.
That is not to say that public school parents are “not” concerned. But, the majority of private school parents are concerned and are willing to go to any length to maintain that perceived status.
If a child is underperforming at a private school, private tutoring is sought, for example. Public school parents want their children to have a “good” education. There is an erroneous belief, that if I “merely” send my children to school, they will be successful and that is, sadly, not the case. A child’s successes or failures are inextricably linked to the child’s parental value of education.
Public schools do not reject, nor can they. Public schools have to accept all clients, from all walks of life, and from all classes. A child may have dysfunctional parents or functional parents.
Public schools are struggling because our society has been in a lengthy process of metamorphosis. The MoE’s adoption of the international Cambridge Curriculum was intended to standardise and modernise our education. But, it is intended for a specific child, who is culturally, “traditionally English”.
But, we have become culturally more American than English. Since our schools were set up to deal with a specific cultural client, and that client has changed dramatically, our public schools are struggling with trying to cope with an ever encroaching transformation of our culture that is out of sync with educational goals of past MoE administrations.
Cultural shifts happen subtly and progressively. The culturally narrow, traditionally Christian, moral parameters for our society continue to broaden. We are no longer the same people as existed 50 years ago.
Teachers are having to deal with issues that no educator in the past had to deal with, and on an ever-increasing scale, that in some cases is overwhelming. While external cultural influences continue to transform our culture on a macro level, on the individual level, there is increasing trauma.
People who exhibit dysfunction may be in a condition of trauma. This trauma may be displayed by disruptive or dysfunctional behaviours in their children, who have been adversely affected.
This may be a product of multigenerational trauma, passed on from one generation to the next, and has the effect of, sometimes, inhibiting an individual child’s learning potential.
Sometimes this trauma creates a disruptive child. And just one disruptive student has the ability to impair a class’s ability to function. Add two more disruptive students to the mix, and a startling educational limitation has occurred. Put one or two disruptive students into every year level and you have a picture of the magnitude of the cultural shift we are experiencing.
Many years ago, we had a one-stick and unfair measure of the standard of our schools at the primary level. The transfer exam in primary seven was the yardstick to segregate our children into two streams: academic and less academic.
The high scorers on this one test, a maths and language exam, were sent to either Warwick Academy or Berkeley.
The rest of the students were placed in the other remaining high schools. This segregation was based on a 12-year-old’s one-shot performance! It was deemed to be contrary to the idea of equality and fairness, so it was abolished.
What type of accountability do we now have, in our more enlightened time? Now, we have the British Cambridge Checkpoint. We have now returned to a state, much like our P7 transfer exam, a student’s “one-shot” performance on a test to determine a whole school performance and ranking.
Where are the multiple opportunities for a child to show growth, or remediate misunderstandings?
The Cambridge Checkpoint is a diagnostic test. It is being incorrectly used to determine the wholesale health of schools. It is being used as a one-shot test and it is also testing students at only the P6 and Middle 3 level.
Our test scores from the Primary Cambridge Checkpoint show that we do not do well as a country, and these scores will continue to fluctuate. Just as class size fluctuates, so too does their performance. Since maths skills are developmental and therefore build on to one another, they are only a “fair” indicator of students’ long-term developmental acquisition of maths skills, from P1 to P6.
Since each year level builds on to that of the next, where is it that the student acquired his or her issues with math? At the present it is difficult to determine this? But, the Cambridge Science results are a “far better” indicator of school performancebecause the Cambridge Test questions ask students to answer questions specifically geared to each year level’s curriculum.
Answers to science test questions may sometimes be rationally or logically determined, but, on the whole, science theory and fact, has to be taught and learnt.
There are at least two very important reasons why our results are where they are. Number one, we do not yet have year-level accountability. If you want to pinpoint academic success, or lack of it, you “must test” and evaluate each year level’s performance! You cannot wait for a year or two or three, to discover the problems in P6! Accountability requires it. Publish those results if you wish.
Reason number two: if schools are to improve, they need assistance, with dealing with trauma and with reshaping our students’ mindsets. We need to redirect Bermudian culture away from its dysfunctional influences.
We need a homogenous life-skills programme administered from P1 through to at least M3. Teachers are not psychopathologists, but they can be trained to help to address and diminish the trauma and dysfunction present in our culture, so that a successful education can be realised.
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