Education needs a fix, not a change
After a turbulent year for Bermuda’s public schools, what sort of resolutions can help to restore hope and deliver change to public education in 2019?
One bad habit we need to give up is changing leaders, and we should probably try to cut back on Band-Aid solutions, too.
I have been involved in public education for nine years; admittedly somewhat on the fringes, but as the executive director of the Bermuda Education Network, I have worked with nearly all of the public schools.
I am concerned by the suggestion that instead of “fixing” our broken system, we should change it.
We would all like to see the transformation of our public schools, but the inconvenient truth is that in the world of “social change”, there are no panaceas.
What is needed is a multipronged approach with a series of separate projects simultaneously tackling priority items.
Our new year’s resolution should be to seek adaptive change to the behaviours of people working in our system, rather than simply spending more on doing things the same way. This is precisely what was discussed in the most recent strategic plan for Bermuda’s public education.
“Plan 2022” actually does a more than adequate job of setting priorities:
• Priority target No 1: Increasing academic rigour and student engagement
• Priority target No 2: Ensuring career, college and work readiness
• Priority target No 3: Enhancing the quality of teacher practice and system leadership
• Priority target No 4: Improving infrastructure and instructional resources
• Priority target No 5: Ensuring system success
As would be expected in the design of a strategic national plan of this scope, the plan employs a logic model approach of desired outcomes and strategic actions.
There are more than 120 strategic actions that are listed. Little wonder that, at the moment, the schools are experiencing “initiative overload”.
I hope that all stakeholders can be persuaded to revisit this plan, perhaps engage in a bit of pruning and achieve a shared vision of what the priorities should be.
Unfortunately, poor communication remains the biggest obstacle to getting everyone behind the plan. Even though increasing effective communication with stakeholders was one of its strategic recommendations, the public continue to be drip-fed information about how things are progressing, and even the people charged with implementation are often in the dark.
Communication is essential to achieving more buy-in and generating more ideas. Our government officials need continuously to seek our approval by means other than the ballot box.
The pattern over the past ten years has been that every five years the Ministry of Education invests a huge amount of effort and resources on a public consultation process, but as soon as the report is released the communication abruptly stops.
Part of the problem seems to be the strict Civil Service rules about government workers not being allowed to make statements to the media.
We need a more modern approach, which can allow the education professionals in charge of various initiatives to attempt some basic PR.
At present, our educators are not encouraged to write about the complexities of the challenges they are facing.
My new year’s resolution will be to write regularly about research topics that really matter to our schools:
• Behavioural challenges in schools
• Lack of family engagement
• The gender achievement gap
• The impact of job stressors and school conditions on teacher wellbeing
I hope that others who have “boots on the ground”, and who are not bound by the public service rules, may choose to contribute to a more nuanced discussion about public education — and I wish everyone involved a happier new year.
• Becky Ausenda is a public education activist who founded the Bermuda Education Network, a registered charity that since 2010 has supported students and teachers in public schools. Her education work in Bermuda includes collaborations with several other education organisations to create teaching conferences, design curriculum for the BEN’s programmes, help schools with project implementation and teach experiential learning lessons to primary students. She has also served on the Bermuda Educators Council. In 2018, she graduated from Harvard University with a Master’s degree in Education, specialising in language and literacy, and returned in July to continue leading the BEN as executive director
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