Elliot’s class of four a non-starter

  • Glenn Fubler

    Glenn Fubler

There is an ancient Chinese saying that suggests challenging times offer opportunities. The Royal Gazette reported yesterday that only four children had been enrolled at Elliot Primary for this coming September. The report goes on to note that the parents were informed that the Minister of Education, Diallo Rabain, “believes that a full-sized P1 class would provide pupils with a more suitable education” and therefore their children would be enrolled in other schools.

Additionally, the Gazette reported that a spokesman informed that the education department was “looking at further options” because of the low enrolment numbers at nurseries and primary schools across the island.

While this may first appear as a challenge, with a shift in perspective we may uncover an opportunity. The approaching 60th Anniversary of the success of the Theatre Boycott offers some context. The inspiration of the Spirit of ’59 points towards renewal; a renaissance.

Bermuda’s demographic circumstances have led to a population decrease. Our son entered Elliot Primary in 1990, when there were two P1 classes, each with 27 students. Our daughter attended Elliot in 1995 with a class size in the low twenties. Both children benefited from the foundation provided by a vibrant Elliot, sustaining them through successful postgraduate programmes.

This brings up the matter of optimum class size. There is an urban myth that suggests that the smaller a class, the better. However, as bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell, after reviewing hundreds of studies, noted in David&Goliath, class size can either be “too big” or “too small”.

That said, while enrolment at schools is affected by demographics, it is also at the mercy of the perceived track record of the primary school.

At the time my son started at Elliot, with a total of 53 other students, there was another primary school with a class of only ten pupils. While our son’s class size of 27 may have been a bit larger than optimum, Gladwell’s thesis suggests that having only ten students was a disadvantage.

This would support the reported assertion made by the Minister of Education to the four families regarding Elliot.

Perhaps these circumstances can point the way forward, given the context of this year’s celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Theatre Boycott.

The legacy of segregation has resulted in the island having a very inefficient distribution of primary schools across the parishes. There are a number of circumstances in which public primary schools are well within walking distance of each other. (Note that this doesn’t apply to the existing campus at Elliot.)

I would be prepared to engage with stakeholders and have a community conversation that explores the opportunity in these circumstances. What if? Out of a given pair of “neighbouring” schools, we could fashion a single new school that optimises the outcomes for all the children involved.

This could address two matters: as a step towards resolving aspects of the legacy of segregation, and promoting the pooling of resources for opening the potential of all our children.

Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda

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Published May 8, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated May 8, 2019 at 7:57 am)

Elliot’s class of four a non-starter

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