Pre-Budget Report 2020-21
Economists: Fix it or get out of the way
Bermuda’s public education system has failed for decades to equip schoolchildren with the skills to qualify them for top jobs, economists have claimed.
Peter Everson and Robert Stewart said the problem went back through at least six governments.
Mr Everson, a businessman and former president of the Chamber of Commerce, said that recent economic policies designed to tackle the high cost of living and low wages were “wrong and doomed to failure”.
He said: “Pursuing them will cost us several years before we right our course and the primary group to suffer will be the younger members of our community, because they will be left with an ever-larger debt to be repaid from a weaker economic base. Our generation has failed them repeatedly and it is time that we fixed the problems or get out of the way.”
Mr Everson said that if the focus shifted to training provision, struggling Bermudians could earn more and economic conditions for Bermudians could be improved.
He explained: “Bermuda has always had more jobs than people, and so the key requirement of the education system is to provide all Bermudians with the appropriate skills to fill the most productive roles they can.
“For at least the past 25 years, the United Bermuda Party, Progressive Labour Party and One Bermuda Alliance governments have all failed in this most important task — providing a good and robust public education together with encouraging the appropriate skills training and retraining for adults.
“The primary reason why Bermudians are dissatisfied with their current economic position is that they cannot earn enough money.
“We have more than enough well-paid jobs, but the reality is that many able-bodied Bermudians have been failed by the public education system.”
Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, committed to “challenging the status quo” when he introduced Plan 2022 more than two years ago and a government spokeswoman said Saturday that the blueprint continued to be followed in efforts to “transform education to improve teaching outcomes”.
Mr Everson has extensive experience of public service, including stints on the boards of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, the Bermuda Hospitals Board and the Association of Bermuda International Companies.
Mr Everson explained: “The tale of two Bermudas is correct, but perhaps, not as politicians would have us believe.
“There are those of us who do get by and who do earn enough to survive and more. Sadly, there are also those who were failed by the education system and have had inadequate resources made available to them to recover and seek out jobs that would provide for a good wage.”
He claimed that “cries for change” had been ignored and highlighted the Review of Public Education, or Hopkins Report of 2007 and the resignation of the late Mark Byrne as chairman of the Board of Education in 2009 because of what he said was a lack of “political will” to improve the system.
Mr Everson also highlighted last year’s call from the BermudaFirst advisory group for an independent education authority.
Mr Rabain said in November that the Government was considering that recommendation.
Mr Everson added that the island’s children must be able to “communicate with people from different backgrounds and cultures” in a world where jobs were “portable” between countries.
Mr Everson said: “By failing them so early in their learning, we are harming them.
“We must stop and seek a better way.
“We cannot continue to have education policy determined by insiders who have ingrained biases towards the status quo.”
Mr Everson added: “We have too few Bermudians to pay our debts.
“To handicap some of our children by not providing them with the fundamental skills to participate fully in our community is unforgivable.
“If we do not change our thinking, the two Bermudas of the future will be between those Bermudians who have the skills to move overseas and those who do not.”
He was backed by Mr Stewart, a former teacher, who said: “For the past 25 to 30 years, probably longer ... the government educational system has been a disgrace because the politicians have not paid any attention to improving the system. If people don’t make very much money because they’re badly educated, the people to blame are the politicians.”
Mr Stewart, who is the author of two books on the island’s economy, claimed “two Bermudas”, outlined by David Burt, the Premier, when he was the Opposition leader in 2016, was a “fiction”.
He added: “It’s a strategy to divide people into supporters and opponents.
“It’s a childish mechanism, it doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny from anybody who’s got any financial knowledge.”
Mr Stewart said: “Clearly, there are people in Bermuda who do reasonably well and people who do reasonably badly and there are many people in between, the majority of Bermudians, I think, are in between.”
A Ministry of Education spokeswoman said on Saturday: “The Department of Education’s Plan 2022, a community-driven and community-based strategic plan, is the blueprint for what the Bermudian public wants from our education system.
“The Department of Education will continue to implement strategic priorities and areas of action identified in Plan 2022.
“Everything the ministry and department is doing is tied to Plan 2022, and we will follow this blueprint as we transform education to improve teaching outcomes and provide our children with the best education experience.”
The Royal Gazette also asked a number of economic experts, including Craig Simmons and Robert Stubbs, to look at the idea of “two Bermudas” and its potential impact in the run-up to the annual Budget, due to be delivered on Friday.
• To read the Pre-Budget Report and Plan 2022, click on the PDF links under “Related Media”
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