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OBA calls for an independent standards board for Education

The Opposition yesterday renewed its call for an independent standards board for schools, as it accused Government of squandering the chance to radically improve public education.

Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards, in his reply to the Budget, said Bermuda was “suffering under the yoke of a crisis in confidence”, including the confidence to “prepare young minds for the future”.

He told the House of Assembly: “Rebuilding confidence to ensure job creation and investment is not only important for Bermuda’s economy, it is also critical for Bermuda’s public education system.

“As US President (Barack) Obama observed during a school visit in Philadelphia in 2010, how children perform in school not only determines their success it also determines the country’s success. We know this is true in Bermuda.”

Mr Richards said that was why the One Bermuda Alliance expressed so much concern that the recommendations in the damning 2007 Hopkins report on schools and “the opportunity they provided to radically improve Bermuda’s public education system has been squandered”.

Premier Paula Cox said in her Budget statement last week that the Ministry of Education had successfully shifted its focus to concentrate on teaching and learning.

Mr Richards said: “We hope that’s the case, but given past disappointments and without more information and transparency, neither we nor the public can feel confident in a Ministry that’s judging its own progress.

“That’s why we have called for an independent standards board, an educational equivalent of the Auditor General, to provide an objective perspective on progress and school performance for parents and the public.”

He said the Ministry’s 2010 Blueprint for Reform in Education promised regular updates and transparent reporting on the performance of schools, the Education Board and the system as a whole.

“It has not happened and we have to ask why?” he added. “If the Ministry has nothing to hide, why not provide the information?”

Mr Richards noted that though Government pledged last year to slice $15 million from the previous year’s $143.1 million Education budget, that hadn’t been achieved.

Instead, the Ministry has so far managed to save just $4 million, spending $139.1 million in 2011/12, rather than a hoped-for $128.1 million.

The Shadow Finance Minister said that was despite the June 2011 announcement of 97 job losses. “We support cost savings and the elimination of waste but we recognise that budgeted savings also have to be realistic and achievable.”

He claimed Government’s promised focus on technical and vocational education, with the introduction this September of its Career Pathways programme, was “long overdue” and should not be limited to the two senior schools and Bermuda College.

“We have long held that an integrated technical curriculum must begin earlier in the middle school years to have the right foundation, a lesson learned from the former Technical Institute.”

He said sufficient funding for the scheme was needed, as well as an increased number of guidance counsellors.

Mr Richards said: “The One Bermuda Alliance believes in our public education system and believes it can be made to work more effectively not only for our students, but also for the many committed teachers, principals and education professionals that work in our system.

“The many thoughtful submissions made to the education joint select committee demonstrated that we have sufficient ability and expertise in Bermuda to implement the changes required and we don’t have to look overseas for foreign experts.”

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Published March 02, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated March 03, 2012 at 6:42 am)

OBA calls for an independent standards board for Education

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