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Education response

A recent editorial criticised the pace of education reform since the 2007 Hopkins Report and questioned whether there was meaningful progress in public education.

Whether it was in response to that editorial or not, Education Minister Dame Jennifer Smith issued a detailed report card on progress in education last week. This included the news that Ontario educator Dr Avril Glaze would be coming to Bermuda this year to help teachers and principals. That’s positive, since the Ontario education system has received a good deal of credit for sustained improvement since 2003 when the Ontario government launched a major reform programme. It is disappointing that it has taken four years since the Hopkins Report for this to take place, but at least it is happening now.

Dame Jennifer also noted that one of the key recommendations of Hopkins and the Educational Blueprint writers who followed the team was to put in place an internationally recognised curriculum. She declared this had been done. Well, sort of. The Cambridge curriculum has been introduced for English, Maths and integrated sciences. But GCSE exams are not being required for specific sciences, modern languages, social sciences or liberal arts subjects like history or geography, al though some of these courses are offered to students. So Bermuda students are not receiving the full benefit of the curriculum. As for measuring performance, neither the schools nor the Ministry have released the 2011 GCSE results, even through transparency is a key to improving education.

Elsewhere, a good deal has been accomplished by Dame Jennifer and her predecessors. This includes identifying posts in the Ministry itself that are not required. Dame Jennifer said this could result in $1.5 million in savings, and talks with the unions are underway. This is welcome and the first concerted effort in decades to cut the bureaucracy in the Ministry. Dame Jennifer deserves credit for tackling this where many others feared to tread. But it is worth noting that it has not happened yet. It is also to be hoped that the money saved is used to improve teaching and to help the students.

A recent article in the Economist magazine, which also singled out the Ontario system for praise, noted that four themes were evident in education systems around the world that had shown marked improvement.

They are: Decentralisation (handing power back to schools), a focus on under-achieving students, a choice of different sorts of schools and high standards for teachers. Similar recommendations were made in the Hopkins Report, so how does Bermuda rate by these measures?

Decentralisation is essentially stalled since an idea for regional school boards was abandoned. Principals have seen little increase in autonomy, although the move of Student Services staffs to schools, and the commitment to have curriculum officers spend 80 percent of their time in schools is welcome. But more needs to be done.

Focusing on underachieving students and schools is one of the things that Dr Glaze specialises in. But the promise of school improvement plans is an important element of this as well. A choice of different sorts of schools: This includes charter schools and academies and schools that offer specialisation in different areas. In the public arena, almost nothing has been done and there has been a marked lack of political will to implement it. That is a shame.

Dr Glaze will be involved in raising standards for teachers. But despite the Bermuda Educators Council and teacher licensing, there has been little public evidence of improvement. Certainly, removing poor teachers from the system remains exceptionally difficult due to the intransigence of the Bermuda Union of Teachers. So after Dame Jennifer’s report, where does Bermuda public education stand? To use a phrase which will ring in the ears of many readers, the assessment must be: “More work needed to show improvement.”

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Published September 21, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated September 21, 2011 at 10:08 am)

Education response

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