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Charles: teachers feel underappreciated

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Union leader: Mike Charles, the general secetary of the Bermuda Union of Teachers (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

A promise from the education minister that he will be the longest to serve in the post will mean nothing unless staff discontent is tackled, a union leader said yesterday.

Mike Charles, the general secretary of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, said: “To say that one is the longest-standing minister means nothing if we have a workforce who feels underappreciated and disrespected, which became evident throughout this year of unprecedented industrial action.”

He was speaking after Diallo Rabain said he was prepared for the long run.

Mr Rabain told MPs in the House of Assembly last Friday that 19 people had served in the post since 1993.

He said: “That is an average of a new minister every one year, five months.

“This is an appalling record.”

Mr Rabain added that public- sector education needed an “overhaul” — and signalled major changes because of a falling birthrate.

He said: “It is no secret that our population is shrinking and we need to look at how we operate in order to provide the best for our children.

“We are all aware of the greater accountability needed in both the Department of Education and the education staff that are within our schools.”

He added that “very difficult conversations” lay ahead.

Mr Rabain explained: “There will be difficult conversations around school buildings and their continued or discontinued usage, class sizes, staffing skill sets and the staffing levels that will be required.”

He warned that some decisions he would have to make would not be popular.

However, Mr Rabian added: “We, the adults, need to move past our fears of losing control of classrooms, losing the schools we attended decades ago, fears of one political party being viewed over the other and, most importantly, the refusal to embrace change for the simple fact of being contrary.”

Mr Rabain has been education minister since the Progressive Labour Party won the 2017 General Election.

He said that the position was “the best job that I’ve ever had”.

Mr Rabain added: “I lay this marker down now today — that I will be the longest-serving education minister in Bermuda.”

The longest-serving education minister in modern politics was Gerald Simons, who served seven years in the post between 1986 and 1993 for the former United Bermuda Party. Milton Scott, a former Progressive Labour Party senator, held the post for two years and eight months from March 1999 to December 2001.

However, Mr Charles said that the problem had not been the number of education ministers but the competence of those in charge.

He added: “The issue at hand is not the fact of the revolving door of education ministers, but the quality of those who serve as minister.”

Mr Charles asked: “Does it make sense to say we stopped the revolving door just for stoppage’s sake?”

Mr Charles said that the union wanted quality of service from the political leader of public education.

He added: “Our system, our children, deserve an effective minister; one who has open communication with all stakeholders on an ongoing basis; one who listens to and responds to, in an effective way, the voice of the educators; one who speaks accurate and not erroneous facts when speaking to the public.”

Cole Simons, the Shadow Minister of Education, agreed that frequent changes in education ministers had damaged education.

He said: “No one was there long enough to deliver on any of the strategic plans which have been crafted over the years.”

Mr Simons highlighted comments on news articles and social media sites about Mr Rabain’s performance in the post.

He said: “Look at the community’s sentiments. Look at the Cambridge results and the number of high-school graduates attending international institutions.

“These speak for themselves.”

Long run: Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
<p>Revolving door</p>

Bermuda’s education ministers, dating back to November 1998:

Jennifer Smith: November 1998 to March 1999, 5 months

Milton Scott: March 1999 to December 2001, 2 years 10 months

Paula Cox: December 2001 to January 2004, 2 years 2 months

Terry Lister: January 2004 to September 2006, 2 years 9 months

Neletha Butterfield: September 2006 to November 2006, 3 months

Randy Horton: November 2006 to November 2008, 2 years 1 month

Elvin James: November 2008 to November 2010, 2 years 1 month

Jennifer Smith: November 2010 to December 2012, 2 years 2 months (election)

Nalton Brangman: December 2012 to December 2013, 1 year 1 month

Grant Gibbons: December 2013 to January 2015, 1 year 2 months

Wayne Scott: January 2015 to February 2017, 2 years 2 months

Cole Simons: February 2017 to July 2017, 6 months (election)

Diallo Rabain: July 2017 to present day, 2 years 1 month