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Report shows ‘how not to carry out education reform’

Education reform was already “dead on arrival” by the time a bipartisan parliamentary committee began reviewing progress, Opposition MP

Grant Gibbons claimed yesterday.

The Shadow Education Minister told the House of Assembly that the joint select committee (JSC) on education didn’t get up and running until May 2008, a year after Professor David Hopkins delivered a raft of recommendations on how to save the failing public school system.

Dr Gibbons said it was clear from the start of the JSC’s meetings that “very little progress” had been made on reform, as evidenced by the submissions that stakeholders made to the committee in the second half of 2008.

He added: “I would say, frankly, that one could safely say that the joint select committee (JSC) meetings were a post-mortem on an education reform process that was basically dead on arrival after the first year after the Hopkins report.”

His comments were later described as “harsh words” by Government Estates Minister

Michael Scott, who claimed the Progressive Labour Party inherited a public education system in 1998 that had been “savaged” by the United Bermuda Party.

Education Minister

Dame Jennifer Smith, meanwhile, told the House much had changed in the almost five years since the Hopkins report was released.

She said: “We have moved on and we are working slowly and quietly to raise all the levels: that’s the level of teaching, the level of learning and the level of administration.”

The MPs were debating a motion from Government Whip

Lovitta Foggo that the House take note of a report tabled in Parliament by the JSC at the end of last year.

The committee’s task was to review progress on ten key recommendations made by Professor Hopkins and his team.

Dr Gibbons noted that the report, though dated July 2011, didn’t make it to the House until after the summer recess last year because Opposition MPs who were on the committee were not given a draft to review.

He claimed the committee suffered from the same challenges as the education reform process and the Ministry of Education: a lack of continuity of leadership.

Committee chairman Neletha Butterfield and deputy chairman Mr Scott were not replaced when they became Cabinet Ministers and the introduction to the report states that “many foibles impacted the operations of this committee”.

Dr Gibbons said yesterday: “This lack of continuity of leadership made it very difficult to continue.”

He said though the JSC report took more than three years to reach MPs and contained no recommendations or conclusions, there was some merit in having the committee because it highlighted “how not to carry out education reform”.

The One Bermuda Alliance politician told the House of Assembly that British expert Dr Hopkins called for major progress on his recommendations by September, 2007.

But Dr Gibbons said after the first year there was hardly any progress and now, almost five years on, the majority of the recommendations had still not been fully implemented.

He said committee member Ms Foggo, who began yesterday’s debate and wrote the introduction to the report, had to put the “best face” on the reform process but it wasn’t the reality.

The presentations made to the committee by those on the “coal face” of education were, he added, “an indictment of how the Progressive Labour Party handled the reform process from the beginning”.

Mr Scott reminded that House that current Dame Jennifer had urged those talking about public education not to “rubbish” it.

The PLP MP said it served no one to do so when principals, teachers and students were working hard within the system. Dr Gibbons stood up to make a point of order, arguing that Mr Scott was misleading the House.

“I never said the public education system was dead on arrival,” the Opposition member said, adding that he was talking purely about the reform.

Mr Scott said Bermuda historically had an excellent public education system and one that rivalled the private schools when many of the current Government were students at the Berkeley Institute.

But he said that changed in the 1970s and the real question was “how on earth” it happened.

“There are those that say it was the design and deliberate policy of the party before the Progressive Labour Party came into power to see public education dismantled,” said the Minister.

He later added that in the 1970s, at the same time that the focus of the Island’s economy changed from tourism to international business and finance, “our education system, its public education system, was being savaged and the technical school was being dismantled”.

Charlie Swan, who replaced former UBP MP Jon Brunson on the JSC, suggested that parliamentary committees should be given deadlines.

“That would get people to focus,” he said. “There’s nothing like knowing you have a deadline to focus your thoughts and efforts.”

In the beginning: Some of the members of the Joint Select Committee on Education. From the left are Senator Walton Brown, committee clerk Shernette Wolffe, Chairwoman Neletha Butterfield, Opposition MP Jon Brunson and Shadow Education Minister Grant Gibbons.

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Published February 18, 2012 at 7:00 am (Updated February 17, 2012 at 11:55 pm)

Report shows ‘how not to carry out education reform’

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