Praise for education progress, but there are still concerns
Education Minister Grant Gibbons received both praise and criticism earlier this week as he delivered the budget brief for Education.
Shadow Education Minister Walton Brown said that overall the Ministry appeared to be headed in the right direction based on the budget brief, but expressed serious concerns about the year-on-year reduction in funding for scholarships and further education awards.
Describing the reductions as “almost criminal,” Mr Brown said: “Get the moral compass. Put the scholarships back. The money is in the budget, I saw it. How could you deny our young people this opportunity?”
The Shadow Minister also said that he understood the social science curriculum was not fully being taught, saying it is something which must be addressed.
“My understanding is that because the social science curriculum is not a part of Cambridge, teachers and principals don't feel a compelling reason that it should be taught fully,” Mr Brown said.
“I think it's fundamentally important for our young people to get the benefit of this. A proper social science curriculum as developed by Ms Leona Scott is already in place. It just needs to be taught and many schools will say that it is not being taught across the spectrum, and that clearly needs to be addressed.”
He also called for Government to take a look at introducing a common assessment for all schools on the Island — both public and private — and testing to compare Bermudian students with their peers overseas.
“It would allow us to compare all our students together so we know if there is something lacking, if there is something that is institutional,” he said. “A common test would be very helpful to identify strengths and weaknesses across the educational system.”
Mr Brown questioned if the issue of the movement of principals between schools had been resolved and that there was no reference in the budget to pay incentives.
However, he applauded the increased investment in school improvement, calling it a “fundamental step in the right direction”.
Overall, he said: “I believe we are substantially on the right track with regard to education. There are some nuances, an amendment to be made in terms of overall direction, but fundamentally we are moving in the right direction.”
Responding to the Shadow Minister's concerns, Dr Grant said that scholarships were to a degree the victim of the current economic conditions facing the Government. However, he said that while the scholarships have been capped, they now run for four years.
“The fact of the matter is the $35,000 [cap] does a pretty good job,” he said. “You could certainly do most UK universities without any problem whatsoever and I think frankly the fact that we have gone to four years helps some students as well who get cut off after three.”
He also said that the social science curriculum is currently being taught at primary, middle and senior schools.
“I take your point that it's not Cambridge and so it may not be getting the same priority but the higher echelons are listening, so I'm sure they will look into that,” the Minister said.
He said almost all of the principals in the public schools have been evaluated and around three have already been advised to go into professional development, stating that the commissioner has been very active in looking at how principals are doing.
He also noted that audits have already been performed at all the public middle schools, and those assessments will be released to the public in time.