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School buildings ‘worse than Third World’

Mike Charles, general secretary of the Bermuda Union of Teachers

Many of Bermuda’s public school buildings are “worse than Third World” and the Bermuda Government should focus on fixing them rather than closing or consolidating schools, according to the leader of a teachers’ union.

Mike Charles, general secretary of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, told The Royal Gazette that the Government should be prioritising improving the spaces where thousands of the Island’s children are receiving their education, rather than looking to make a $1 million in savings by getting rid of some and merging others.

“They are making preparations out in Dockyard for the America’s Cup ... to make a village,” Mr Charles said. “Our minister said the airport is Third World. He went out and fixed it. Here we have a situation where schools are worse than Third World and the Government must find a way to fix it. It all depends on whether this Government wants to invest in our children. It’s as simple as that. That’s what it boils down to. You either want to make the investment or you don’t.”

The Ministry of Education announced last week that the School Reorganisation (Score) Advisory Committee had delivered its final report to Wayne Scott, the Minister of Education, who will decide which schools to close or consolidate after further consultation.

The committee has been making presentations on its findings to invited school principals, teachers, parent-teacher associations and unions, although not yet to the general public.

Mr Charles said the one he attended revealed the deplorable state of many schools, with talk of mould and rat infestations.

“Whether we close one or two or three the problem will exist in the remaining schools,” he said.

“All the [primary] schools were built more than 50 years ago. The youngest building is 50 years.”

He said one of the committee’s key findings was the lack of physical space in the schools — with the square footage per student falling far below acceptable standards elsewhere in the world.

“There is not physical room for students and the data shows that when students bump into each other all the time, there are problems,” he said.

“You can have falling enrolment but if you are going to close one school and put the students in another school, it doesn’t make the size of the rooms any different.

“What’s the answer? The Government is smart and the people put them there to deal with it and we hope they will. My thought is to fix the problem. We have to bring it up to 21st-century standards.”

In 2014, according to the Bermuda Digest of Statistics, 4,100 students were enrolled in the Island’s 18 primary schools. Mr Scott announced last April that owing to declining enrolment and the need for savings, a working group of stakeholders, including parents and educators, would recommend schools for consolidation or closure during the 2016-17 academic year, with a long-term view of reducing the number of primary schools by three.

Mr Charles said the teachers who served on the committee were advised by the BUT not to “engage in any recommendation”, but simply to provide factual findings.

“The minister, in his wisdom, will make his decision,” he said.

Meanwhile, Harry Matthie, the chairman of the Bermuda Parent Teacher Student Association, said the group had met yesterday to discuss the Score report.

Mr Matthie said he expected to receive not merely a copy of the report, but the raw data used by the committee, so that the BPTSA could analyse it.