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Burt: We must face education hard truths

The acting Leader of the Opposition has pledged to send his two young children to public school if he is in government when it is time for them to start their education.

David Burt, who has an 18-month-old daughter and an eight-week-old son, told The Royal Gazette that Bermuda’s state education system was not working and would be reformed under a Progressive Labour Party administration.

The 37-year-old Pembroke West Central MP attended fee-paying schools, including a military school in Florida, where he learnt to fly at the age of 16 — making him one of three pilots in Parliament, alongside colleagues Marc Bean and Lawrence Scott.

But his own children will probably attend Northlands Primary School, in his Pembroke neighbourhood, if his party gets back into power.

“It’s important to support community schools,” he said. “I do not disparage any individual for the education choices they make. As a parent, those decisions are very personal. [But] I’ve made a pledge to my constituents that as long as I’m in politics, and on the government benches, my children will attend public schools.”

He said the island needed to face some “hard truths” and to accept that “our education system is not producing the results and students that should come out that can compete in a 21st-century economy”.

Mr Burt added: “We have challenges. This is not me criticising students. This is not me criticising teachers. This is just from the outcomes of our public education system and, as a society, we have to be real.”

Acknowledging that the PLP did not do enough to improve schools when in power, he linked the failings in education to gang violence.

“Black males are not genetically predisposed to killing each other,” he said. “[But] it’s only black males who are doing it. There has to be something that’s coming from societal factors.”

He sharply criticised the One Bermuda Alliance for not keeping school buildings in a fit state, as evidenced in the recent Score report on primary schools, when it was willing to spend millions of dollars on the America’s Cup, an event he categorised as a “billionaires’ party”. He said: “How is it that we’re telling students that we can’t fix leaky roofs, but we are going to spend $200,000 on getting [Michael] Fahy a new office because he doesn’t want to be in TCD? How are we doing that? The Government will talk so much about the airport, and the need to spend all this money on the airport, when every single one of our primary schools — save and except Prospect Primary — are older than the airport.

“If we are talking about infrastructure that really matters, why are we talking about somewhere that people might spend an hour or two at most when they travel, as opposed to something where they spend eight hours a day for three quarters of the year.

“We have massive underinvestment in our human capital in this country. We have to consider the societal factors that have led our young males to believe that, by and large, they are not part of this society.” He said education reform was not a popular idea because people were wary about changing the system yet again, but dissatisfaction with schools constantly came up on the doorstep when he spoke to constituents. Mr Burt said the system did produce high-flyers, but insisted: “We are going to have more generations of children who do not believe that they have a place inside of our economy if our education system is not putting out students who can compete and who have the tools to exist in our economy today.”