Simmons calls for a ‘meeting of the minds’
Failure to fix problems in public schools will allow divisions in society to fester, an independent senator warned yesterday.
Michelle Simmons said: “If we fail to fix this, we will continue to be plagued by inequalities in our community.”
Ms Simmons, a former Berkeley Institute head teacher, said that the inequalities would lead to “disaffection, feelings of not belonging, a sense that public education is not worth anything, also a sense there is nothing here for me, and therefore the separation continues in our society”.
She added: “It really does hurt to see what is happening right now in public education.”
Ms Simmons was speaking during the motion to adjourn at yesterday's Senate session.
The warning came after the Bermuda Union of Teachers gave the Government a list of 23 problems that teachers said had to be tackled. The list included concerns over the standards-based pupil grading system, inadequate staffing and resources, technology problems and health and safety fears.
Ms Simmons said: “We cannot afford, in this country, to continue to expect the best if we don't put it in to our schools.”
She added that a strong and vibrant public education system ensured “that we are doing right by every person in this country”.
Ms Simmons said that parents should not be forced to place their children in private schools to ensure a good education.
She added she believed that problems in the public school system could be fixed.
But she said that it would require a “unified effort” from parents, pupils, principals, teachers and the Government.
She added: “Everyone must be part of the solution.”
Ms Simmons said the majority of teachers and administrators in the Government wanted the best for Bermuda's youngsters.
But she added: “There has to be a meeting of the minds — there has to be a coming together.”
Jason Hayward, a Progressive Labour Party senator, backed Ms Simmons's call for all parties to come together to tackle education.
He added: “We must get it right — we are aiming to get it right.”
Mr Hayward, the president of the Bermuda Public Service Union, which represents head teachers, said that some of the concerns of teachers and principals could not be fixed overnight.
He added: “We have had a legacy of issues with public education.”
Mr Hayward said the need for additional teaching assistants had created “huge issues”.
He said the issues that teachers and principals faced “transcend industrial relations”.
Mr Hayward explained: “These are not terms and conditions and contractual issues.”
The father of three public-school students said he knew his children were learning.
He added: “I don't view it from a lens where my children are at some severe disadvantage because they are in the public-school system.”
Mr Hayward said that Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, was putting his “best foot forward”.
He added: “Despite the challenges, progress is still being made.”
James Jardine urged Mr Rabain to “stay the course”.
The independent senator said he believed public education had “suffered greatly” from the “swinging door” of education ministers.
Mr Jardine added that Mr Rabain had a tough job.
He explained: “There is no way he is going to satisfy everyone — and it is mainly because of the numerous issues that are facing the public education system.”
Mr Jardine said there needed to be a “strong and building communication” between Mr Rabain and schools staff.
He added: “It can be done — and I have no doubt it will be done.”
Public schools across the island were forced to close on Monday after a mass sick-out was staged by teachers.
Anthony Wolffe, vice-president of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, said on Monday that teacher morale was at an “all-time low” and that industrial action was the only way to get the education ministry to deal with “grave concerns” raised by the union.
Head teachers have been on a work-to-rule since October 19.