Commissioner: Primary schools are falling short
Massive changes to the primary school system are needed to ensure pupils can reach their potential, the Commissioner of Education said last night.
Kalmar Richards added that the numbers did not add up on educational achievement.
Ms Richards said: “What we are finding is the number of our children who are excelling doesn’t match up with the fact that we know most of our children are quite capable.”
She admitted the schools system was unable “to meet the needs of each and every child”.
Ms Richards said: “We need to position Bermuda’s young people to be able to compete locally and globally – and we need to do it now.”
Ms Richards was speaking at the first on an online series of forums designed to outline plans for improvement in schools.
The education ministry has proposed a shift to a new parish primary system, with one primary school in each parish except for Pembroke, which would have two.
The move would result in the closure of nine of the island’s 18 primary schools and the construction of one all-new school in Devonshire.
The schools left would be revamped to accommodate a larger number of pupils and teachers, along with new resources.
Ms Richards said part of the reason for the move was a decline in enrolment at public schools caused by a fall in the birth rate.
She added the pupil to teacher ratio would not increase beyond 15 to one under the proposed parish primary system because of the lower number of children.
Llewellyn Simmons, the Director of Academics at the education ministry, said that an increased focus on outdoor education would mean pupils would spend as much as 40 per cent of their school time out of the classroom.
The proposals also included versatile classrooms designed to encourage co-operation and collaboration among pupils and more emphasis on technology.
Viewers heard that the decision on which schools were being considered for closure and which were not was based on a range of different criteria.
Ms Richards said that West End Primary School was listed for possible closure but Somerset Primary School was not, despite the two being scored quite closely.
She explained it was easier to expand Somerset Primary, which put it ahead of the other Sandys school.
Dr Simmons added that the closure of a school would not mean its legacy would end.
He said the schools that remained open could be renamed and other methods could be used to celebrate the history of closed ones.
Attendees at the online meeting were told that school buildings were owned by the Ministry of Public Works, so it would decide what would happen to any schools that were shut.
Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, said that no final decisions had been made and that all viewpoints would be considered.
Mr Rabain added: “This is not a PLP thing. This is not an OBA thing.
“It’s a Bermuda thing and we have to get it right.”
Mr Rabain said several financial models were being considered for the new schools, including a public-private partnership.
But he added that it was still too early for the Government to make final decisions.
Mr Rabain said: “It’s one of the several different models that have been discussed, but we have not even started to move that way.”
He also promised that there would be a transition period to minimise disruption to pupils.
Mr Rabain said: “This is not one of those things where you turn off the lights on Friday and come in on Monday and everything has changed.”
An informal survey carried out at the online forum found that 50 per cent of viewers approved of the introduction of parish primary schools and 8 per cent were against them.
The other 42 per cent responded “maybe”.
The next online meeting will be held tomorrow at 6pm on Zoom.
Anyone interested in taking part should register at http://parishschools.live/public.
Another meeting will be held next Monday, followed by a series of parish meetings scheduled to continue through February and into early March.