Diallo Rabain: 'Let's figure out what the improvements are and then we will find the funding'
As part of The Royal Gazette’s Schools Report series, Sarah Lagan last week interviewed Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, on key aspects of the government’s school reform plans. These are excerpts from the full interview.
Can you give the public any estimate of the cost of this proposal?
In the very preliminary stages, we asked what would it cost to renovate one school and we asked for some preliminary data on that. That was based solely on square footage per school and per student and along those lines. That was based on some very preliminary figures. It was looked at from that perspective but we didn’t pursue it further.
I want to be clear the cost is not something that we have factored in because, as we evolved with our planning of what the future of Bermuda’s education system could or should look like, the idea of the parish schools came up.
We started with: “What is it that we want our graduates to look like when they are finished with the system?” and then we started to reverse engineer. If you now know what you want to end up with, and that was used as the basis for what that system should look like and that is where the idea of the parish primary schools started to evolve.
Once we embarked on this, we are looking at it from a perspective of this is what has to happen.
So in terms of the Government, was it your remit to say what it will cost?
Now we know what we want our student to be, how do we get to that point, now that we are at the point where we can say this is what we recommend has to be in place to get our student to that point, now we can start looking at cost factors and how much it will cost to do the renovations.
I discussed that with my Cabinet colleagues and in our Zoom consultation meetings and the answer is that the Government is committed to reforming education and if we are committed to reforming education, then we have to be committed to providing the funding necessary to move in that direction.
We are very careful not to put figures out there … We need to say, this is what our children need and now how do we implement that. It’s a sound mindset as it does not leave us trapped over-promising and under-delivering – we want to under-promise and over-deliver.
We have already looked at potential funding options whether it be through PPP – a public-private partnership – or other things that we have looked at.
If we were going to go the PPP methods, it would be done in as wide a way as possible to give the widest possible opportunities for persons to bid. I know people are focusing on that because people are trying to find failure points within our plan. They want to know some definitive answers that cannot be given on that.
If I said it would cost $80 million to build nine schools, the next line of questioning would be where are you going to get that money from?
We are not at the point where we can say what it will cost. What we have done with our education system for decades, for generations, is to make minor little changes, tinker around, and wonder why they don’t work. We have decided we need to slow down and look at education from all the way round. When we get to a point where we are ready, we will say what it will cost … to make sure the system is working.
But there is a public consultation process that is going on now. Do you think the public can make a fully informed decision if they don’t know how much it will cost?
Yes I do.
How? Do you think cost is an important factor when making a decision?
I think it is one of the factors. It is not the most important factor because we are looking to improve our education system for our children and that is where our focus needs to be. You are literally asking us to say if I don’t get a heart operation I am going to die. Does cost come in as a factor then?
How do you know you can do it if you don’t know the cost?
Because we have to do it. We cannot afford not to do what needs to be done for our children. Let’s figure out what the improvements are and then we will find the funding. At the end of the day we have to, to ensure our children prosper.
My submission is the public will be able to make an informed decision based on the consultation document.
The consultation document said that the majority of the curriculum at primary school level was “misaligned and antiquated”. Was the Cambridge Curriculum introduced by the Progressive Labour Party ten years ago a bad choice?
I don’t feel that the Cambridge Curriculum is a bad choice. What we have recognised is that the public school system being a comprehensive system is unlike its counterparts in the private sector. The one-size-fits-all curriculum is not getting the results from our children that we need. When we talk about looking at the curriculum, we are looking at multiple types of curriculum so children can have multiple pathways to success. It is already happening in our senior schools – we have multiple pathways to graduation.
Students’ academic scores have been in decline – the results in 2012 were significantly better than they were in 2019. How does this plan aim to improve academic performance?
Having a system set-up where we will have some students that will take to it and excel and we have some students that require a different type of system. It reminds me of the saying that is attributed to Albert Einstein: “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”. So we can’t continuously evaluate our children based on one metric, we have to come up with ways of meeting them where they are as that is where they are going to excel.
Can you indicate how staffing numbers would be affected and do you have a message to those who may be concerned for their jobs?
We are committed to ensuring that the professional development that the educators need to be successful in this new system will be provided and there will be every opportunity for people to do what they need to do to remain in the system.
In the case of redundancy, and I don’t anticipate there would be that many; it is something that would have to be dealt with through the collective bargaining agreement.
In terms of future staffing requirements, it is far too early to even have that conversation. The message I would give to educators is that they are valued and the education reform also looks into how we can reform how we deliver education. Opportunities will exist and there will be not only opportunities for professional development but opportunities for different roles.
You have said the signature schools at CedarBridge Academy and The Berkeley Institute will be completed by September 2022 and that the remaining plans after that date could take between two to five years – can you be any more specific?
September, 2027 would be the longest period for completion based on what we have said, but who knows – it may even go beyond that. This is something that is too critical for us to fail and put timelines on. Today, we are saying eight primary schools to close [NB: the consultation plan proposes that nine primary schools close], but who knows if after the consultation and submissions reading, it’s 11 primary schools.
Describe some aspects of the classroom of the future.
Imagine a school with two teachers, or two teachers and a couple of assistants.
Those days of students sitting in rows staring at a blackboard, or a smart board, with one teacher at the front of the room is the past. Today we are talking about open classrooms that can be reconfigured in multiple different ways with multiple lessons going on in the same classrooms.
With no timeline on the table, what advice would you give to parents who are concerned about enrolling their children in primary school?
There hasn’t been any decision on closing schools so register as you would normally register. I understand their concerns that there are proposals on the table, but I will also assure them that there will be as minimal disruption to our students as possible when, and if, we make a decision to close a school.