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House agrees to introduce signature schools

Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

The first step in the biggest change in decades in Bermuda’s public education system has been approved by MPs.

Senior level “signature schools” required to offer one or more “signature learning programmes” will be introduced under the changes.

Diallo Rabain, the education minister, told the House last Friday it was time for bold changes, including a start on the elimination of middle schools.

He added: “We must open our minds and look at these proposed changes though a lens not heavily influenced by what we fondly remember school was like.”

The first four signature schools, “current and critical future pillars of the Bermuda economy”, were listed as tourism, finance, insurance and trades.

Other signature programmes will be added later.

The legislation also changed the enrolment age in senior school from 14 to 13 as the middle school system is dismantled.

The Progressive Labour Party has called for middle schools to be eliminated since 2013.

Mr Rabain said middle school years M1 and M2 would remain until middle schools were phased out completely.

He added: “The look and feel of teaching and learning will be significantly different, and for all learners will be high quality, personalised, flexible and adaptable.”

Susan Jackson, the Opposition’s education spokeswoman, asked for more information on “data that speaks to the ineffectiveness of middle schools”.

Mr Rabain said that a middle school audit was carried out under the previous One Bermuda Alliance government showed areas that needed improvement.

He said information was available that showed 22 per cent of children left the public school system after primary school and private schools saw an increase in enrolment in the same time period.

But enrolment numbers in the public system increased again for high school.

Mr Rabain added that training for teachers was on its way in response to Ms Jackson’s questions on what preparation would be given to middle school teachers who had to shift to primary or signature schools.

Mr Rabain said the legislation offered a future where pupils would have the chance to “find and live one’s dreams”.

Jason Wade, a PLP MP, gave his maiden speech in the House on his nine years’ experience as a teacher.

Mr Wade said signature schools were “what Bermuda desperately needs”.

He said that the signature school scheme would mean children with special needs would get the support they needed to be successful.

Mr Wade added: “I am passionate about education on this island. There is nothing I won’t do to make sure that public education is successful.”

Christopher Famous, a PLP MP, said that a stigma attached to entering a trade needed to change and that Black Bermudians, in particular, should take over areas such as mechanics, electrics and construction.

Mr Famous said: “We took too long to change this system.

“Now our people are sending our children to fancy schools that never wanted us and, guess what, they are teaching trades at those schools.”

He added: “It is imperative we get our students back into skilled trades.”

Mr Famous said he sympathised with Mr Rabain over “the licks” he had taken over the changes to the public school system.

but he added: “I will be one of those giving him licks if the narrative doesn’t change.”

Dennis Lister III, a Government backbencher, said it was important the to change “one-size-fits-all” approach in the education system.

He said the education system had “failed to reach” many of his former classmates.

David Burt, the Premier, said schools were going through a “seismic” change and that those who worked in education were “heroes”.

He added that he had made a promise while canvassing that as long as he was in government, he would send his children to public school and, if he took them out, he would resign.

Mr Burt said: “I have held true to that. The people leading the public education system have to have confidence in it.”

He added his daughter was at Pembroke’s Northlands Primary, one of the schools earmarked for closure under a plan to have ten primaries instead of18.

Mr Burt said: “I love Northlands Primary and the experience that my daughter is having, but the needs of the many must outweigh the needs of the few.”

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Published March 21, 2021 at 12:05 pm (Updated March 21, 2021 at 5:32 pm)

House agrees to introduce signature schools

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