Education minister apologises for handling of transition meetings
The Minister of Education has apologised for the way recent engagement sessions outlining the Government’s transition plans for education reform were conducted.
In a statement in the House of Assembly yesterday, Diallo Rabain did not specifically outline why the Government was apologising, but said: “We recognise that our engagement meetings could have been conducted differently to fully achieve the desired outcome — to present the transition plan, accept feedback that would be used to guide the plan’s finalisation and then re-engage stakeholders to discuss again.
“For this, we wholeheartedly apologise, and to everyone who came out or has held subsequent discussions focused on the future of Bermuda’s children and young people, we thank you.”
Parents and other stakeholders complained during the meetings, some of which The Royal Gazette gained access to, that many of their questions were not answered at the sessions and that the minister, as well as Kalmar Richards, the Commissioner of Education, were not present at most of the meetings but rather provided recorded video addresses.
Craig Cannonier, an opposition MP, asked how many of the 40 engagement sessions the minister attended, to which he responded four.
Mr Rabain again acknowledged that mistakes had been made and added: “We could have done better and we will learn from what we did and do things better.”
Complaints were also made about instructions given to attendees to not record the content of the meetings or share information.
Mr Rabain said the ministry wished to inform stakeholders first so that it could gather feedback before sharing the contents of the meetings with the general public.
Mr Rabain gave an update on the work taking place in education reform.
He said that stakeholder meetings will continue and that the ministry will follow up in writing with all internal stakeholders so that they have copies of the information shared in the initial sessions and will also publish a series of frequently asked questions for all stakeholders to view.
He added: “We will increase our presence in the media and at community events. This will begin this coming Monday, where we encourage those attending the Children’s Reading Festival to come and find our tent at Victoria Park.”
The ministry will be recruiting educators, parents, community and business partners this month to expand the school transformation teams.
Mr Rabain said the next wave of teams will focus on developing the next two signature schools — Sandys Secondary Middle School, which will offer Tourism and Hospitality with Education Services, and Clearwater Middle School, which will offer Climate, Environment and Resources, and Community and Social Investment.
He said work will also continue through the teams at the Warwick and Hamilton Parish primary schools, which are due to be launched in September, as well as CedarBridge Academy and the Berkeley Institute.
He said: “While much work has been under way on what happens inside the buildings of the schools in transition, the moment the first two parish primary schools in the Hamilton and Warwick parishes [Francis Patton and Purvis Primary] begin to be phased in in September 2023 is the moment we have to start phasing out middle schooling.
“We must look at the zone-by-zone implications for transitioning children from non-continuing primary school sites. At this point, our signature schools must be ready to accept them into five years of senior schooling. This is also true when young people finish at parish primary school in P8.”
Mr Rabain said a frequent question being asked by stakeholders was why education reform was taking place.
He said: “Less than 50 per cent of children and young people achieve the expected standard at various points along their school journey as it exists today.
“The public education outcomes are not providing sufficient qualified candidates for employment in their industry. In fact, at a recent meeting with business partners, it was mentioned that the state of our public school system could play a role in whether companies are set up in Bermuda or not.
“I am not dismissing the need for foundational knowledge but this type of education needs to be improved for our young people to succeed in learning and life.”
Another question asked has been what would happen if education reform does not go ahead. Mr Rabain said the question rested heavily on his mind.
“Today’s jobs are, by and large, different from those of a generation or even just a decade ago,” he said. “Therefore, the qualifications, credentials and experiences needed to secure those familiar jobs have also changed.
“As a result, there is an emerging recognition in education policy and practice that schools can and should better equip students with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in a rapidly changing world.
“If we do not reform public education, we run the risk of condemning even more young people to increased unemployment or to seek opportunities off the island, increasing inequalities along the lines of the existing racial divide and a rise in antisocial behaviour and social tension hindering the economic development and success of our island home.”
The Minister of Education revealed that his ministry is piloting virtual reality classes for students of signature schools who may not wish to travel great distances to study subjects of choice.
Diallo Rabain was responding to questions from Susan Jackson, the opposition MP, about the practicalities of students in the East End having to travel to the West End, for example, if that was where their choice subject was held.
Ms Jackson said there would likely be “major pushback” but Mr Rabain claimed that she was the first person to raise the issue in the entire consultation process that began in 2020, adding: “You are three years too late”.
However, he said: “One of the initiatives that is being developed at CedarBridge Academy now that we have been prototyping is virtual reality and the idea of being able to be virtually in another classroom in another part of the island or another part of the world is part of what we are looking at.
“One of the reasons we are in the dire straits that we have is trying to do too much with what little we have; it is not feasible for us to have every signature [programme] in every school.
“This is something we are looking forward to introducing to provide our children with more options than just going to a school that is in their neighbourhood.”
Cole Simons, the Leader of the Opposition, asked if any reconsideration would be given to the closure of West End Primary, a school that is campaigning to remain open based on its legacy of being one of the first to accept and educate Black students.
Mr Rabain said: “We are taking all feedback into consideration and we will continue to have meetings with stakeholders.”
Susan Jackson, a One Bermuda Alliance MP, questioned why students with special needs were not being prioritised in the plans, which see an exceptionalities signature school being one of the last measures to be implemented.
Mr Rabain said: “We are promoting all of our students equally. I simply cannot say more than that.”
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