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Racial inequality and public education

No progress: Craig Cannonier takes a few minutes to go over his Throne Speech reply on the House of Assembly balcony in 2011. The issue of racial inequality still remains a problem today

“Mr. Speaker,

There are black people and white people of goodwill who see racism as the evil that it is and who seek to dismantle it wherever they find it. This should be the work of all citizens of our country, especially those to whom much has been given. Those who need the most help should get it. It is unfair that the elderly black woman who was denied education and economic opportunity should be refused quality healthcare. She is a victim of a system that set her up and let her down.”

— One Bermuda Alliance Reply to the Throne Speech November 18, 2011

For me, racial inequality is one of those blatantly obvious things. You simply cannot walk through Bermuda and not notice the colour of the hands that control Bermuda’s wealth. It’s pretty obvious that Bermuda’s poor are disproportionately black.

Per the OBA’s 2011 Reply to the Throne Speech, it would appear that they understood this as well. How ironic it is then, that the vast majority of the OBA’s pre-election criticisms of the PLP’s mismanagement of public education could equally be applied to them:

“Despite the Government’s best intentions over 13 years, they have not made it happen. The One Bermuda Alliance will provide the consistent leadership and political will to reform the public education system so that it works now for students, educators, parents and our community.”

It’s a well-known fact that the OBA has had three Education Ministers in three-and-a-half years, so there’s no question about inconsistent leadership. But what about the political will to reform the system? To answer that question, we can take a look at Bermuda’s private school websites.

Without fail, all private schools had easy-to-find vision statements and/or mission statements. All of them had student conduct guidelines regarding academic performance, bullying, and in some cases, community service. One school has even published a set of Golden Rules that encourage student empathy and responsibility. And should your child need special assistance with anything, the means by which to get help are clearly presented.

In summary, the private schools have made absolutely clear what their ultimate objective is. They’ve seen fit to publish what’s required of students and their parents, because they believe that this is necessary in order for the school to achieve the best results.

What the private schools have done seems to be common sense to me. Having a vision and/or a mission statement is fundamental to many successful organisations, and communicating these to parents and students should be a first priority. Why then is it that when you visit the Ministry of Education website this information is either non-existent or practically impossible to find?

After several visits to www.moed.bm, I couldn’t find a national vision or mission statement. Policies for parents or students could not be found, and I was unable to locate any strategic documents for the public education system. I should also flag that if you visit the website on an iMac or an iPad, the website navigation doesn’t work at all. If you do manage to navigate to the individual school websites, you’ll find that a few actually do have vision and mission statements. A couple even have basic parent and student policies to be followed. The vast majority of them, however, have no content of value at all. One even has a homepage with a story about Premier Cannonier’s visit from 2013!

To call this state of affairs a national embarrassment would be far too polite. The real tragedy is that while we complain about aimless students and unsupportive parents, we fail to do the most basic things to address the problem. In this case, how can we expect anyone to meet expectations when expectations haven’t properly been set and communicated?

Under these circumstances, should there be any surprise that academic performance is less than it ought to be?

Is it any mystery that so many parents aren’t engaged in their child’s education, when the Ministry does such a poor job of engaging parents?

Should there be any surprise that so many children have no real idea of what proper conduct is when we place so little importance on proper conduct to begin with?

I can fully appreciate that the public education system is massive, and it’s appreciated that there are major social challenges that impact the performance of public education. It also seems painfully obvious that the OBA has a hostile relationship with unionised workers, which of course extends to the BPSU and BTU. But the proverbial buck stops with the Government of the day.

All things considered, I think the OBA has done a far better job of running Bermuda than the PLP. Nevertheless, they cannot convince me that they are sincere about addressing racial inequality, because they’ve been so ineffective at getting public education on the right track. Our students are still being set up and let down.

You can contact Bryant Trew by e-mail at bryanttrew@mac.com