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OBA’s education record disappoints – profoundly

Minister of Education Wayne Scott (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

“It is important to note that the Score remit did not include evaluating the quality of programmes or students and staff”

— Score Report, December 17, 2015

When I first learnt of education minister Wayne Scott’s resignation, it did not strike me as anything monumental. Later that evening, I began to see multiple social-media posts on the Cabinet shuffle, but the decision still had not quite registered in my mind.

It was not until the next morning that the news actually sunk in. The One Bermuda Alliance has had four education ministers in four years; what’s worse, I could not think of a single OBA initiative that demonstrated a real commitment to public education reform.

The really peculiar thing about this realisation, is that over 17 years of writing columns I cannot recall writing one that induced a sense of dread or nausea. But since last Friday morning, just about every education conversation I have had, and just about every letter or posting I’ve read, has left me with a feeling akin to motion sickness.

Unlike the Ministry of Finance, the OBA cannot claim that it didn’t know how big of a problem we had with public education before it came into power. In 2008, the Progressive Labour Party published the Hopkins Report. This report addressed a multitude of problems, and ten recommendations for reforming public education were made.

In 2010, the PLP published the Mincy Report. This report addressed a multitude of issues specific to black males. And, once again, several recommendations with direct ties to public education were made.

Given the wealth of knowledge and recommendations contained within these reports, the OBA rightly scolded the PLP’s 13-year public education track record. During Craig Cannonier’s maiden Reply to the Throne Speech, he blasted the PLP with the following:

“The message could not be clearer. It is repeated in report after report. But the PLP government has not reformed our public education system. With few exceptions, the Hopkins recommendations have not been implemented. Yet the individual success of our students, the stability of our communities and the secure future of our country all depend on getting this done.”

Further to that, Cannonier also proclaimed that “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”.

Nevertheless, despite the OBA’s grand pre-election pledges to reform public education, five years later we can clearly see that it has hardly done any better than the PLP. As Cannonier put it in 2011, “one programme here and another programme there do not add up to comprehensive education reform”.

He could hardly have been more correct. One might even argue that Michael Dunkley’s OBA has even less of an excuse than the PLP because so much research had already been conducted. That is, the OBA should have picked up the ball that the PLP dropped and ran with it over the past four years.

To add insult to injury, the OBA now appears to have shifted into damage-control mode by making vague, last-minute comments about rebuilding schools. Did we not learn anything from spending millions on both Berkeley Institute and CedarBridge Academy? Did not the Mincy and Hopkins reports make clear that any education strategy that fails to address domestic issues, Bermuda’s teaching standards and racial inequality is doomed to fail?

The OBA’s failure has led many to wonder out loud if it is time to take public education out of politics, much like how tourism is now led by the Bermuda Tourism Authority. Some have also noted that private schools are not disrupted by a change in Minister of Education because they are not reliant on, or encumbered by, one.

An answer to the question of depoliticising public education can perhaps be found by taking a look at the School Reorganisation report. The Score Advisory Committee comprised a large group of volunteer community members who took on the responsibility of researching how our schools could best be reorganised. The committee released a very detailed report 14 months ago and it was very clear about the limited scope of its work.

So now we need to ask, what exactly has the OBA done since the report was released, and to what degree will the bigger education issues be stymied by the appointment of a new education minister?

The obvious answer is that not much has been done since the report has been released. And, more importantly, a new Minister will have to spend many months learning about these types of public education matters before they can act on them.

This simply should not be the state of our public education affairs, and I am thus profoundly disappointed in the OBA’s public education performance. Simply put, the OBA needs to pay the ransom required to hire or train an education commissioner who will get the job done.

The cost of failure is far higher than what it would cost to get it right, and far too many Bermudians have already paid far too high a price for our collective failure to do the right thing.

To reach out to Bryant Trew, e-mail bryanttrew@mac.com