Learning first: redesigning education
October 2020 saw the start of the next phase of the Ministry of Education’s school transformation process, and the consultative phase of the Progressive Labour Party's promise to the people of Bermuda is well under way.
That promise is to enact education reform, which includes the removal of middle schools and transformation of the Bermuda public school system into a world-class operation structure that is relevant to the Bermudian public.
Education reform that should bring much excitement and positivity for the future has been met with derision and misinformation by some. As an educator who spent 15 years teaching in both public senior schools, I am disheartened by this response.
Many cry out for a better system, but when the Government does the work to make this a reality the response is to deride the efforts or spread misinformation. The record must be set straight because this government is designing an education system to benefit us all and our children. The Bermudians who are making this change possible deserve our support.
The process to reform education will not and cannot be a rushed one. It has been deliberate and methodical. As the Premier said, "We will measure not once, not twice but three times before we cut“ when it comes to education transformation and redesign. Our young people deserve nothing less.
The planning for school reform began 18 months ago with the colloquium meetings that brought together the Department of Education, Board of Education, Ministry of Public Works, the Cabinet Office and Bermuda College — government bodies that would be impacted by the change.
Using Plan 2022 as their guide, they laid the foundation of what we are striving to build and have instructed the best way to go about that process.
In the past 18 months, we have spoken to principals, teachers, the unions, DoE staff, the Board of Education, aided-school boards, the PLP, the One Bermuda Alliance, Bermuda First and PTA groups. These are stakeholders who understand and care for our education system, and want to see it thrive. We have curated their views and used them to give ourselves a better picture of what we are trying to create.
Some changes, we were able to implement quickly.
We introduced an Autism Spectrum Disorder school at the preschool level, implemented standards-based grading, hired a mathematics specialist based on a recommendation from the Bermuda Math Teachers, introduced coding classes and a Steam curriculum at the primary level. Now that we have reached this next phase, it is time to do the heavy lifting of the school reform process.
It is one thing to say we need to change the system, but it is a whole other thing, a much more involved and nuanced thing, to make the actual changes needed. Once we decided on the changes required, based on the extensive consultation, it was clear that while we had the expertise on island to design what our Bermudian children needed, we required assistance and experience to effect these changes.
This is why change agent Innovation Unit, Australia and New Zealand was brought in during March this year to take us from where we are to where we, as Bermudians, have said we want to be.
Innovation Unit was the only team to make it through the very robust Request for Proposal process that went out to Bermudian and foreign entities alike. It proved it had the skills and experience to help implement the sweeping changes we wanted to see happen in the BPSS while causing as little disruption as possible to student learning.
To be clear, IU is not creating a new education system for Bermuda; it is assisting to create a blueprint that Bermudians will be actioning and operationalising. A blueprint based on what we as Bermudians have said we want for education. IU is a change agent, not a designer.
We promised you, the people of Bermuda, that we would be transparent with what we were doing in education. We promised to consult and to include you in this massive change — and we are. We had to.
This is, after all, your, the Bermudian public's plan for education as laid out in Plan 2022 that we are actioning.
This brings us to where we are now and Minister of Education Diallo Rabain's announcement of Learning First and the System Redesign Team. This team is looking at how the school system will look and what will take place in the classroom. I applaud those Bermudians who have stepped forward to be a part of this team.
The System Redesign Team's diverse membership of teachers, school leaders, community members, parents and industry partners will look at the BPSS in its totality and make recommendations for the future system.
Rightly or wrongly, Bermudians have concerns about the education system. Complaining is easy; working to make real positive change is hard. We, in the Government, appreciate all Bermudians who have put themselves forward to create solutions on behalf of our students for the next six months. I hope that the Bermudian public appreciate the diligent efforts of the Ministry of Education to improve the system for the benefit of our entire community.
I am 100 per cent supportive of and committed to the redesign of the Bermuda public school system. I know that my children, who are students in the BPSS at the preschool and primary levels, will benefit from the changes made.
If we genuinely care for the Bermuda public school system, then we should have no problem involving ourselves and supporting the changes that take place.
This is our Bermuda public school system, Bermuda. Let us all be committed to seeing it improve and thrive.
• Owen Darrell is a government senator and the Junior Minister for the Cabinet Office, Education and Public Works