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Not Rabain’s fault that he is out of his depth

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Teachers showed up for the Labour Day, but not in the numbers one would expect from the largest union membership (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Can someone explain what is happening with our education? We have gone from the idea of reform in the early 1990s, starting with the Education Planning Team, to now when no one seems to have a clear idea of where it is going or a handle on the means to get there.

There was never a proper evaluation of the transition that took place in and around 1992-93. The first in a line of failures was when the government of the day took over from the EPT and decided to politicise its aims to reform education rather than leave it to an apolitical entity. The Government wanted the political credit for reforming education and the country has been paying the price for such hubris ever since.

That was the beginning of the migration out of public education, which up to that point was relatively strong. Education that requires national unity became a political football with the Opposition party blaming the Government for implementing the very thing the Opposition was accused of fighting for. The cry from Dame Jennifer Smith, then the Shadow Minister of Education, was that we needed to scrap the Eleven Plus exam and introduce comprehensive education. Well, we did ... or attempted to.

It was the ensuing political battle over how to achieve the reform that did the damage and caused a lack of public confidence. Soon after, there was a change of government and we have seen a slew of persons — such as permanent secretaries, commissioners of education and Cabinet ministers — go in with bright eyes and enthusiasm heading as it were to the battlefield with a song of jubilation only to return with noses bloodied and tear-filled eyes amid looks of gloom while the problem persists.

On Labour Day, the largest union, the Bermuda Union of Teachers, was represented by a mere 34 teachers carrying banners and marching with apparent delight, then paradoxically a few days later takes to the press armed with a long list of complaints about what the teachers lack.

If that’s not “Hosannah” one day and “Crucify” the next.

Please can they share with the public why they celebrated Labour Day rather than take that day as the time air their protests? “Oh, we just wanted to show our solidarity.”

On what? First, there is an apparent lack of solidarity among the BUT ranks when there are only 34 out of more than 900 teachers showing up for a march. So not only do we have a country whose system has led to an exodus of pupils, but the BUT which has been the traditional vanguard for education since 1920 seems to be broken also.

This rhapsody of what’s wrong with our educational structure as produced lately by the BUT is absent one important thing: how do we fix it? The BUT showed itself as a formidable force as an organisation when it joined the Bermuda Industrial Union in 1981. It was pivotal and could not go unrecognised; we don’t know where it is today.

Relevant education today is as always a market and industry question. In the days gone by, many opportunities were restricted in the market, and for women in particular, one of the few areas available was to become a teacher. Many of the top students became teachers and for the succeeding generations, they were the teachers and mentors. As the markets opened and people became exposed to other opportunities, it had the effect of diluting the quality of teachers entering the field.

Add to that, there are many more educational institutions of varying strengths. All degrees are not equal, having one from a university is not necessarily a guarantee that every person holding a similar degree is of the same calibre and aptitude. Teachers are hired because of their credentials, not because they absolutely know how to teach.

This is not an indictment against teachers with degrees, but it is not simply having or imparting knowledge that matters in the classroom, but also students learning how to learn and overcome the difficulty of discerning the knowledge being imparted. It is that area which often is the difference between an effective teacher and a teacher who has knowledge but is unable to impart it. From an institutional perspective, it is the difference in the level of training that different institutions offer in comprising the teacher’s degree.

Our economy is real, multifaceted and has particular demands, which can be filled only by having persons suitably adaptable. Our economy is made up of local businesses, international businesses and government services. Each area has its specific demands and tolerances. Listening to the heartbeat and understanding the peculiarities of each sector of the economy is the key to understanding what our educational needs are. To have a government ministry is to have the responsibility to keep that connection between economic demand and student preparation as a match.

Parents instinctively do this according to their means. It becomes very apparent when we see the choices that government ministers make for their children and the choices they leave for the public. It becomes a sad indictment when it is said that our educational structure and the bodies including the union are more of an opportunity for the teachers’ upward mobility than for that of the students. Seminars and training sessions have done more to fill teachers’ résumés than to increase learning for the children.

Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Let me stop complaining right about now and make a suggestion. It is clear the Minister of Education is out of his depth. That’s not a personal go at Diallo Rabain — maybe finding a solution is beyond everyone. So why don’t we follow the model approach of the EPT, but this time instead go to the international community? As we did with the Pembroke Marsh, go to top universities such as Harvard, Yale, Cambridge and Oxford, perhaps even include the universities of Malaysia and Singapore, to sponsor a competition on the Bermuda education problem.

Rather than having a politician experimenting with our children’s futures for politics and careers, turn it into a purely apolitical and rational exercise.

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Published September 18, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated September 18, 2023 at 8:28 am)

Not Rabain’s fault that he is out of his depth

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