Parents should have the right of choice
The editorial in The Royal Gazette of November 27th on the monumental incompetence of the Department of Education was spot on and was long overdue. Whilst Government incompetence is legendary (think of the financial fiasco at Port Royal Golf Course) the Department of Education has established Olympic style standards which are difficult to match.
Around 40 per cent of parents of school age children in Bermuda elect not to send them to “free” government schools and burden themselves with an annual expenditure per child of around $20,000.
Even worse a significant proportion of public school teachers send their own children to private school.
I used to call the Department from time to time to get the exact figure but was sloughed off by the excuse that it does not keep such statistics.
This is a bit like working in a restaurant that provides a free lunch, but when lunch time arrives you go out and pay for a meal at a place further down the street.
The real solution to the educational problem as the editor of The Royal Gazette made clear is to disband the Department of Education.
I once suggested, about ten years ago that, at the time the Club Med Hotel was blown up, there was an opportunity to blow up the Department of Education in what would be a great example of a bigger bang for a buck.
Alas, my suggestion was not acted on, and hundreds of young Bermudian children have had their future prospects truncated.
Is there a solution to the non-performing Department of Education?
If parents in Bermuda received a voucher from Government for $15,000 for each school age child it would, for example, encourage an enterprising and innovative group of Bermudian schoolteachers to start up their own private school. If they enrolled 400 students at $15,000 a time, the revenue would be $6 million — not exactly chump change and it would attract capable and dedicated teachers, of which there are many in the public system, who are frustrated by the dead-hand of the Department of Education.
The cost of vouchers would be paid for by a reduction in the budget of the Department of Education.
Schools like Mount Saint Agnes which have an independent board could be copied throughout the Island so that the dominant bureaucratic thinking could be replaced by a concern for serving the needs of children, not the dictates of the Department of Education.
Schools could set their own standards, concentrate on essentials, and tailor the curriculum to the needs of the children and their parents.
Teachers and parents would be in control rather than the bureaucracy at the Department of Education, and this would mean that children would obtain a better education than they do at some of the dog pounds we call public schools. Teachers would also be free from the stultifying influence of bureaucrats and politicians.
The only losers in this sort of arrangement would be the Department, politicians and the teacher unions — the three groups that have done most to foist off on generations of Bermudian children a substandard education. After all, there have been 19 Ministers of Education in 17 years, or is it 17 Ministers in 19 years.
I will not even mention the fiasco surrounding the appointment of a non-Bermudian Commissioner of Education earlier this year.
Why is the idea of more independent schools not pursued?
The answer is obvious; the interests (and egos) of bureaucrats, politicians, and unions are much more important than the education of children and the wishes of parents.
Another reason would be the huge difficulty of persuading the public that public schools, with rare exceptions, are a dismal failure and that responsibility for educating children should rest with parents. Convincing the public on this issue would not be easy.
Affluent parents (the privileged 40 per cent) are able to opt out of the public system and buy their children a superior private education.
Poor parents and their children are too often stuck with non-performing government schools.
This is a major reason for our income disparity, and more specifically, why white Bermudians tend to earn higher salaries than black Bermudians.
Bermuda, of course, is not the only country with poor-performing public education — the situation is as bad (even worse) in USA, UK and Canada.
The reason for widespread failure, however, is pretty much the same – an inability of parents to have a significant say in how their children are educated. This job is given to an educational elite whose record is appalling.
Education is the biggest socialist enterprise in the world, but as socialism has never worked anywhere for long, one should not be surprised that Bermudians are no better at socialism than Russians or Cubans.
Government-paid bureaucrats in the Department do not have to meet standards set by the parents of children because socialism does not respond to the wishes of parents — indeed it is designed to prevent customers (parents) having a say. Parents have little authority under socialism because power rests with politicians and bureaucrats.
But parents are in the best position to make decisions about their children, because parents are not incompetent fools unable to make major decisions about the lives of their children.
They are fed up with bureaucrats who believe them to be incapable of making educational decisions because they are too stupid and ill-informed — especially when all the available evidence points to the fact that it is bureaucrats who are incompetent.
It cannot be said too often — educational bureaucrats look after themselves first, and children second.
The answer to my question “is there a solution to the non-performing Department of Education is, as smart and wealthy parents know, “Pull your child out of the system before a young mind is destroyed.”
It is time to act with the good sense, of say, a rat abandoning a sinking ship.
Too bad that so many of our young people are left adrift in a sinking ship.
Their less affluent parents should also have the right of choice.