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Education is the true panacea to our success – so let’s fix it

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One could argue that a successful public education system is a moral duty of every government and that it is a human right for every young Bermudian to be provided with one. An unsuccessful public education system affects our whole society, regardless if you are a parent with children in private school.

The positive efforts of the Premier to embrace international business will be thwarted if our high school students' graduation rates continue to be below international standards. Furthermore, if our students are not prepared for a rapidly changing world, we will be unable to restore public confidence, and this will result in the need to grow the population through immigration, leaving young Bermudians sitting on the sidelines.

The Progressive Labour Party must deliver on its election promise that it would make education its top priority by providing a modern and accountable system that prepares Bermudians for success, including its promise to have functioning computer labs, resources and personnel in all schools.

The recent staff sick-outs, work-to-rule and public releases from the Bermuda Union of Teachers, as well as some parent-teacher associations, speaks volumes that the education minister is not coping. Or that he is not being provided with the financial resources required to resuscitate Bermuda's public-school system from a slow death.

The issues appear to be fixable, though. If there is a shortage of para-educators and teacher assistants, then hire them and have the decency to give them job descriptions and breaks. If we lack education officers for maths, English and science, then hire them. Fix the broken windows and fire alarms, and get the software that is lacking in the computer labs. To not do so goes against everything that was promised.

I voted for Diallo Rabain and before so doing, I expressed to him that the most important matter to me as a voter was to fix public education.

If the teachers union does not agree with the grading system moving away from percentages to the introduction of a 1 to 4 scale, then listen to them, for goodness sake. However, if the grading system is not opposed by teachers, but instead is about the “below standard training” provided, then provide proper training.

The Government has concluded that middle schools should be abolished and replaced with signature schools. My question is why has the minister started the process of selecting the members of the restructuring team and the chairman without allowing the BUT and PTA to have a large representation in this incredibly important body. Surely, collaboration is seen as a contribution? Or are we going to replace colonialism with authoritarianism.

A labour government should respect the BUT and not castigate its members for withdrawing their labour. They were not being frivolous. Their concerns are on the straight and narrow, and education is in crisis.

Michelle Simmons, the senator and retired school principal, is 100 per cent correct in saying that it is “important to mobilise the knowledge of teachers and principals as part of any discussion on the plan to reform in order to ensure that wise decisions are to be made regarding the future of public education in Bermuda”.

In a 2016 article on education, I noted that 38 per cent of Bermudian children attend private school compared with 8 per cent in other developed countries. If the average household has two children (1.75 per cent), it means parents are paying $500,000 for P1 to graduation. That's the cost of a house! Yet Finland has the least amount of private schools, at 1 per cent, but has the highest graduation rate among countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

I understand that the independent Fiscal Responsibility Panel has red-flagged a shrinking workforce and ageing population as the greatest economic concern facing our island, and therefore we need to grow through immigration. However, they need to be reminded that in a 2016-17 Bermuda Business & Relocation magazine, it stated that Bermuda has one of the highest expatriate populations of any country in the world. So while they are pleased that the Government has improved the processing times on immigration applications, this is not the panacea to Bermuda's economic turnaround.

A true panacea to Bermuda's economic wellbeing is a successful public education system.

I recognise that the Minister of Finance is under a great deal of pressure to minimise government spending.

However, when it comes to education, we need to provide the personnel, IT functionality, healthy classrooms and resources that the teachers are seeking, and the Minister of Education needs to be given the funding to meet these requirements.

Please make good your promises to the 1,183 senior students, 916 middle-school students and the youngsters in our primary schools.

Cheryl Pooley is a social commentator and three-times former parliamentary candidate

Everyone's a loser: empty classrooms are helping no one
Cheryl Pooley is a social commentator and three-times former parliamentary candidate

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Published December 11, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated December 11, 2018 at 7:28 am)

Education is the true panacea to our success – so let’s fix it

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