MPs speak out on state of education
Progressive Labour Party backbencher
Terry Lister told MPs he didn’t support the parliamentary committee system because the Opposition used it to take “cheap shots” at Government.
Mr Lister told the House of Assembly that when the joint select committee (JSC) on education began meeting publicly in 2008 to review progress on the reform of public schools, the result was a “torrent of attack” from the United Bermuda Party, which was then the official Opposition.
“That’s why I’m opposed to joint select committees,” he said. “We share the information and, rather than handle it in a professional manner, you use it to make cheap shots across the floor.
“I was ashamed of the members who did it because I expected them to be better. Everyone knows who they were.”
Mr Lister, a former Education Minister, said he was “very disappointed” when British expert Professor David Hopkins was invited to review the Island’s public school system, resulting in the delivery of a damning report in May 2007.
“I was very disappointed that we went down that path,” he said. “Education has been a [political] football for a long time.”
Mr Lister said he didn’t agree with all of the recommendations in the report but believed accomplishments in education were being made. “It takes time to move ahead,” he said. “Are we at the point of perfect yet? No.”
Randy Horton, who was Education Minister when the Hopkins report was commissioned, said he did support the JSC system as it was a way to “actually get to the bottom of things”.
He said he was also glad the Hopkins report happened as it was crucial for Government to be able to take constructive criticism.
“I’m not up here to fight about what has been done or what hasn’t been done,” said the PLP MP. We all know we are not quite there.”
Both MPs were speaking on Friday during a motion brought by Government Whip
Lovitta Foggo, which asked the House to take note of the JSC’s report, tabled at the end of last year.
Ms Foggo was a member of the committee, which began meeting in mid-2008 and was tasked with reviewing the progress made on the ten key recommendations in the Hopkins report.
Ms Foggo said Dr Hopkins and his team suggested the badly-needed reform of public schools be carried out over a five-year period, a claim later disputed by Shadow Education Minister
Grant Gibbons, who said the experts called for urgent action.
“Much observable and measurable progress has been made,” PLP MP Ms Foggo told the House.
She said the committee faced its own challenges after the departure of several members “at a crucial time in our review”.
The problems meant the bipartisan JSC’s own report took three years to produce and contained no conclusions but was simply a compilation of the various presentations made to the committee.
Ms Foggo said the fact the committee was allowed to hold its meetings in public was “epic on the Government’s behalf and was a giant step forward for transparency and democracy”.
She said Hopkins recommended Government needed to:
1. Dramatically improve the quality of teaching;
2. Move quickly to improve the quality of leadership by principals;
3. Radically reform the Ministry of Education;
4. Strengthen the strategic management of education;
5. Introduce delegation and transparent accountability at all levels;
6: Federate secondary and tertiary education and raise the school leaving age;
7. Respond to concerns about inclusion and behaviour;
8. Create self-governing federations around clusters of primary and middle schools;
9. Align the curriculum vertically and horizontally; and
10. Harness the power of parents, business and the community in the reform process.
Ms Foggo said much had been done to improve the quality of teaching and principal appraisals were in place.
She said a lot had been accomplished in reforming the Ministry and the Education Board had been redesigned, based on Dr Hopkins’s recommendations.
The introduction of delegation and transparent accountability had been met, Ms Foggo said, “to varying degrees”.
She said recommendation six had been achieved “100 percent” and students with behavioural problems now got more personalised assistance.
The cluster idea was dropped but a new curriculum, the Cambridge system, has been implemented.
Ms Foggo said there was “observable progress regarding the Hopkins recommendations specifically and education as a whole”.
One Bermuda Alliance MP
Donte Hunt told MPs that time was of the essence in improving Bermuda’s public schools. “We need to not take years and years to enact the solutions to this problem,” he said.
Craig Cannonier said the JSC’s report was “painfully transparent and it takes a strong stomach to accept some of the things that have been written here”.
He added: “We must come to the reality that things have been slow, painfully slow.”
Education Minister Dame Jennifer Smith closed what she described as a “very interesting and full debate”.
She said: “The education system should be supported by all of us. I know one thing: it produced all of us.”
The Minister added that Government had had the courage to acknowledge poor performance in the education system and seek solutions.