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Union leader dismisses education proposals

Premiier Dunkley gives a thumbs up after leaving the House of Assembly at the convening of Parliament (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Teachers’ union leader Mike Charles has dismissed the education proposals set out in yesterday’s Throne Speech as “a bunch of platitudes”.

Bermuda Education Network executive director Becky Ausenda cautiously welcomed the initiatives, but questioned whether the Bermuda Government would have sufficient resources to see them all through.

The Throne Speech called for an end to the practice of social promotion, in which students move automatically through the grade system.

“Allowing a child (to do so), without demonstrating the understanding of concepts or developing skills to acceptable levels, ensures continuing academic struggle and more,” it said.

The Ministry of Education promised to “continue to enhance the quality of teaching and learning”.

“Support will continue for the implementation of mathematics and literacy strategies, quality teaching practices, development through the arts and community and family engagement,” it said.

The document also announced the ministry’s intent to focus on “completing initiatives already in progress”.

These included “implementation of the Danielson Framework for improved curriculum teaching, maximum use of the Bermuda College STEM centre and addressing the facility challenges outlined in the Score Report”.

Elsewhere, Government pledged to improve the quality and prevalence of information technology in schools, and vowed to “implement alternative pathways for student success” through the use of City & Guilds certifications.

Mr Charles, general secretary of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, criticised the Throne Speech’s education section as “all a lot of fluff, which really says nothing”.

“It doesn’t give us any comfort. Our schools still don’t have supplies, and the mould problem has not abated in any way,” he said.

Mr Charles accused the Government of doing “zero” for Bermuda’s public schools, adding that its pro-education declarations were simply for show.

“When this Government came into power, they decried the education system that was there before. They said that schools were in crisis,” he said.

“Well it’s four years on, and what has been done? Absolutely nothing. All they want to do is put on the America’s Cup.”

Describing the social promotion initiative as “no big deal”, Mr Charles chastised the Government for continually cutting the education budget year-on-year.

In February, finance minister Bob Richards revealed that the Ministry of Education would receive $2.23 million less than it did the previous year.

“There’s a saying: you show me your budget and I’ll tell you where your priorities are,” Mr Charles said.

“The Government talks about 21st-century education. Visit any public school and see for yourself if a 21st-century education is possible.”

Ms Ausenda commended the priorities of the Throne Speech, “starting with teaching quality and the continuation of professional development, especially in mathematics and literacy”.

She also applauded its focus on existing strategies.

“The Ministry of Education is often criticised for starting initiatives and not seeing any through,” she said.

“So we welcome their commitment to completing measures including the Danielson Framework and the Multi-Tier System of Support (for student behaviour interventions).”

Ms Ausenda said that the BEN “would like to see the Government assess whether it has sufficient human resources to implement these new proposals”.

“We recognise that the Ministry of Education doesn’t have an endless source of funding, and some tough choices will have to be made,” she added.

Regarding the ministry’s driving principle of “children first”, Ms Ausenda suggested that such a system “first needs a robust accountability framework to back that up”.

“This could be achieved by broadening the role of the Score committee, introducing school inspections or bringing in an external review team similar to 2007’s Hopkins Review,” she added.