Call for schools to merge or close
Proposals to merge or close schools should be looked at again before the Government splashes out to repair crumbling buildings, the teachers' union has said.
Mike Charles, secretary-general of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, said it would be too expensive to renovate some schools and questioned if there would be enough pupils to fill them in any case.
Mr Charles was speaking after David Burt, the Premier and Minister of Finance, announced the Ministry of Education and Workforce Development would receive $140.6 million in 2018-19, a 4 per cent increase on last year.
He added the Score report, prepared in 2016, had looked at school closures and consolidations.
Mr Charles said: “Any increase to education is good, but it all depends on how it is used and how the people who get the money will use it.
“We need to improve our buildings but we have to make a decision on buildings, in particular whether we are going to keep what we have or whether we are going to make changes.
“The restoration of some buildings would be too costly.”
He added: “They have not talked about possible closures, but it is something we would be willing to talk about. They should go back to the Score report, see what needs to be done and make a decision.
“We need to take a good look at our entire education system and how we want to move forward with it.
“You have to have the political will, the individual will and the right people driving it. It needs to be looked at.”
Mr Burt said the extra cash in the Budget would be used to support the Plan 2022 blueprint for education, which highlighted the need for modern information technology, better management of buildings and increased teacher training.
About $3 million has been earmarked for school maintenance, including mould and infestation removal, electrics and plumbing.
Mr Burt told MPs on Friday: “The first topic covered in the PLP's 2017 platform was education. We laid out a comprehensive plan to transform our public education system and ensure that Bermudians of all ages can learn and upgrade their skills.
“Our commitment to education and training is demonstrated in the first Budget of this new PLP Administration.”
He added: “This year's investment in education represents a renewed belief in our young people and the men and women responsible for teaching them.
“We are investing in the delivery of an education that will equip our citizens with character, critical thinking and a rounded sense of who they are and of their value to this society.”
Mr Charles backed increased funds for teacher training.
He said: “I am happy to hear that the ministry is mentioning training because for quite a while the ministry has not been doing any professional development.
“The BUT has been responsible over the last couple of years for most of the professional development — it has come out of our budget. Our maths problems are starting in primary schools and until our teachers are trained to do maths and science, we are going to have problems.
“There is a new strategic plan that is going to be put in place but it takes money to do that. I am sure teachers will also look forward to getting some supplies because they have been without for some time.
“Hopefully, it will be used for the improvement of education for our students. It is not a lot of money but hopefully it can be the start of something.”
The mother of a middle school pupil who became ill as a result of mould exposure questioned whether $3 million would cover maintenance work.
She said: “It's about time but is $3 million going to be enough for all the schools? Mould removal is very expensive and you are talking about a lot of schools.”
She added: “It's not just mould, what about other things like plumbing and other issues?
The mother said: “My daughter was out of school. She is a lot better than she was, but she did suffer with it for a while. Mould might not have an immediate effect on you but the long-term effect is the problem — when she is older what is going to happen. That is in her lungs now.”
Danielle Riviere, parent teachers' association president at West Pembroke School, said: “I think teacher training is money well spent but there is the question of consistency in terms of what teachers are being asked to do and changing of programmes here and there.
“I am hoping there is consistency around what they are being taught and that it is a long-term investment. Our IT departments across the island in every school from elementary to high school need work. We are in the 21st century and we need to have children who are educated on computers and systems that mirror what is happening in the rest of the world.”
Mr Burt also announced increased funding of $1.9 million to support both senior schools and $300,000 will go towards Bermuda College to help students unable to afford tuition costs.