Fixing Education

With the 2010 Budget involving a $6 million reduction for the Ministry of Education it is not unexpected that people are going to be somewhat upset. I’m particularly aghast at the reductions to school psychology (not sure if this means psychology classes or psychology support for schools), counselling and substitute teachers, as if anything in education needed more support it was probably the psychology and counselling services.

I don’t claim to be an educator, although I have toyed with the idea of teaching biology, either at the Secondary School or College level, and may still pursue such a move. Nor do I claim to have much insight into the goings on of the MoEducation which, as far as I can tell as a layman with no children at the moment, just comes across as a bureaucratic and even nepotistic mess. I don’t know of it is, but thats just how all the people I know, including teachers (both private and public school), describe it to me, and I wouldn’t even know where to start investigating it. I say all that in order to stress that my thoughts on education are little more than my casual thoughts on the matter and I look forward to being educated through feedback from those more knowledgeable than I.

Okay, here goes:

I believe our current education problems are a result of both the MoEducation and wider socioeconomic issues. While I see our current state being a consequence of historical injustices and the like, dating way back to the pre-segregation era (such as the active denial of academic capital accumulation amongst Blacks), I particularly see the 1980s as the key decade for our current problems.

The 1980s saw the policy of Bermudianisation come into full force as regards education, and the decade also saw key socioeconomic changes for Bermuda, which had a particular impact on affordable quality housing and the breakdown of traditional extended family networks which, hitherto, had served as a key informal social security net for our children.

I support the idea behind Bermudianisation. It just makes sense for our children to be educated by ourselves as opposed to ex-patriates (White Britons tended to dominate education previously I understand). There are clear racial, psychological and colonial overtures behind the practice of having foriegners dominate our education system, and having Bermudian (or at least West Indian) teachers has the potential to reduce alienation or inferiority complexes that the previous system may have caused. Don’t get me wrong here, most of my teachers were White and British and as far as I’m concerned they were brilliant teachers. But then, I’m White, my parents are both British-British and I went to Saltus.

To be frank, the issue of foreign White teachers in the public education system became quite a hot potato political topic towards the end of the seventies and early eighties. The Bermudianisation policy that was introduced, under the then UBP Governments, was very much a short-term project and largely concessionary. It was a concession to the critics of the government who were advocating Bermudianisation, and it was an attempt to diffuse simmering racial and ideological tensions that were developing.

As I’ve said, I support Bermudianisation in principle; the idea behind it is sound. What I do have a problem with is the very short-sighted way in which I believe it was implemented. I believe it was implemented too quickly and without appropriate phasing or standardisation. In short it was ad-hoc and was a very superficial form of Bermudianisation in that it didn’t account for quality of teachers training or experience. It was a good idea, implemented for the wrong reasons and without appropriate foresight and amounted to little more than sabotaging our children’s education.

One would have expected that Government would have set out a number of teacher training colleges or universities, on the basis of rankings and reviews of their quality, and said we are only going to employ teachers with qualifications from these institutions. Furthermore, they should have offered to pay the tuition and basic living costs (dorms) for Bermudians to study at these accredited institutions, with the teachers so trained subsequently being bonded to teach in the public school system for a minimum of five years. Even if only ten teachers were trained per year, over time this should have seen a vast improvement in the quality and standardisation of our educators capacity. And the list of accredited institutions could easily be reviewed every five years in order to ensure the quality of our educators training.

I admit I don’t know what the top ten training institutions for teachers in the english-speaking world are. I do know however that there are rankings and reviews compiled annually, just as there are for any academic institutions, so I don’t think it would be impossible to institute this. I do believe that Jamaica has some excellent institutions, notably St. Joseph’s Teachers’ College in Kingston, Moneague College (UWI) in St. Ann’s Parish and Shortwood Teachers’ College in St. Andrew’s Parish. I also beleive that the Trent University-Queen’s University Concurrent Education Program is highly regarded.

Now, perhaps the MoEducation does have such a program in place. I personally don’t think they do as I know of quite a few teachers who have degrees from various US institutions of questionable quality. Some of the teachers from this background are, in truth, excellent educators. The bulk of them, that I’ve seen, are not. These teachers should be given the opportunity to be retrained in one way or another, but at the same time we should phase out accetping any and all teaching qualifications and start phasing in a system like I outline above. It will take time, and it will take money, but in my opinion it will see a gradualy improvement over time, and will be a better investment than carrying on the status quo and endless consultants at exobriant prices.

There are, of course, other things that need done. The adoption of the Cambridge system, from what I understand of it, looks like a good idea too and should, over time, pay dividends. Additional funds also need to go into training more qualified counsellors for our schools, as well as our capacity to address the special needs of dyslexic and autistic students. Ensuring free and nutritious school meals (primarily lunch, but also a basic breakfast of, say, milk and some fruit, like local bananas or grapefruit, or cereal) should also be implemented.

Socio-economic issues need addressed too. More quality affordable housing needs to be created, and in this we can learn alot from the Singapore model of public housing, a model I am both familiar and impressed with. Implementing a liveable minimum wage and a 35-hour workweek would also go some way to addressing these problems.

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33 thoughts on “Fixing Education

  1. Your views of the MoEd sit comfortably, I would suggest, with the views of many here.

    Grasping the nettle, i.e. determining what we want the MoE to do, and structuring to meet that, is a big one – politically as you know.

    As Makai said earlier, they are friends and family that we know. If that is the mindset of the Govt – and there is little evidence to suggest otherwise – then this time next year and indeed in 10 years time we will be still budgeting for a cost/child well in excess of the private sector + we will be no further forward.

    On the teaching side, I have already said, that we need to identify the weak links. We should recognise that they may well have been effective at some stage of their life – but are no longer, particularly if they are not re-trainable.

    That should not be a licence to cull – but to ease out of the system (with cash), those who can’t hack it.

    I find it amazing that the teacher comes before the child. In Bermuda, one senses it always will.

  2. Economics is the most important barometer for secondary economics. French revolution and african family values maximum reproduction. Without these students are doomed.

  3. I support the idea behind Bermudianisation. It just makes sense for our children to be educated by ourselves as opposed to ex-patriates (White Britons tended to dominate education previously I understand). There are clear racial, psychological and colonial overtures behind the practice of having foriegners dominate our education system, and having Bermudian (or at least West Indian) teachers has the potential to reduce alienation or inferiority complexes that the previous system may have caused. Don’t get me wrong here, most of my teachers were White and British and as far as I’m concerned they were brilliant teachers. But then, I’m White, my parents are both British-British and I went to Saltus.

    While I’m behind you mostly on this Jonny, I’ve always felt that we could benifit even more with a teacher exchange with overseas schools to broaden viewpoints even further. With proper vetting this could be a win/win for everyone, but mostly the children.

  4. Jonathan,

    I don’t understand when you say…”Implementing a liveable minimum wage and a 35-hour workweek would also go some way to addressing these problems”.

    What problems?

  5. Hi Martin, I was referring there to the breakdown of the extended family system which often leads to children being raised by the TV and not the parents. Having a living wage and reduced working hours (without reduced wages) would help with that (and other problems) somewhat.

  6. I believe the problems are multiple, both at a historical level and at a current level within our education system. Bermudianisation is a great idea, but that also has to involve support by Bermudian families. If you honestly ask those who are educating their children within the public school system whether they would move to a private school of their choice should it become free, I feel sure that the majority would. Bermudians are not encouraged to make Bermudian schools their choice. I would go as far as to say that Bermudians with children at public schools are somewhat looked down on by some of their peers with children at other schools. The more Bermudians who can afford a private education but chose a public one, the better the schools become. The more parents involved who care passionately about the education of their children, the better the schools become. I write as an expat with all my children in the public school system. I believe that more expats should be encouraged to look at the public school system. This enables guests to gain a greater degree of understanding of local culture and to become a much more integral part of the community. This understanding can also work the other way. Our children grow learning how to resolve differences and promote tolerance. Though these children may not be Bermudian, they care passionately about Bermuda.

    Instead of complaining about a system that is dealing more with social problems than educational ones, it is time that parents voted with their feet and aimed to make the education system better from the inside. Instead of continually apportioning blame, let’s work together for change. Let’s reduce the percentage of social problems within our school system by educating some kids that come from relatively functional families. Let’s recognize that the bulk of a teacher’s work load in public schools is not education. Once they have dealt with the behavioural issues that come from the instability at home, they have precious little time left. This is not true to the same extent within the private schools.

    Let’s start a wave of support for our schools. It could make a huge difference (and let’s start getting folk into the MoEd and Board of Education who have their own children at public schools!!)

  7. CD, your sentiments are admirable, but unworkable.

    Take it from a parent with children in the private system, you simply cannot make any progress for your children in the public system as it is now. I can name you a hundred families who tried to do exactly that, and the MoE did absolutely nothing to improve the standards. The MoE actively ignores input from parents, and even tries to punish them, as in the case of St George’s Prep.

    It’s all well and good saying that parents should invest in the public system, but that only works when those in the public system ACTUALLY listen and respond.

    The reason the private schools do better than the public ones is because they are held accountable for their results and actions, something that is lacking in many facets of government, not just education.

  8. Renaissance Man,

    Sadly I also know this to be true! Accountability is huge – and I must confess that occasionally (and without saying too much since I fear being recognised) I honestly wonder if the MoE are intent on destroying the system by eating away at it bit by bit. I find it so utterly demoralising when public schools that are performing well are targeted. Small bricks of their structure are taken away until eventually if they are still standing, their structure is precarious at best. It’s almost as if the MoE are trying to make their failures less obvious by aiming to have all schools heading towards the lowest common denominator. It infuriates me – and I know that in reality you speak the truth!

  9. So many problems…i don’t even know where to start. We have gone over this ad nauseum, but the govt does not seem to care…ALOT of people need to get the sack, so many are untrainable and I would not want them teaching my dog. The MoE administrative staff is filled with failed teachers who they refuse to sack. The principal who was removed from Victor Scott now sites in the MoE doing nothing but collecting a healthy salary. Things like this should not happen. And that is the least of it.

    You need foreign teachers as there are not enough qualified Bermudians to teach, sure they have their degrees, but they are not competent enough to be in the classroom. Some are excellent, identify and keep those, but you must get rid of the rest.

    Like Makai said, not going to happen any time soon.

  10. The P L Party Central Committee needs to STEP UP TO THE WICKET AND DO THE RIGHT THING. RIGHT NOW! It’s that simple….

  11. Your idea of a 35 hour week seems to have received a positive response from the PLP Government. They are proposing a 4 day week for Government employees to save costs. The chickens are coming home in flocks now.

  12. Well, the idea of a 35 hour work does not mean a reduction in pay; what I believe you would be implying is a reduction in both working hours and wages which is something completely different. Where did they propose this though? I haven’t seen it anywhere, but I have been busy so I haven’t read everything.

  13. How would reducing hours without reducing the wage accomplish anything?
    I’m sure they’d get the same hourly wage, but with reduced hours, equalling less pay every week, equalling a reduction in pay.

    Or am I reading it wrong?

    All the while Government spending is still going mental… and wasn’t there talk of a ministerial pay rise?

    For the people? I don’t think so…

  14. It translates into effectively an increase in pay per hour but a reduction in total working hours and in so doing could allow for increased rates of employment, helping reduced the number of unemployed. Additionally the workers are able to spend more leisure time with families and community activities.

    Such a measure won’t reduce Government expenditure, but if it can increase the numbers of employed it can have an effect on the economy by increasing the numbers of consumers.

    There are other measures that can be taken to reduce government spending (and generate revenue), some of which I have touched on in the post ‘Cleaning up this mess’ – which I wrote while you were writing the above, lol!

  15. Johnny,

    The possibility of a 4 day week was reported on the news tonight, evidence that there is no planning but seemingly daily or hourly knee jerk reactions to the financial mess we’re in because of out of control Government spending. I believe we are witnessing the demise of the PLP Government in its present state. As the Tourism Cog goes about his business spending tax payers’ money on personal interests, it is clear the crown wheel, Bermuda, is close to mortal damage through lack of maintenance. The Finance Cog has no money, has no control of the other Cogs and is grasping at straws. The other Cogs are a waste of time and money, just grinding around with no lubricant. The BPSU has woken up to the effect of the payroll tax increase on its members. The BIU would probably like to say something similar but has been neutered. Don’t be surprised if there is a General Strike within the next few months.

  16. So, I did get it wrong? It’s less hours for the same amount of money?

    If it’s how you describe it, I can dig on that, with the increase in jobs, etc… kinda.

    Seriously, though?

    They’re saying “Here’s the same amount of pay per week for less hours?

    Does that translate into an increase in the hourly rate and, if so, does THAT translate into an increase in overtime, if they work it? Does this new plan address overtime? Is overtime limited? If not, what’s to stop someone from going back and working a 40 hour week at this increased rate? That’s some good moolah, there, brother!

    I just don’t get how this is gonna work and it’s not terribly clear from the info that’s being put out…

  17. Well, I don’t know what the Government proposal is, as there is nothing in the media at the moment on it – if it was in the news last night it should be in the papers today. I get the impression that the what Government would be planning is to simply reduce working hours by a whole day complete with an accompanying reduction of wages equal to one day at the current rate. So, less hours, less wages, which is quite a bit different from what I’m advocating.

  18. Johnny,
    My first post was somewhat tongue in cheek, but I wanted to make the point that this Government has totally lost its way and resorting to desperation measures. Unfortunately the “living it up and who cares where the money is coming from” attitude of the last 4 years (see how Gov debt has increased since 2006) does have a price. When the income is flowing freely as it was until 2009 then the failures of Gov spending and controls are masked. This financial maelstrom was predicted by many, both here and around the world. Unfortunately the PLP Government didn’t want to see this and we are all about to pay the price, the poorer members of society shouldering the most pain.

  19. It may be that Employment laws that are applicable in Bermuda differ significantly to those that apply to the UK – although I doubt it.

    A reduction in pay for ‘salaried’ people may well be problematic, and Govt success in laying off and saving salary, may come down to how much nerve the Govt has in simply imposing it regardless of any consequences.

    With blue collar – who are paid by the hour, and whose contract of employment describes their pay as ‘per/hour’ – it’s a straight forward decision; don’t come to work Friday + you won’t be paid.

    With salaried people, i.e. those whose contract shows remuneration expressed as an annual figure with so much $$ paid per month – it is different, and employees are entitled to be paid – even if they don’t turn up.

    The caveat to that, is that it also depends upon what the contract of employment says. If there is an ‘express right’ enshrined in the contract that the employer can lay them off without pay – then they can. If they haven’t got that right – then to do so is a breach of contract.

    There is no room for the argument that “we can’t afford to pay you”, where breach of contract is concerned.

    So – beware Government.

  20. Jonathan

    A reduction in the working week – without a reduction – will work if the productivity remains static, i.e. we produce the same (or more) at the lower level of hours as we did at the higher level of hours.

  21. Jon, you might want to check what the term “constructive dismissal” means in the context of salary reductions.

  22. OHHHH… ok. I get it now.

    I can get behind what you’re advocating, if it is run right, which I doubt could ever happen.

    However, what it seems the Government is proposing?

    No way. It’s just hurting people because they’re trying to save money they’ve already spent.

  23. If government goes to a four day week, perhaps to make up they can go to ten hour workdays like many companies in the states are doing. That way, the offices can be more efficient and accommodating when they are open.
    Like having all windows filled @ TCD and immigration at lunch time when MOST people go to do stuff there.

  24. Does anyone know if the government has ever considered changing the public school to go on year round schooling?
    It has shown some evidence of being beneficial in many areas for the student. It helps to instill a stronger work ethic and students don’t forget the material over the long breaks. It also helps cut the increase in day care fees parents experience when their children are out of school all summer.
    I think we are missing the big picture of what it will take to actually change the public school system.
    Another thought, since part of the problem with education can be found at home with the parents either not caring or not having time to care about how a child views the importance of education,
    what about having a mandatory class starting in primary school all the way into high school that is about the value of an education and the wonderful possibilities they can open themselves up to by using education as a vessel. The class could also teach children about their self worth and how important they are to society, especially Bermuda’s society. Many don’t get this kind of support from home so if they could get that at school in some way, I really think this could make a difference, I really do.
    Would appreciate thoughts on the year round schooling.

  25. year round schooling is not the answer. perhaps it may keep the kids out of trouble they will get into because of their negligent parents, but one the gov cant afford it and two, most of the teachers would go balistic because honestly, the holidays is why they are there, didn’t you know?

  26. In year round schooling you still get holidays. They are just shorter, but more frequent. Is that really a valid argument though, that teachers don’t want to work summers? That is just called being lazy IMO. Every other profession works in the summer.
    The money thing I understand. But how much extra would it really cost? If they become more efficient perhaps over time, it may cost less.
    The research for year round schooling is looking pretty good and each year more and more schools switch to year round and I am sure they aren’t getting anywhere near the amount of money spent that Bermuda gives public schools.

  27. BTW, year round school has the exact same amount of school days as the current system in case any one didn’t know.

  28. “That is just called being lazy IMO.” Nail on the head. If you could be a fly on the wall you would know what I mean.

  29. free education has produced nothing more than the “cooper twins” who terrorized many people before they were caught.
    $300 million could go to my recession cheque welfare program.
    Privatize public education.
    Wasting money on education is why africa is poor.

  30. If we don’t restructure the Ministry of Education – which is both disproportionately costly and intransigent in its thinking – there is very little point in fiddling around with curriculum and other side issues – however important they may be.

    The Hopkins report said they could find nothing positive to say about the Ministry.

    That will not happen, as it’s politically a no-no. As a consequence, expect the status quo in so far as education outcomes are concerned.

  31. Funny that in politics we just always have to expect the answer of 1) never enough money/resources
    2)people don”t want to change their ways due to this or that

    There always seems to be a dead end and keep going back to square one without any solutions.

    The PLP promised to better education for the people that voted them into office. And its worse than ever. The audacity of hope.

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