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.