Education “In Crisis”
By Candia Dames
A coalition of private-sector organizations on Thursday warned that the country’s present education “crisis” would have a serious detrimental impact on the national economy by the year 2020 if immediate steps are not taken to put in place reforms.
"A general low level of academic achievement has individual, national and international consequences," the group says in a new report titled, "Bahamian Youth: The Untapped Resource."
Frank Comito, executive vice president of the Bahamas Hotel Association (BHA), said the consequences of not addressing the present crisis would be dire.
"Twenty years down the line we could find ourselves in a very uncompetitive situation where our cost of living would be incredibly high and our productivity would be incredibly low and the amount of dollars circulating through the economy because of that would be minimized and it could have severe consequences not only on every individual in The Bahamas, but certainly on government revenues and support services and everything else," Mr. Comito said.
The report says that while the Education Department has a good testing system, the test scores suggest significant deficiencies.
The Ministry of Education reported a national average of D this year among students who took the Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) exams.
In 2004, 5,741 students wrote the exams, but only 718 or 12.5 percent earned a minimum C grade average in five subjects, the report notes.
It says there is a "serious" lack of graduates prepared to enter college.
The coalition says its analysis suggests that the education crisis in The Bahamas has deep roots.
"Education reform will be successful only with a sustained commitment of every element of society, every stakeholder and every political party," the report says. "Education reform must stand high on the national list of priorities over the long haul."
The release of the coalition’s report came days after the Ministry of Education said in a press statement that it was preparing to announce certain initiatives to address systematic deficiencies.
Addressing a press conference on Thursday, President of The Bahamas Hotel Employers Association J. Barrie Farrington said local businesspeople are becoming increasingly concerned about the education level of job candidates, many of whom are barely literate.
"In the first quarter of this year, a group of like-minded Bahamians discussed their common problems and agreed that the state of education in The Bahamas was unacceptable," Mr. Farrington said.
"It was obvious to them that the Bahamian education system was not producing the graduates able to engage in business. This awareness is grounded in daily experience."
One Bahamian executive reportedly found that job candidates could not write a simple paragraph with clear sentences. Another reported that applicants were doing poorly on aptitude tests.
The report points to the implementation of policies under Majority Rule that had "adverse" side effects.
One such policy was the end of academic elitism, which the report says is most often associated with the history of the "old" Government High School (GHS), which was founded in 1925 and closed in 1976.
The report notes that the school’s enrollment was limited by its capacity and candidates were selected in part on the basis of entrance exams. The school sought the best and brightest students and tried to provide a superior academic education, the report says.
It adds that the elimination of this kind of system within the public school system caused education to suffer.
The second policy, the report says, called for a preference for Bahamian teachers in the school system.
But the report says the Bahamianization policy had the effect of precipitously reducing the qualifications of teachers.
"This meant that less than 10 percent of the teachers hired had the minimum high school grade level to enter college," the report says.
"One must note that another unintended consequence of Bahamianization was the social promotion of students…students could now advance in grade without passing the grade."
The report also says, "Perhaps the most disabling factor affecting academic achievement in the Bahamas today is out-of-wedlock children and the single parent, female-headed family."
Mr. Farrington called the comprehensive document a "good news, bad news" report, noting that it points to certain strategies that can help to address the education crisis.
"The responsibilities of teachers, parents and students must be clear; and non-compliance must have real consequences," the report says. "Penalties for parents similar to those associated with the compulsory school attendance would be an appropriate place to start."
It says a second barrier to improving the education system is governance.
The report notes that the Education Act requires an annual report to parliament on the state of education and for the last decade the government has not used this formal requirement as an opportunity to focus parliamentary and public attention on this critical national issue."
The coalition recommends that the Grade Level Assessment test be redesigned so The Bahamas would be able to measure its progress against other countries.
It also recommends that education authority be decentralized so that principals would have more authority; longer school hours; summer school and an end to social promotion.
But the report says, "Neither social promotion nor holding back without help is a successful strategy."
Additionally, the coalition recommends parent seminars; teacher evaluation and compensation; and an all male laboratory school.
The coalition includes: the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce; the Bahamas Employers Confederation; the National Congress of Trade Unions; the Bahamas Hotel Association; the Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union; the Bahamas Hotel Employers Association; and the Nassau Tourism and Development Board.