By ADRIAN GIBSON
It is high time that we recognise that The Bahamas’ school system is antediluvian and in desperate need of restructuring. We must focus on entirely revamping our almost defunct educational system. Once again, after another year of national exams, it is clear that a legion of Bahamian students has yet again failed with flying colours.
A revolutionary approach must be taken to improving the educational system and ensuring that at least 90 per cent of all school leavers graduate with diplomas. As I have said before, in curbing school failure/dropouts, the MOE via the schools must:
- Immediately implement policy to bring an end to socially promoting students until they graduate since they most likely leave school without a basic education and become leading candidates for a criminal lifestyle;
- Enforce the mandatory 2.0 grade point average for movement to another grade;
- Cultivate a positive school climate and produce a relevant, Bahamian-centred curriculum. The ministry must align the curriculum with the developmental needs of the country in order to imbue a strong sense of self, to speak to nation-building, to address the question of self-reliance and entrepreneurship, to teach the Constitution, etc ;
- Encourage peer tutoring by offering stipends to more advanced students for tutoring rendered to their struggling peers;
- Recruit more remedial teachers;
- Further develop the educational programme and the training of prospective teachers at COB;
- Increase evaluations by psychological services for troubled students;
- Require all failing students to attend summer school;
- Limit the participation of those students who are inclined to become involved in extra-curricular activities but are unable to pass a test and/or are uninterested in completing homework or in school as a whole save for those sports and other extracurricular activities;
- Raise the pay of teachers and provide more incentives in order to recruit the best and brightest minds to the profession;
- Modernise classrooms and incorporate more technology, which the children of today are surrounded with at home and everywhere they go and that can be used as tools to foster learning. When will all classrooms be outfitted with promethean boards/cable tv/internet to foster interactive learning?;
- Reduce class sizes. This would allow for more one-on-one attention to be given to students by teachers. However, this would also call for the construction of more schools.
- Get rid of this concept of standardised testing. We must develop other means of assessment. Children learn differently. Embrace it. Not all students are academically inclined and, as a former educator, I know that some students would amaze you with their technical and vocational skills, but fail every exam put before them. Besides, the BGCSE is not recognized outside of The Bahamas!
- Hire, promote and/or recruit a new executive team at the MOE. Lionel Sands and his team have been an abysmal failure. Mr Sands has been one of the worst directors of education in the last 20 years. It is high time for Mr Sands and crew to be shipped out and that includes many of the current Deputy and Assistant Directors, District Superintendents, Senior Education Officers, etc. We need new ideas and a new direction for education in this country. Why are they still there?
- Find more strict means and ways of holding parents accountable. More often than not, some parents are too lax and unconcerned about their children’s education. They fail to attend PTA meetings, to meet with teachers privately, to assist the children with homework, to purchase the necessary work books and/or to even pick up report cards. This is nothing short of shameful.
- Complete the draft of the 2020 vision that is proposed to have been outlined for the ministry. How far is the bipartisan committee with these plans? It is needed now more than ever. No doubt, myself and others would certainly like to contribute to that;
- We need to launch a pilot school programme where those brightest students who are academically inclined go to a school much like the old Government High and those who are best at technical and vocational studies can go to a special school for that. I think the nation would be pleased with the long term results.
Last week, it was announced that Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) and Bahamas Junior Certificate (BJC) exam results were, once again, disappointing. In the BGCSE, in two key subject areas – mathematics and English – we saw a national average of an E and D+ respectively.
The BJC results were similar, with the average grade in English decreasing from C- last year to D- this year. The average mathematics score for the BJC exam was E+, down from the average of D+ in 2014.
What’s more, there was a decline in performance in six other subjects – bookkeeping and accounts, commerce, literature, music, office procedures and physics.
I am a former teacher. Though I am now an attorney, I will always be an educator and look forward to opportunities to interact with young people and to share knowledge, whether that is via community programmes and/or at the tertiary level. That love for education has led me to determine that I will resume formal teaching at the tertiary level on a part-time basis in the not-too-distant future.
Disappointingly, every year hordes of illiterate and innumerate youngsters, with no idea of where they are going, are being socially promoted and graduated with nothing to show for 12 or more years of seat-warming in a classroom. This cannot go on.
In 1992, the grade range was based upon a five-point letter grading scale ranging from A to E. When the BGCSE came about in 1993, that scale was revised so that a seven-point letter scale was introduced with grades A to G. An unclassified U grade is not officially part of the scale and can only be given when a student is absent for an exam – with a good cause – or when a student may have fallen below the minimum requirements.
Unfortunately, many Bahamian students are falling in the latter half of the seven-point grading. Under this scheme, an A means that students show an excellent grasp of the subject area; B, that the student shows comprehensive grasp; C, that a candidate shows a grasp; D, that a candidate shows a fairly good grasp; E, that a student shows moderate grasp; F, that a student shows limited grasp; and G, that a student shows very limited grasp.
No wonder mediocrity is accepted. The Ministry of Education’s (MOE) seven-point grading scale seems to provide students with a false sense of security.
Even as a trained educator, I’m curious as to how the MOE arrives at overall results which sometimes reflect pluses or minuses, particularly since the grading system is on a seven-point scale that doesn’t reflect pluses or minuses and, even more, when BGCSE/BJC result slips – once collected – only show straight letter grades with no pluses or minuses.
If the private schools were to be eliminated from the educational equation, the national average would actually be an E. Even more, if Family Island schools such as NGM Major and North Long Island High are not counted among the public schools, the average grade among Nassau schools could probably be an F or G.
It is perplexing that a small nation such as The Bahamas, that spends so much money on education, has one of the lowest national averages in the world. If the averages were quantified on the basis of a numerical grading scale, it would be equivalent to 1 or a 0.50 or zero point something-else. It is certainly nowhere near the 2.0 grade point average that students are expected to attain to pass their classes.
After I graduated high school in 2001, one of my classmates was dedicated enough to return because he had failed a few of his national examinations. This happened on Long Island where classes are relatively small, and while I am not suggesting that the same position be taken in the already jam-packed schools in Nassau, whether it is repeating until they attain the standard grades before advancing them or not, something must be done.
In countries such as Japan, students average A/B passes in their national examinations, and attend school for longer periods during the day. Why is it that it is required that nearly all students – without accounting for the multiple intelligences or different learning styles – must sit a standardised, national examination?
Like many discerning Bahamians, I am concerned about the poor performance of graduating students in the basic areas of literacy and numeracy. The BGCSE results show that we are failing as a nation, as we are producing youngsters who cannot function in a globalised world and whose academic qualifications do not meet the required standards for enrolment in any reputable tertiary institution, including the College of the Bahamas. There, students who were unsuccessful in the national exams must enter and pass continuing education prep classes before college enrolment.
With the exception of individual performances by a number of high flyers, when we take into account the overall performance we do not have much to celebrate. The D average, which the MOE refers to as the median grade, isn’t acknowledged by serious educational institutions or by certain sectors of the job market. And the E average is simply unseen and much worse. What’s more, our students are averaging Ds and Es in our core subject areas – maths and English. That is worrisome.
Frankly, another year of depressing results does not indicate the development or strength of our human capital or educational system. The fact that far less than 50 per cent of the thousands of annual high school graduates actually finish school with a diploma is indicative of our archaic educational system being fatally flawed and overly institutionalised. Clearly, the value for life and education has been relegated to the trenches when nearly 60 per cent of the nation’s high school graduates finished with attendance certificates instead of diplomas, for failing to meet a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 during six years of high school.
In the real world, D still means Dunce, Donkey or Dimwit, whether plus or minus. And E simply means empty!
As I stated in 2005, our educational system needs to be rigorously examined, beginning with the redrafting of the subject curriculums. Indeed, any inkling of a teacher-centred approach to education in the 21st century must be discarded, and replaced by a more student-centred curriculum that promotes active learning, takes into account the multiple intelligences and permits students to have direct experiences during lessons, while socialising in group settings with their peers.
I am convinced that the horrendous conditions of some schools, coupled with overcrowded classrooms, greatly contribute to the yearly failures in the national exams. Undoubtedly, teachers are better able to cater to the individual needs of each student when there are smaller classes per teacher.
When I attended elementary and secondary school in Long Island, I knew that parents and teachers worked co-operatively to ensure that students succeeded. However, having previously taught at public schools in Nassau, the parent-teacher relationship is, in many instances, far removed from that. A number of parents with children in public schools immediately need to overhaul their parenting skills and their approach to education, as they are negligent and unco-operative and pay little attention – if any – to their child’s educational development.
How is it that some parents can break the bank when sending their children to lavish proms, but “cry poor mouth” when they need books? How is it that some parents can line the streets and hotel parking lots during prom season, animatedly taking pictures and seeking to catch a glimpse of their child stylishly arriving for the ball, but then fail to attend PTA meetings, parent-teacher conferences and/or fail to even attempt to ascertain what how their child is performing?
Yes, there are many quality teachers. I know many of them. I have worked with many of them. However, just like in any profession, there are a few bad apples.
Awful teachers must be weeded out of the system. In fact, The Bahamas needs a separate institution that focuses solely upon teacher training, vis-à-vis the former Teacher’s Training College in San Salvador. Teachers, if interested in furthering their studies, can then go on and complete their graduate studies at the local college/university. Greater attention should be paid to the recruitment of prospective quality educators, as well as to the impartial evaluation of teachers, rendering constant feedback between the Ministry of Education and schools. Additionally, a reward system for meritorious teachers, beyond the bi-annual teacher of the year exercise, should be commenced.
We must bite the bullet and spend the money to develop our human capital. We cannot be cheap with our nation’s future. We have yet to receive a proper accounting of our VAT monies. We have yet to be told what exactly the monies collected from VAT is being used on. Building and properly outfitting schools and recruiting and offer incentives to prospective teachers should be high on the list. Teaching is the most impactful profession, impacting all others.
I cannot write an entire column on education without congratulating my boy Brian McDonald.
Brian is the father of 2015 All-Bahamas Merit Scholar Domonic and his twin brother Donovan, a National Merit Scholar. Domonic received a $150,000 scholarship and Donovan received $80,000, with these young men deciding to study together at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.
As I have done with Brian privately, I now publicly congratulate him and the boys (and, of course, their mother Constance).
Moreover, on behalf of the barbershop crew Jerome “Stout” Missick and the Ultimate Choice family – where we all get our hair cut – congratulations!
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