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Education Woes Leave ‘Blind Leading Blind’

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Bahamian education system’s woes have created sub-standard management throughout the Government and private sector, resulting in “the blind leading the blind”.

Robert Myers, a former Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) chairman, told Tribune Business that many businesses and public sector agencies were forced to persist with below par management “as it’s all we’ve got”.

He linked this both to the education system’s relatively poor output, and issues with corruption, waste and inefficiency in many government departments that have been highlighted in recent Auditor-General reports.

While acknowledging that the $20 million Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) project to enhance Bahamian workforce skills and job matching “may be along the right lines”, Mr Myers said more was required to address labour productivity.

“You can’t just throw money at it,” he told Tribune Business. “Education is something deep-rooted, and unemployment is specific to it.

“You’ve got to have a certain skill set in order to attain employment, and there are concerns with the connection of baseline skill sets to our unemployment problem.

“Do they [the unemployed] have the cognitive ability to learn the types of things required of them in the modern workforce?,” Mr Myers asked.

“With GPAs (grade point averages) being what they are, I’m not sure that’s the case - that they have the cognitive ability to be gainfully employed in the modern workforce.”

Mr Myers is one of the principals behind the newly-formed Organisation for Responsible Governance (ORG), a non-profit group aiming to boost transparency and accountability in Bahamian governance and society.

Education is one of ORG’s key issues, and Mr Myers said the private sector continuously suffered the consequences of school leavers ill-prepared for workplace demands.

“Speaking from our own experience in business, we’re challenged daily by that mediocrity,” he explained. “It’s not that they’re bad people; they’re great employees, but they don’t have the baseline skills coming out of school to advance them in the modern workforce.”

Mr Myers said this also impacted Bahamian governance, and the quality of government decision-making, services and their delivery.

“There’s a capacity issue in Bahamian governance and management,” he told Tribune Business. “In many respects, you have the blind leading the blind.

“Because there have been systematic problems in education for so many years, we have sub-standard management on so many levels.

“We can see that appearing with the corruption and mismanagement in government departments that you are all writing about now.

“If you lower the standards of education overall, in any modern society all these things are going to be affected.”

A key component of this initiative is the design of an apprenticeship programme that will benefit between 1,500 to 3,000 young Bahamians.

It will be targeted at the unemployed and school leavers, and is focused on the 16-29 year-old age group in bid to cut a 30 per cent jobless rate among young Bahamians.

The programme will provide 80 per cent “on-the-job” training, with just 20 per cent of the time spent in the classroom. And it will be linked to a pre-apprenticeship initiative under the Government’s National Training Agency (NTA), which will focus on improving ‘soft skills’, especially numeracy and literacy.

A key component of the $20 million, IDB-financed initiative is the design of an apprenticeship programme that will benefit between 1,500 to 3,000 young Bahamians.

It will be targeted at the unemployed and school leavers, and is focused on the 16-29 year-old age group in bid to cut a 30 per cent jobless rate among young Bahamians.

The programme will provide 80 per cent “on-the-job” training, with just 20 per cent of the time spent in the classroom. And it will be linked to a pre-apprenticeship initiative under the Government’s National Training Agency (NTA), which will focus on improving ‘soft skills’, especially numeracy and literacy.

Mr Myers, though, said that while the Bahamas could “mimick other jurisdictions”, the apprenticeship initiative would do little - at least in the short-term - to improve private and public sector management.

“The same issue exists; filling with sub-standard management, as that’s all we’ve got,” he added.

Businesses have complained to Tribune Business in the past about what they perceive as a “dearth of middle management talent” in the Bahamas, and the negative impact this has on operational efficiency.

All companies rely heavily on middle management for their smooth functioning, and ability to execute on corporate strategy, and its absence - at least in sufficient quantities - both holds back private sector expansion and forces companies to hire more expatriate labour than designed.

Similar issues exist in the public sector. A former Cabinet minister previously told Tribune Business that a lack of public sector management talent inevitably forced ministers to become involved in the day-to-day running of their ministries, rather than remaining above this at the policy level.

Mr Myers told Tribune Business this meant the Bahamas enjoyed “poor to mediocre results at best”, due to ministries and companies being “poorly managed down the line”.

“It’s the same across the board,” he said. “We’re seeing that in leadership, we’re seeing it in business, we’re seeing it in governance.

“If we have mediocre management in these departments and agencies, the Government can talk about efficiency all they want, but it’s not going to happen if we don’t have the right people on the bus.

“If the boss starts tiefin’, everyone else below him starts tiefin’, and then you’ve got a problem. What we say is: ‘Monkey see, money do. If the top is tiefin’, the bottom will, too’.”

The Auditor-General has recently exposed corruption, fraud, waste and inefficiency at key government departments such as Road Traffic and Social Services, with Mr Myers and ORG believing that these problems stem at least partly from poor management and educational achievement.

In a recent position paper on education, ORG warned that the Bahamas risks becoming “a failed state in less than 10 years” because around 70 per cent of its population “will be challenged” to obtain well-paying jobs due to educational under-achievement.

ORG warned that this “educational imbalance” had created an unhealthy ‘wealth gap’ in Bahamian society, with a largely “semi-literate and semi-numerate” workforce lacking upward mobility.

This, in turn, was undermining productivity and restricting gross domestic product (economic) growth.

Based on 2012 BGCSE data, the ORG said that just 1,281 out of 7,117 students tested, achieved ‘A’ or ‘B’ grades.

This, it warned, translated into just 18 per cent of high school leavers being suitably qualified for higher education.

And, with the ‘brain drain’ stemming from a lack of economic opportunity at home, the ORG position paper added that this further undermined the prospects for “sustaining strong economic growth”.

Comments

sheeprunner12 3 years, 5 months ago

It has nothing to do with how many children got A and B in exams ......... it has to do with what has been preached to the first generation of students after Majority Rule by Pindling, the drug era and now by the sense of entitlement in the second generation after Majority Rule ......... our collective work ethic in The Bahamas could be described as......... "before" and "after" 1967.

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newcitizen 3 years, 5 months ago

You are absolutely correct about the before and after of work ethic.

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John 3 years, 5 months ago

The biggest problem is keeping the intelligent and educated Bahamians home. How can you tell a person with two degrees making 1/4 million to come home to earn half of that or to get a token government job where these will be political interference and a limited chance to advance? How can you tell qualified Bahamians to come back home when their children are earning more than persons who they graduated with and left back home? How do you expect professionals to return to a country where everything is run by politics and favoritism and the system is barely functional? Why return to invest in a country that favors foreigners and discriminates against its own. But one day these Bahamians will return home. And they will take those who have stifled the system and kept Bahamians back out of power. All of them must go so they can rebuild the system. Education too!

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sheeprunner12 3 years, 5 months ago

John there is one thing that you are forgetting .......... MOST of those 10% who leave our country each year to go off to school and get a college education were educated at PRIVATE schools that are subsidized by the Bahamian taxpayer ......... and secondly, MOST of these "smart" Bahamians leave on scholarships that are either directly or indirectly subsidized by the Bahamian taxpayer .......... these 10% who are considered the "smart" students should be more than willing to return to help build their country (that assisted them to excel) ....... otherwise it shows a high level of elitist, personal, selfish ingratitude towards the country ............ the poor and oppressed should not continue to subsidize the elite if we are to grow as a progressive country

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newcitizen 3 years, 5 months ago

The private schools in this country are not subsidized by Bahamian taxes, and they are not given subsidized scholarships.

The don't return because their is nothing here for them. Why should they come back and suffer because no one in the country gives cares about where it's headed.

They have succeeded despite the best efforts of our system to keep them dumb and ignorant. They should run as fast and as far away as they can so as not to be pulled back down by the other crabs.

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sheeprunner12 3 years, 5 months ago

Newcitizen .......... with all due respect because I do not personally know you ......... that is a dumbass statement ......... the government subsidizes the private schools over $15 million per year ....... at least 80% of the top scholarship awards go to private school students every year ....... where do you live????????? ........ BTW: many of the "private schools" are actually inferior to the top performing public schools as well

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sheeprunner12 3 years, 5 months ago

Newcitizen .......... with all due respect because I do not personally know you ......... that is a dumbass statement ......... the government subsidizes the private schools over $15 million per year ....... at least 80% of the top scholarship awards go to private school students every year ....... where do you live?????????

........ BTW: many of the "private schools" are actually inferior to the top performing public schools as well ............ and if we use US standards, should not be subsidized

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bogart 3 years, 5 months ago

Sheeprunner12 your comments are correct,insightful and on a higher intellectual level in stating that the government subsidizes private schools and other points like ingratitude etc. You know what you are talking. The one school which carries the highest school fees is one in the eastern district which as policy for years does not accept govt subsidy.. A concern of the taxpayer should be the size of the large Education Budget which I believe is of some 290 million plus additional funding for some 60,000 students which when divided is some $1,611. per term and is somewhere about the second highest when compared to the private system. An overhaul of the present Govt system is needed. Currently taxpayers are paying twice in paying for a separate private school system with limited govt subsidies plus their taxes are also going to pay for the govt school system. Another concern should also be that being taxpayers for years and given the results what would you recommend the govt do going forward?

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