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A 'National Disaster' For Jobs And Growth

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The 2018 decline in already-troubling education standards "is a national disaster" for Bahamian economic growth and employment prospects, governance reformers warned yesterday.

Robert Myers, the Organisation for Responsible Governance's (ORG) principal, told Tribune Business that The Bahamas can no longer afford to "sugar coat" and "band aid" poor educational achievement that has resulted in 70 percent of high school leavers graduating with poor to non-existent literacy and numeracy skills.

He said 2018 BGCSE results, which revealed a marginally worse performance than the prior year, provided another reminder of how poor workforce productivity continued to prevent the Bahamian economy from fulfilling its true potential.

Mr Myers, in particular, focused on the number of graduates obtaining a "C" grade or better in each of English Language, Mathematics and a science as the best indicator of how strong high school leavers are in the "core skills" - literacy and numeracy.

This number fell from 588 in 2014 to 570 the following year, before registering a slight increase to 574 in 2016. The latter year, however, seems to have proven a blip as the number of graduates obtaining a "C" in each of those three subjects fell further to 521 in 2017 before dropping again to 490 this year.

The ORG principal said this represented a near-17 percent, or almost 100-strong, decline over the five-year period, and suggested that an "already significant problem" with the education system's output was becoming worse.

"It's the wrong way. It's not going in the right direction," he told Tribune Business. "These are core subjects, and on these three we're seeing significant slippage. It's already a significant problem, and we've identified it as a major growth problem for GDP.

"GDP can only be improved by higher productivity and a more productive workforce, increased foreign direct investment (FDI) or mechanisation, automation and technology. A more productive workforce comes from a more educated workforce.

"If 70 percent of graduating students have a 'D-' or lower it makes it harder for the private sector to train that workforce. You're struggling with low literacy and numeracy skills. It's hard to get upward mobility; it's harder for the private sector to grow their business and get upward mobility out of their workforce."

Bahamian GDP growth has averaged less than one percent for the past decade, but is forecast to receive a boost from Baha Mar's completion and opening that will take this year's expansion beyond two percent.

That, though, was before the 12 percent VAT hike and other budget-related tax increases, and Mr Myers urged the Ministry of Education to provide more detail on the BGCSE and BJC exam performance to enable better understanding of whether the Bahamas is making progress in fixing its educational woes.

"This is not time for sugar coating things," he told Tribune Business of the 2018 results. "You have more people taking it, but that's because you have population growth. We've got to take off the band aids and fix this country.

"Sugar coating is not what the country needs. We've had smoke blown up our backsides for 40 years. It's time to roll-up our sleeves and do some work. You can't expect under-educated people to drive business; it's hard enough for them to make a living.

"When you have 70 percent of the workforce under-educated, it's not surprising GDP growth is averaging below 1 percent..... We have a big growth problem, a massive problem. It's a national disaster. Apart from the cost and ease of doing business, the education factor and skills gap is the biggest problem this country has. Businesses can't find quality people to grow."

ORG is itself moving to change this situation through its hosting, in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour, or a National Symposium on Skills Development on September 17 at the Gladstone Road-based National Training Agency (NTA).

The advocacy group, in documents promoting the conference, reiterated: "It is widely recognised among the key sectors that a significant gap exists between the current and future labour needs in The Bahamas and the skills of the local workforce.

"Bahamian employers regularly struggle to find sufficient staff with the necessary technical and soft skills. The long-standing negative impact of this disparity has critically limited growth of the private sector and, subsequently, the economic development of the nation. Understanding and addressing this skills gap must be given immediate priority to avoid the risk of further economic deterioration.

"Additionally, reduction of the skills gap in The Bahamas will provide a critical and necessary step toward improving ease of doing business; the expansion of the private sector; and growth of The Bahamas' Gross Domestic Product."

Mr Myers yesterday said the symposium will focus "on the whole gamut of skills to say: 'Where are these gaps?" Besides the core skills of literacy and numeracy, the event will also analyse so-called "soft skills" such as communications and conflict resolution, plus industry-specific skills.

The findings. he added, would enable the creation of programmes to address these "gaps" and improve employment prospects, competitiveness and employability among the Bahamian workforce.

Mr Myers said ORG's analysis of the 2016 BGCSE results had shown around 42 percent and 38 percent of graduating students, respectively, had "good to fair competencies" in literacy and numeracy. Those with "low" and "no" capacity numbered around 35-36 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

He explained, though, that the percentage leaving with "low to no" literacy and numeracy capacity increased to 70 percent when high school "drop outs" were included in the analysis. Mr Myers said the latter category were not included in the Ministry of Education's figures, but pointed to the 5,000-person difference between the 11,000 who sat BJCs and 6,000 who took BGCSEs.

"What we're worried about is the 70 percent failing literacy and numeracy," he told Tribune Business. "What we're not seeing is the drop outs; the number that flunk out... There's some 5,000 people that don't make it through high school.

"We don't know what skill levels they have. That's where the 70 percent comes from. They're still out there, sitting on the walls and doing God knows what. That's why we have such high 30 percent unemployment among the youth."

Mr Myers said this week's Ministry of Education release on the 2018 exam results was "opaque", and more data was needed to provide a greater insight in student achievement and the quality of education outcomes.

Warning against drawing final conclusions based on the release, he added that ORG was working with the Ministry of Education to obtain more complete data that was "constructive" and "usable".

"The Ministry of Education is working to provide more specific and detailed data," Mr Myers said.

Comments

sheeprunner12 2 weeks ago

The BGCSE examination is geared to allow 25% of the candidates to get A-C grades ....... unlike the old GCE (and the present CXC) that catered to the top 10% ............ Go figger.

The vast majority of Bahamian students are not academically-inclined ......... but our educational system would not adapt to the reality of our children's true potential. The post-primary public schools are still Pindling's "one-size-fits-all" brickhouses from the 1960s and 1970s.

Stop believing that ALL students can get an A,B, or C. Why do these experts stop talking nonsense about basing our human resource potential on just exam grades ........ Smh.

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mandela 2 weeks ago

We are really in for a long very hard ride. The education system usually gets blamed, but how many PARENTS show interest in their children's education? I would say for sure the children who become A to C in their exams or certificates, that is 25% of parents, the other 75% of parents don't give a #$%^ hoot about their children's education, if they did, then directly after school is out you wouldn't see these children running around in the road or elsewhere getting into trouble and being idle, instead parents should with their children be going over what was learned that day and controlling that they understood what was taught that day before any playing is allowed. Now here is why we are really in trouble we now have generations of D average parents and so they are producing D average children. The problems are not the education system or teachers it's the parents. If the parents don't step their game up nothing will change as a matter of fact they will only get worst

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ThisIsOurs 2 weeks ago

@sheeprunner I dont think youre correct about the vast majority not being academically inclined. I think the problem is they're told over and over again that they cant so they dont. They dont even try. There's nothing different about the way the Bahamian brains work. We have all the neurons and synapses everyone around the world does. The difference is in how we think about the possibilities. Now once that child gets beyond 9/10, yes it will be more difficult for them to get on an academic track but its not impossible. They just need something theyre interested in and someone genuinely interested in them achieving academically. And no thats not easily done.

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bogart 2 weeks ago

@Mandela....you are getting it....there are a number of issues involved.....but just to point out that Bahamian cream of the crop after all the taxpayers money spent on putting all children through the system making provisions for growth.....there are ferreign agencies actually setting up shop in the Bahamas.....not only physical presence....but innternet ...that solicit...contact....encourage...provide...free schlorships....all the perks for the cream of Bahamian future....to go to their foreign institutions....then once there....Bahamian students doing excellent are solicited to be ...employed abroad....which becomes the ticket with Bahamians ....voting wid dere feet and moving abroad....stead of dealing with same problems one govt to another..both sides of same coin...pore.....rich gap widening..an paying increasing taxes

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John 1 week, 6 days ago

When you look at Family Island exam results separately, you will notice that there is a better performance on the exams. Part of the problem, in New Providence especially, is ‘noise’ that interferes with the learning process. Even starting with the home, many students don’t even gat proper meals. Some live in an environment with no light or running water. Then they have to deal with situations in their community, with drugs, with gang violence and yes even with murder. Some losing school mates or even class mates and yes even family members to murder or other tragedy. And then still students are also exposed to the day to Day problems that adults face: the politics, the city dump burning, the power outages, the traffic congestion. and all the negative publicity given to Bahamians. The Minister of Education has suggested separation of boys and girls in classrooms. But that may be a non issue or at least not a big issue. But what government may need to consider is creating boarding schools for some students who are preparing to sit these exams. They enter the school two years prior to sitting the exams and leave after taking them. They can eithther go home every weekend, one weekend a month or at the end of each term. But something has to be done to arrest the deteriorating exam results. It may even be an idea to create these boarding schools on some family islands. Then they can also spur economic activity for those islands. The least that needs to be done is to sit on your hands and just complain.

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Porcupine 1 week, 6 days ago

Has this country ever put ample and abundant resources into education, the only way to truly bring up a country? Class size should never be over 10 pupils. I said this to a teacher the other day and she acted like I was asking for the moon. We simply have never put our money where our mouths are. When I heard a politician say that this country spends up to 600 MILLION DOLLARS at the web shops, everything else that isn't working in this country came into focus. And, we complain that we have stupid leaders? Well, who the hell put them there? Stupid voters. Nothing else can improve in this country, until education improves. Well, except for the web shop revenue. That really shows an educated populace too, doesn't it.

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hrysippus 1 week, 6 days ago

Interesting study of twins and academic achievement reported on the BBC web site. The study concludes that the major factor in academic achievement is inherited genes. We are a country graduating students with sadly low grades as a result of our genes. It is time to stop blaming the. Teachers, the government, or the environment. That Canadian banker that got run out the country for his unpopular remarks was correct after all. There is no solution presently available fo this problem.

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OMG 1 week, 6 days ago

As a long serving teacher it is often obvious that parents that care often have children that do well. So many times have I seen boys in particular playing basketball at 11.30 pm when they have a BGCSE exam the next day. Extra curricular activities from Bands ,Sports,visiting speakers and "fun days" all deprive students of valuable learning time. Finally why did the previous deputy Director of Education go to such lengths to recruit Cuban teachers when the teaching talent existed here. Cuban teachers rarely integrate into the community, spend as little as possible,have no real reason to perform as they go home at the end of a contract with I phones, tools and other goodies whatever their results.

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sheeprunner12 1 week, 6 days ago

Bahamian girls far outperform boys on external exams ....... more girls graduate from high school ........ more girls go to college ............ Yet males make 20% more on average income than females in the workplace ...... That is the conundrum of Bahamian education and employment outcomes.

Until education outcomes really affect how adults acquire jobs, we will keep the public/private school status quo ....... 60% of those who go to college overseas NEVER return home to help build this country.

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ThisIsOurs 1 week, 5 days ago

"As a long serving teacher it is often obvious that parents that care often have children that do well"

Agree! Yes some children have inherited talent, but for the others not so gifted, having parents who guide them in the learning process can help overcome most educational challenges

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PatMac 1 week, 6 days ago

If they think productivity is based or even judged on passing 3 exams with c or better then the ppl with literacy issues aren't limited to the kids!!! Especially if ya ga blame lack of productivity on these children without considering their lackluster and no talent having bosses and business owners.

I'm confident that the number of persons in the workforce with degrees has increased over the decades. Bachelors degree is entry level in banks now. Before it was 5 GCEs. So some of these 70% children must be improving themselves after graduation. I did and became a valedictorian at COB and went on to obtain other designations.

Mr. Myers should consider the math himself and stop using limited data to make conclusions about complex subjects.

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TheMadHatter 1 week, 6 days ago

It's amazing how so many on here step up to defend our insane education system like they were defending the bread and wine at Sunday service.

The majority of children in the Bahamas are merely the bi-products of sexual activity, with the lack of forethought energetically encouraged by the Church.

Every dollar put in a church "plate" ends up costing our society at least $3 in lost productivity, lost opportunity, and social services (if such losses and human suffering can even have a price placed on them). What is the price of the life of a 7-year old killed in a drive-by shooting? I don't know. But go ahead, keep putting money in the plates, and keep getting the same results. 45 years now and counting.

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BONEFISH 1 week, 5 days ago

Education is not valued in the Bahamas because you can make a good living in this economy without being highly educated. I read this saying by the late Paul Adderley. Desmond Bannister told Dr.Ian Strachan this on a tv show.Athletics and education are not as important in the Bahamas as it is other caribbean islands because of the structure of our economy. That is the view of many persons in this country.

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John 1 week, 4 days ago

@hrysippus: your remarks boarders on racism. But in fact people can be conditioned learn as they can also be conditioned not to learn. And when one mentioned slavery and the fact that during that 400 year period, Black people (slaves) were punished and even put to death for learning to read. And many went through their lives pretending to be dumb. Then there is a school in a family island where every child learns to play a musical instrument before they graduate. And part of the graduation experience is performing in the school band. Meaning if students are put in an environment where they have to learn and under the right conditions, then they will learn. And a study of the US school system showed that monies were not given to schools based on need, but how affluent the areas in which they were located. So whilst the inner city schools were crum and lacking basic equipment, some rural schools could leave the lights and a/c on 24/7. And of course these school got better exam results. They also attracted the better teachers and faculty. And another part of the poor exam results is students determine if they want to take the exams, not the school. At one time a student had to take mick exams and get good grades in order to take the BGCSE.

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hrysippus 1 week, 4 days ago

Hey, Johnny, go read the study before you accuse anyone of racism. I was quoting an article published by the BBC. The article reported an a study that showed that academic achievement is mostly inherited. How you get from this to accusing someone of racism is puzzling. But you past posts have demonstrated the way you can twist things in your mind.

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ExcellentExcellent 1 week, 4 days ago

I am glad that even Minister Roker is sorry for creating this problem in the 80's when he drove away all the good (and some bad) foreign teachers by tearing up their work permits, on stage, for political gain.

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John 1 week, 4 days ago

@hypissonus: so you knew exactly what your intentions were when you quoted (or misquoted) the ‘article’. Your attack on me does not make you any more credible or your intentions any more better. You are constantly spewing out resist remarks or degrading Bahamians. So one must wonder about you. Always. Your name says it all.

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John 1 week, 4 days ago

Your comments are always racist or anti-Bahamian if only in their undertone.

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