When the national exam results came out in January, they were declared a success… by the Ministry of Education, at least.
Not so much of a success for the students involved, though. Their grades took a dive – but it was the fact the examinations were held at all that was deemed a success, given the difficulties with the pandemic.
Well done. Have a pat on the head. In the real world, of course, what matters is what the students can take with them when they go looking for a college place or a job – and those nosediving grades are a problem not just for the students, but for the companies that want to employ them.
Take AID, a long-standing Bahamian retailer. It has just expanded – no mean feat in these times of COVID-19 – and opened a new store in Harbour Bay. It is also aiming to reopen a reconstructed Blue Hill Road site in June, and a new store in Abaco – very much an investment needed on that hurricane-hit island.
So what was the company’s biggest obstacle? Finding workers who had “basic Maths and English”.
The president of AID told The Tribune: “The biggest problem we really have is finding persons that are suitable. A lot of times, when we bring them in to be tested, the test scores may be too low so it’s difficult to hire those persons.
“It’s a big, big problem for us and everyone else. The level of education is a big obstacle right now. We have a lot of young people we’d like to hire, and the test we give is not too difficult, but if they don’t get a certain score we’re not able to hire them as they don’t have the basic Maths and English to be able to function in our environment.”
It sounds like a really simple, basic problem – and it is. Now of course schools aren’t just there to prepare people for work – they should be there to help a young person flourish in whatever avenue of life they find themselves in. But if we’re not even equipping them with the basics, then we’re failing them before they even get a chance to start.
AID isn’t looking for the highest of qualifications, just enough to get the job done. No rocket scientists or doctorates required. And if we can’t even provide that – at a time when unemployment is at an all-time high so there’s a glut of potential candidates – then what are we even doing with our education system?
Teachers should be showing this story to their students and saying you see, this is why it’s important. Parents should be telling their children that if only they master the basics they’re already one step ahead of their peers.
AID is not alone – many employers will tell the same story of finding it hard to recruit staff with the right skills. There are knock-on effects of that – businesses get held back, companies turn to foreign recruits, and so on.
But the seeds of that start in our education system. It’s not good enough – no matter how much officials may pat themselves on the back about holding an examination on time.
The Public Disclosures Commission should be one of the jewels of our crown when it comes to fighting corruption. It’s a simple matter – parliamentarians are supposed to declare their assets, so that there is a transparency about their finances.
There are deadlines to meet, and penalties that can be imposed if parliamentarians fail to do so. The Tribune has kept parliamentarians’ feet to the fire about the issue – even when it seemed the commission itself was moving in slow motion.
The commission chairman, Myles Laroda, wants the group to be independent of the government, to give it the teeth it needs. We would be more comfortable in encouraging such a thing if the teeth it’s already got were being used, but they seldom are.
The FNM had promised to amend the Public Disclosure Act in its 2017 manifesto… but that hasn’t happened. A Bill has been tabled, but no debate has been set.
Now a lot of this might seem like it’s an issue inside politics of little matter to the world outside – but it can play a part in ensuring politicians don’t use their post to make themselves richer. It can help to show if they’re serving you – or serving their wallet.
It doesn’t work right now the way it should – although it could if those in power paid the proper attention to it. Is reform needed? Perhaps. But what is needed most of all is respecting the rules and imposing the penalties available if the rules aren’t followed. Coming up with a new set of rules isn’t going to make any difference if they just get ignored too.