By MALCOLM STRACHAN
WITH the publication of the national exam results at the beginning of the year, one thing is apparent. The performance of Bahamian children in these examinations continues to trend in the wrong direction. Of the 6,073 students who sat the Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) exams, only 365 – an incredibly low six percent – received at least a grade C in five subjects.
Minister of Education Jeff Lloyd, nonetheless, along with other education officials, touted this year’s round of exams a success. Certainly, the ministry being able to pull it off in a year that sidelined normal life was a notable feat. But the conversation we’re having isn’t about our ability to host an event, even if something was to be gained from doing so in such challenging times.
No, my friends. We’re talking about building the next generation. Such a goal requires us to set a different standard and, perhaps consider a different system by which to achieve that standard.
Long before Lloyd became the Education Minister, our system was riddled with shortcomings – something he was very aware of prior to being elected to Parliament and selected as a member of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet.
And while things look a lot different outside of government than they do once you’re a part of the exclusive club, credibility is everything. For the minister, one of the more respected candidates during the Free National Movement’s 2017 election run for his work in the media - and more importantly in community development - the “cup half-full” point of view was not appreciated by many Bahamians.
One such Bahamian was unsurprisingly Lloyd’s arch-nemesis since becoming the minister, Bahamas Teachers’ Union president Belinda Wilson.
Labelling the exam results “nothing short of a disgrace”, Wilson did not mince words expressing her disapproval as she referenced the challenges of offering consultation in the area of education reform.
“They ignore when they are given good advice and their whole attitude is contemptuous toward new ideas and initiatives,” Wilson stated. “So, as long as the Ministry of Education and the Department of Education continue their modus operandi, they will continue to be on the defence. The sad part about it is that our children, at the end of the day, are the ones who are being negatively impacted.”
She is certainly correct about our children being the ones who will suffer from our inability to shift the paradigm. And for Lloyd’s part, government’s penchant to manage their image rather than address the heart of the issues make them an easy target – something we’ve come to accept as the nature of our politics. The numbers don’t lie.
Between 2015 to 2020, students passing with Cs in at least five subjects totalled 961, 903, 880, 806, 760 and 365, respectively. While the large decline in metrics of what may mark decent success can be attributed to an incredibly stressful year, our national exams results portend one of two things.
Either our children are just not intelligent enough or the system is broken, to which I would like to believe it is the latter.
Two researchers from Newcastle University, England, would agree. Their work in 2015 led them to examine a report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which determined that even with increased use of technology in the classroom, without revamping the system, educational outcomes would likely not improve.
Our attachment to our colonial past continues to be an impediment to our progress to the extent we are watching thousands of kids move through the system largely failing national exams. Matriculating through an educational system that rewards memorisation over problem solving and critical thinking does not prepare our future generations for life. At the end of the day, despite education officials trying to make the best of a bad situation, we cannot discredit what that says to a young person - simply put, you are not good enough.
Without anyone being able to give one good reason as to why we are disinclined to reform our education system. An excerpt from Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd’s statement outlining the Free National Movement’s “aggressive education reforms” – something we thought he would champion and still believe he is very capable of spearheading.
He said: “The FNM believes educational improvements must rise to the top of the government’s list of priorities, for reasons that are two-fold though intertwined. Most importantly we know a quality education leads to future opportunities and growth, giving our children the keys to unlock their unlimited potential. We also need to position ourselves for the increasingly competitive global markets, which require a workforce-ready nation.”
Notwithstanding his push to increase the use of technology in schools, as noted from the OECD study mentioned above, without taking a closer look at our pedagogies, the effect of technology will hardly be felt.
In that same statement, he went on to say, “Satisfying this requisite will lead to new investments in our country, strengthen our existing industries, diversify the economy and create new jobs for Bahamians. The people deserve a government that realises the significance of improving our educational system with the will to pursue and enact long-overdue reforms.”
It is nearing four years since the FNM has been the government and by all indications, even if there was not a COVID-19 pandemic, there is not much belief that we would not have seen a decline in the exam results.
Ironically, this instructive moment should serve as an inflection point.
As a man who many believe means well and whose heart is in the right place when it comes to our nation’s youth, the challenge is clear. Do what you said you would do – reform our education system and ensure our youth are prepared to compete at a high level in the global marketplace.
Anything less and we will truly be discussing failure.