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Bahamas urged to ‘get serious on education fix’

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Peter Goudie

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Bahamas was yesterday urged “to get serious about fixing” its long-standing education crisis amid private sector fears that it will continue to undermine workforce productivity and economic competitiveness.

Peter Goudie, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) labour division head, told Tribune Business that the business community continues to be “very concerned” about the public education system’s output after just 13 percent of students obtained five BGCSE grades of ‘C’ or higher in this summer’s exams.

“That is a question that doesn’t need to be asked,” he replied to this newspaper’s inquiries. “Everybody’s concerned. They keep talking about reforming the education system, but it’s going to take years to fix it and that will only be if someone wants to fix it. 

“In many ways, social progression has to be stopped and people have to pass into the next grade. Yes, we’re very concerned. Of course we are. If people are not coming out with better than a ‘D-’ average, we have a problem. The thing is the Ministry of Education has got to get serious about fixing the problem, and also the private sector is worried about people with these grade averages and how much it’s going to affect our productivity.”

Some 633 students gained five BGCSE grades that were ‘C’ or higher out of 4,906 total students who sat the exams this summer. That, though, was hailed by Ministry of Education officials as a 15 percent increase over the prior year when just 550 met this benchmark.

Mr Goudie, who is among the private sector representatives on the National Tripartite Council, the body that deals with all labour-related matters in The Bahamas, said productivity-related concerns surrounding the quality of public high school graduates - their skills, knowledge and suitability for the work environment - were why a Productivity Council had been included in this nation’s Decent Work country programme.

That has been approved by the Government, and he added that an apprenticeship initiative is also planned. Both that and the Productivity Council, though, await the necessary funding from the Government and there has been no indication yet on how or when this will be forthcoming.

“We’ve got to have people coming out of school with enough education to be productive,” Mr Goudie reiterated. “We’re going to have a problem. We’re going to have a problem if we can’t increase productivity. Anyone can figure that out. It’s very urgent.

“We’ve talked about reforming the education system for years, but it has not been done. Until someone gets serious we’re not going to get anywhere. All you have to do is ask yourself how long have we had a ‘D-’ average on the BGCSE. That’s all you have to ask yourself. That’s not acceptable. We’re in trouble.”

A highly-educated, skilled and agile workforce is critical to The Bahamas’ economic prospects in the service-oriented export industries in which it competes as an international business and financial centre, focused on tourism and financial services. Yet every year there have been concerns over how many of the estimated annual 5,000 high school leavers, especially those entering the workforce, will find gainful employment.

Some 392 students, or just 7.99 percent of those that took the BGCSEs this summer, earned a ‘C’ or higher in maths, English and a science, further serving to highlight concerns about the literacy and numeracy levels of high school graduates. Another 952, or 19.4 percent, gained a minimum ‘D’ grade in at least five subjects. The results came as Sandals Royal Bahamian prepares to hold a job fair tomorrow seeking 60 Bahamian recruits to fill a variety of posts. 

The results show that little to nothing has changed since the private sector’s Coalition for Education Reform produced its 2005 report, drawn up by economist Ralph Massey, which revealed that the average mean math and English BGCSE grades for 2004 were ‘E’ and ‘D-’ respectively.

Highlighting real-life examples of functional literacy, or the lack of it, among Bahamian job seekers, the report said: “A recent high school graduate in a beginning class at the Bahamas Technical & Vocational Institute answered ‘22’ to the question ‘What does 2 times 2 equal?’ The next question ‘What does 7 times 7 equal?’ was answered ‘14’.

“A Bahamian executive makes it a practice to interview all job candidates in his departments; and during each interview he always leaves the office and asks the candidate to write a brief paragraph that includes his name and a description of his education and/or work experience. Invariably the applicant cannot write a paragraph with clear sentences, correctly arranged and with minimal spelling errors.”

Turning to the economic implications, the Coalition’s report added: “The Bahamian businessman cannot help but agree with the BGCSE report that the overall level of academic achievement of high school graduates is ‘totally unacceptable’.

“He cannot help but worry about a world that is becoming ever more ‘knowledge driven’. Improvements in productivity can come with the adoption of new technologies that require increased worker and managerial skills, and survival may be possible only by exploiting new service industries requiring greater job skills. In discussing the BGCSE reports and the untapped resource, one can only conclude that something significant must be done with the Bahamian educational system.”

Comments

JokeyJack 1 year, 10 months ago

The curriculum (topics needed to know) for the BJC and the BGCSE are TOO BIG. There is no way to cover all of those topics in a sensible manner during the 2 year period. Teacher have to RUSH through topics, so that they can say they "covered" them - which is a real joke. Then in the 2nd year they "review" them - but you can't review something that you never learned in the first place.

Of course, those who make the exams work in CYA mode because they don't want anyone to ask them why a certain topic wasn't included. As a result, in our quest to make our students learn EVERYthing - they end up learning NOthing, in order to please office workers in Nassau so that they can "Yes, it's on the list". The result is our kids are "on the list" of failures.

Porcupine 1 year, 10 months ago

Sorry Jokey, but this is a national failure. From top to bottom, there is no excuse for the educational level of this country. Period. haven't we heard this "testing" excuse before? We are competing on a global scale and not 1 in a 100 graduates can write a flipping sentence or count change. What happened to parents?

Porcupine 1 year, 10 months ago

It doesn't take much traveling or awareness to realize that the national problem of education starts at home. The sad part is that the shit is about to hit the fan this generation. Our natural resources are being depleted, sea levels are rising, and hurricanes are becoming more frequent and stronger. We will witness more dramatic changes to this country in the next 15-20 years than have happened in our history. Math, English and other subjects are absolutely essential to getting a job. However, the greatest deficit is in critical thinking skills. As a nation, due specifically to our appalling lack of dedication to improving our citizens minds, we continue to be challenged by adult problems, and have little to solve them with other than a child's mentality. And, the real problem is that an uneducated populace cannot even see how this is happening. Ignorance and superstition reign supreme. The pastors and politicians don't care if this ever changes. If we become people who can think for ourselves, how many of our current pastors and politicians would have a job?.

OMG 1 year, 10 months ago

Where to start. You have on one island a District Superintendent who was a lousy classroom teacher, with poor BGCSE exam results yet was rapidly promoted. You have new principals who are sometimes promoted because of their charm/gift of the gab or political affiliation. You have successful practical courses shut down because lack of teachers or hiring Cubans with absolutely NO experience of teaching that subject or have difficulty speaking clear english. You have a union leader who preaches the big talk about salaries, working conditions etc (valid issues) but rarely personally defends a competent teacher wrongfully dismissed or transferred. New inexperienced principals in some case promoted with absolutely no man management skills and rule by dictate rather than consultation with experienced staff which of course leads to a fractured staff. Some of these principals exert their power by getting rid of staff that don't fit their plan or are not subservient to their every whim and order. Many many good young Bahamian teachers out there who will never be promoted. As for a teacher getting excellent exam results and participating in all extra school activities, just a waste of time at the end of the day from a career advancement point of view. The ACR is often wielded by vindictive principals as a weapon over teachers. Having said all that there are many, many teachers who strive to get their best from students and many good principals. Time for teachers to complete an ACR on their principal and all these Ministry of Ed staff.

sheeprunner12 1 year, 10 months ago

Sounds like the Isle of Freedom has a lot going on .....

Can be duplicated across most districts.

tribanon 1 year, 10 months ago

With Davis, Sears and Hanna-Martin in charge of school related matters there will only be further declines in what little remains of our public education system. That you can bank on!

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