Since 1992 we have spent over $480,000,000 (that-s right, over four hundred and eighty million dollars) on education. Even though the public pays these taxes, the actual student test results from the government run schools are considered "confidential" and are never tabled in the House Assembly, as any transparent government would do. It is a given, at least it is not denied by the Ministry of Education, that the mean grade is no higher than a D, which in the real world, is a failing grade.
Several suggestions for improvement
So what can we do to help ensure value for the tax dollars we pay? Here are a few suggestions that we trust the Ministry of Education will implement so our children are not continually left with skills that are marginal to say the least:
Develop a voucher system, where the government will issue slips to parents for the amount spent per student in the public system. These vouchers could be redeemed at a school of the parent-s choice (private or public), for the promise of better results, to slowly transform the Ministry of Education into private schools.
Government schools could be "sold" off to interested teachers and investors. This will help eliminate the horrific bureaucracy at the Ministry of Education, or at least simplify it and put the focus back on education.
Reduce Summer vacations to three or four weeks from the present eight weeks and restrict the Christmas break to two weeks to help ensure that children are brought up to their proper grade levels. Teachers are paid for the holidays, so here again, we could get better value for money spent.
Extend school hours from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM. The extra two hours could be used for managed homework and participation in youth programmes. It is imperative that civics, community service and law and order are stressed to at least have these ideas shared with our children.
Segregate fast learners and the brightest children in a new Government High type system used in the early 1900-s. There will always be children that are smarter than others, and these kids should have every opportunity to succeed in an environment that encourages learning.
Raise school leaving age to sixteen (16) for kids that are falling through the cracks. The important aspect of Education is that when a student finally stops going to school they should be in a position to be a productive member of Society. Children who are not academically inclined, should face a challenging curriculum that would include the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic, in addition to basic computer and a wide range of skills. The present system of social promotion should be stopped immediately. While this may help with a child-s self-esteem today, it leaves them functionally illiterate when they are "pushed" out of the educational system. For a student that is not academically inclined a trade is where they must turn and this deserves more than the lip service we get about the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI).
Base teacher-s pay on results. We all have to be held accountable for what we produce. Those teachers that excel by producing students with passing grades should be rewarded somehow. Conversely, those teachers that do not perform to the agreed standards should be shown the door if they cannot or will not improve.
Challenge educational mediocrity
Rev. Floyd H. Flake said, "I am not against (government run) public schools. I am against (government run) public schools where educational mediocrity goes unchallenged." This is a mantra that should be expressed by many parents in our country. Particularly those parents who are left with children that cannot read or write and who have very little hope for a relatively successful life of work.
Expect more than bricks and mortar
While it is lovely to have nice new schools and day care centres, most of our citizens would be better off if the Ministry of Education concentrated on results.
An example of concentrating on results is Healthy Start, one of 34 charter schools in North Carolina. Mr. Thomas Williams, the headmaster there says that: "We fly in the face of all the bureaucratic excuses. Seventy percent of our kids are on welfare. Of the 170 kids, 168 of them are black. A hundred and twenty don-t have daddies. They are brought up by their mothers alone. They came to us far below grade level. So they have all the excuses for failure, don-t they? In public school, they-d be put in a corner. He-s black. He-s poor, so he has to fail.- "Here we have proved that excuses don-t work. The kids succeed. We have a strict discipline code. The kids wear uniforms. If they don-t have daddies, we say to them: OK: 2 + 2 = 4. Do you understand that? We hold up a lantern of expectations. We say: -It-s this high. Reach it.- And they do."
All this happens in a church basement with ten rooms divided by thin walls. An environment where a public school in the USA would never be allowed to operate.
If the nearly 50,000 children in our government run school system are to be in a position of self-reliance, we had better begin demanding more than bricks and mortar. We should expect no less than value for the $65,000,000 budgeted for the Ministry of Education this fiscal year.