The PLP and the skills shortage

First Published: 2006-07-14

Nicki Kelly in the July 9th edition of The Punch made the point that Sir Lynden Pindling recognized the deficiencies in the education system that he inherited in 1967 and failed to rectify them. She concluded that –

1. The Government then and thereafter failed "to shift the educational emphasis in line with the demands of the job market"…and

2. As a result, "foreigners, legal and illegal, are now deriving the benefits that should have accrued to Bahamians."

This analysis is faulty; and if taken literally could lead to further poor policy choices.

According to Nicki Kelly education for the masses up until 1967 was restricted to "basic reading, and arithmetic skills, with little or no chance of further education" since admission to Government High, the only quality public high school, catered to "the best and brightest of black youth."

Ms. Kelly contends that in its eagerness to level the playing field and "eliminate all signs of elitism", the new government dictated that GHS would no longer be selective with respect to its entrance standards and would no longer require a fee.

"One of the 'unforeseen consequences' of this egalitarianism was to devalue the importance of education as the means for furthering the advancement of black Bahamians, while at the same time encouraging the expectation that simply being black was sufficient to guarantee one a well-paying white-collar job.

"While the PLP can be credited with expanding the public school system…the education provided by these schools was largely irrelevant to the needs of a developing country." She contends that the system emphasized an academic rather than a vocationally orientated curriculum.

She speculates that during the long period of PLP rule there was a lack of political will "to advocate and initiate a return to the journeymen occupations blacks held before majority rule."

This is at best both a partial analysis and a troubling conclusion.

In the 1960s all post colonial countries expanded their public education systems to achieve universal primary and secondary education. This was certainly true of the English speaking countries of the Caribbean and also Latin American and some Western European countries. The rapid expansion of school systems necessitated a sharp increase in new teachers. This most often happened only with a reduction in new teacher hiring standards. This was especially true in the Bahamas since it also sought to reduce its employment of foreign teachers.

Michael Craton in his History of the Bahamas notes that in the 1960s and 70s "while the number of teaching candidates multiplied six fold in a decade, the proportion of entrants with the original requirement of five 'O' level passes fell from 90 to less than 10 percent."

The rapid expansion of the school system, Bahamianization and an inadequate supply of qualified Bahamian teachers produced a significant overall drop in teacher quality. The Coalition for Education Reform stated in its June 2005 "Bahamian Youth: the Untapped Resource" report that only Barbados in the English speaking Caribbean avoided the related drop in education quality and student academic achievement.

The education crisis facing the Bahamas is not just an absence of vocational skills; it is also functional illiteracy…the inability to read, write, speak and calculate. This is the message that the tourism industry has delivered to Government for over a year.

That Sir Lynden Pindling and the PLP made a series of bad decisions that led directly to the "education crisis" is abundantly clear. India is a good example of how another country dealt with its education issues…although admittedly it is not like the Bahamas, a very small island country.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of post-colonial India, had the finest classic British education, Harrow, Trinity College, Cambridge and law at the Inner Temple. The education system that he conceived was a reaction to the Colonial experience and not his classical education per se.

"Nehru believed that India was more likely to remain an independent country if it made itself technologically equal to its former rulers. To that end he created a ruthlessly efficient mechanism for finding and exploiting Indian technical talent. It was called the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)." Five were created in the 1960s with each separately funded by Germany, the USSR, the US and the UK.

"Young Indians who finished high in a national standardized test passed on their way into Nehru's game of catch-up ball…By the early 1970s hundreds of thousands of Indian seventeen-year-olds were sitting for the annual two-day engineering exams. A few weeks after the exam the results were posted in the newspapers. The two thousand students with the highest scores won admission to the IITs."

The graduates of this system are now fueling India's spectacular growth. (Refer to Michael Lewis, The New New Thing, Penguin Books, 2001)

The Tribune quotes Senator John Delaney as saying in his contribution to the Budget debate that the education system is "perhaps the single greatest obstacle to the economic welfare and well-being of Bahamians." He urged Government "to study the 14 recommendations outlined in the report published last year by the Coalition for Education Reform."

Government has talked about meeting with the Coalition but has not yet done so thirteen months after receipt of its report.

This suggests a discernible lack of urgency.

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