Educational Achievement in the Bahamas: Too few “A” & “Bs”…Too many “E”, “F”, “G” & “Us”

First Published: 2008-04-18

This essay is a commentary on the Social Development policy statement contained in Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham’s New Year’s Report to the Nation.

In that statement the PM “expressed doubt as to whether there was a scientific basis for the belief that that there was a link between poor educational achievement, unemployment and crime.” The author cites recent highly reputable international research that education quality – as measured by what people know – has a very powerful positive effect on economic welfare. In the terms of statistical analysis, the effect is very “robust”.

The essay then addresses the subject of “Cognitive Skills”. Those skills are learned by children both in pre-school and while in school. These are the basic skills that are critical to learning; and they include attention, concentration, memory, symbolic and logical thinking and self-discipline.

At present…the extent that students learn Cognitive Skills is measured indirectly by testing their knowledge of mathematics as is done in the annual Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (“BGCSE”) exam. First one must recognize that this test uses an eight grade designator system – A, B, C, D, E, F, G & U – versus the five designator system – A, B, C, D & F – that is commonly used elsewhere. In effect, the “F” grade has been expanded into four separate grades.

The essay shows that the 2006 test results for all public and private schools were poor, 41% of all students taking the exam got “As” through “Ds” and 59% got the expanded “F” grade, the “Es” through “Us”.

The essay concluded that:

a.) A large share of all students was not learning the most basic skills;

b.) the BGCSE exam is evidence of students advancing from grade to grade without learning the basics; and

c.) This constitutes “a waste of scarce national resources.”

The essay went beyond this and showed the math performance of seven public high schools on New Providence. The 2006 mathematics test results show that 18% got “As” through “Ds” and 82% got the expanded “F” grade, the “Es” through ‘Us”. This is simply “unacceptable”.

Furthermore, the cognitive skills of countries are being measured and nations are concentrating on improving their test scores and their standings relative to other countries. The essay cites the exam given every four years since the early 1990s, the “Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (‘TIMSS’)”. The Bahamas does not participate in this examination. However, the essay concludes that the Bahamas would not meet the TIMSS Basic Numerical Literacy standard based on the 2006 BGCSE results.

The Essay concludes –

“A failure to confront the Cognitive Skill Shortage in the Bahamas condemns it to an excessive reliance on non-Bahamian manpower to meet its legitimate needs. This is likely to produce both slower growth and social and political conflict that can be avoided or minimized with sound policies and a national will to do so.”

Download the entire publication (pdf) by clicking here…

About the author:

Ralph J Massey is an economist and since 2003 has been a consultant on public policy issues.

He graduated from Case University magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in economics and as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honors Society. He entered the University of Chicago as a Harry A Millis Fellow in Labor and Industrial Relations, earned a masters degree in Economics and left the University as a Research Associate in the Department of Economics. His course advisor was Milton Friedman, the Nobel Laureate.

His business career covered 37 years with four major companies. At Kimberly-Clark Corporation, for instance, he was Assistant Treasurer and at Chemical Bank he was the offshore banking manager of the Bank of New Providence, Nassau, Bahamas. He was a founding member of Nassau Institute and has been a contributor to the Coalition for Education Reform.

The views expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the Nassau Institute (which has no corporate view), or its Advisers or Directors.

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