School Choice for Bahamian Students – an example from the Commonwealth

First Published: 2008-06-29

Much has been said about the Bahamian educational system and the apparent lack of sincere effort to ensure the country’s children are equipped to enter the work force or move on to tertiary education with the skills to succeed.

This judgment is confirmed by the BGCSE grades of a D average for all schools.

In addition to this, employers find that the majority of applicants for entry level positions cannot complete a basic employment application and simple aptitude test. Recent graduates stumble on questions like 20 percent of $150, for example.

Public School Budget

It certainly does not appear that the failure of the educational system is the lack of funding. The Bahamas Government has recently announced that $282,357,775 will be spent on education this year, broken down as follows:

Recurrent Expenditure

Department of Education $206,087,979

Ministry of Education $44,878,797

Capital Development Expenditure

$31,390,999

Local Initiatives for Change

Recently, Minister of Education Mr. Carl Bethel, announced some improvements. Whether they will ignite the fire for permanent change remains to be seen.

Apparently the Ministry of Education has finally considered ideas like longer school hours for failing students, and trimming the curriculum to four key subjects, with electives for students that are doing well.

The country must to come to grips with “social promotion” that pushes underachievers through the system to a passing-out grade of “F”. An alternative solution is required for this group for them to be equipped to enter the workforce when they leave school.

Solutions from afar

Parth J. Shah, Founder President of the Centre for Civil Society (CCS) in New Delhi India was recently in The Bahamas for a John Templeton Foundation meeting. He brought some great news on developments in education in India.

Apparently the state governments of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh have announced voucher programmes for some districts.

Vouchers and School Choice

In 1955 Milton Friedman coined the term “school vouchers” an idea that kick-started the modern school choice movement.

A voucher system "…allow(s) parents to use all or part of the government funding set aside for their children’s education to send their children to the public or private school of their choice. In effect, this separates government financing of education from government operation of schools. Most programs allow parents to send their children to either religious or non-religious private schools. Participating private schools are required to meet standards for safety, fiscal soundness and non-discrimination; some programs also impose additional restrictions."

More information from India

Gurcharan Das author and public intellectual and Board Member of the CCS has written about the liberalisation of education in India in India Unbound.

He notes that:

"Economic liberalization of the early 1990’s has put India on a new growth trajectory. The popular image as the land of snake charmers and elephants is being replaced with that of call center and BPO workers and the possibility of the world’s cheapest $2,500 car meandering on Indian roads. The ‘India Story’ is central to the World Economic Forum meetings, UN Security Council membership discussions, and the Indo-US nuclear treaty."

These reforms have left large parts of India untouched, but as a result of Templeton Foundation Grants extensive research and documentation of the problems of the urban informal sector has taken place along with the launching of a School Choice campaign.

Das informs that the CCS School Choice India campaign is their largest programme and the core focus of their Institute.

He states:

"We run mass campaigns to build grass root pressure for change by increasing awareness among poor parents about the resources that governments spend in their name and what they should demand for genuine empowerment."

Mass programmes of ‘My Vote, My Voucher!’ are conducted in select states around election time.

"The policy campaign increases understanding of school choice ideas and reforms through meetings with the people in government, political parties, and unions. We choose states that are more amenable to choice reforms and where we have access to the top leadership. We also run pilot projects to test our ideas and design strategies for implementation and advocacy".

Conclusion

These initiatives have been taken in a country that is mired in government red tape and regulation. But, because they have decided that Globalisation is the most sensible route to empowering the population of India, they have begun taking bold steps to improve their educational system.

Meanwhile, The Bahamas seems content to allow the majority of its children to leave school with the most rudimentary literacy skills, and only tweak the educational system at the edges, in the hope for reform and improved results.

Das believes that, if the CCS and some of the state governments in India continue to build on their successes to date "…India would become a rising star not only in the arena of economic reforms and growth within a democracy but also of the global school choice movement".

Let’s hope that The Bahamas government considers school choice and vouchers as one of the options to finally improve education in The Bahamas. It is their moral responsibility if they choose to continue to control the educational system in the country.

 

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