In his recent speech to the government school teachers and education bureaucracy Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said:
“I believe it is noteworthy that, like health, education has been one of the largest recipients of government funding in every budget cycle since before independence”
“Regrettably, our success in getting every child into a classroom has not translated into every child having achieved his full potential. When, in the first half of the 20th century, most children completing primary school could read and write, today too many students leave our secondary schools only semi-literate and semi-numerate”.
In spite of vast sums of money poured into education, increasing compulsory attendance from 14 to 16 years, the level of achievement as measured by test results, is so low as to be a National embarrassment. It could hardly be worse.
Words are cheap, and none are cheaper than those out of the mouths of politicians. Caught up in self-congratulatory language the true and unadulterated MEANING of their words is obscured by the emotive style of their delivery.
Anyone daring to challenge this nonsensical obfuscation of the truth about public education will be regarded as a heretic, and banished from polite Bahamian society. So be it.
A Prime Minister with a vision for an educated citizenry, might have made the following announcement:-
“My government regrets it has been unable to raise the level of literacy and numeracy and can no longer countenance spending vast sums of tax-payer money for a system that is a proven failure.
“As a consequence, we are privatizing the education system.
“As there are no likely investors for the existing set-up, teachers will be gradually released from the government payroll. The money heretofore provided as salaries will be reserved in a loan fund for teachers to open schools as education-for-profit centers.
“Initially some of the existing school buildings will be leased annually at favourable rates with renewal option up to Five Years. On approval of the Business Plan, rental arrangements for existing schools will be entertained.
“It is anticipated that the resulting “private” schools will become self-sustaining as market forces come into play as they are not required to compete with a state education monopoly. The competition for pupils at affordable rates to the parents will raise the level of proficiency unachievable by the state-run schools.
“A number of school buildings and teachers will be retained for the transition period from public to private education as The Five Year Plan now goes into effect.
“My government will be phased out as the dominant education supplier. The market for education will become dynamic and flourish as government influence and controls lessen.
“In the certain knowledge that every Bahamian parent wants the best education possible for his/her child, my government is confident that the entrepreneurial spirit and love of parents for their children are the motivating factors for higher standards of achievement.
“We anticipate that as individual needs are met in the specialized schools chosen and paid for by the parents, learning and the desire to learn will result. A wide variety of schools offering different subjects and training in the skills required in a world of specialization will ensue. Parents will choose and pay for schools appropriate for their children and their family goals.
“Choice, no longer limited to a single failing system will unleash a wealth of talent heretofore undiscovered.
“I know that my government’s decision to get out of the education business is ground breaking. It will seem “radical” to many; however, systemic failure as evidenced in the failing D grade average must be addressed. The standard of living for all Bahamians in the years to come requires a totally new approach today.
“It is past time to return the responsibility of learning back to the parents to make the education decisions for their offspring.
“Teachers wishing to continue their profession as teachers should apply for a business license to open their own school. The Minister of Education Mr. Carl Bethel and Ms Elma Garraway and their staff will direct all their efforts toward helping educators establish centers for learning in what will become a private school network.
The above as conceptualized, but not detailed, has the potential for meaningful change. Only a radical rethinking for a totally new approach will solve the learning crisis in government schools.
Government efforts to “fix” the existing structure will require even more money with little change in outcomes. To continue the same dysfunctional system commits the Bahamas to third rate status far into the future.