The Nassau Institute recently interviewed a former teacher for an "insider’s" perspective on the failing education problem in The Bahamas. The interview follows:
NI: What do you see as one of the most fundamental issues facing education in The Bahamas?
Teacher: The basic issue that virtually no one addresses is the teachers. Essentially the overriding problem is the poor quality of teachers in the government schools and most of the smaller schools run by scripture-oriented religious groups. As long as the teachers are incompetent absolutely nothing else will work.
NI: Well how does that jive with the point that our parents do not do their part?
Teacher: While lack of proper parenting is a contributing factor, there is no doubt that bad teachers are the problem.
NI: That is a serious allegation. Care to expand on that?
Teacher: The qualifications and performance of many of the teachers leave a lot to be desired. They teach by rote and are deadly slow so they can’t get through the syllabus. Many have inferior qualifications and if they are head of subjects this has the effect of chasing out good teachers. In many cases the older teachers can be said to ‘have retired on the job’ to use a term they use themselves. They are teaching with the same poor materials and methods they used thirty (30) years ago.
NI: How do you know this?
Teacher: Many young teachers who completed degrees in the United States, or COB/UWI, with the help of government scholarships, returned home to work for the government schools to pay back their loan requirement. Having met some of them again they said they had bought out of the government schools, or left as soon as they could, because some incompetent and disinterested teacher was in charge and they couldn’t do their job properly.
NI: Well doesn’t this happen in the private school system as well?
Teacher: In the private system, schools can fire bad teachers, and, in most cases they do if the results are poor. Unfortunately some of these schools pay really low wages and require absolute religious conformity and so can’t afford to fire anyone, they just want someone in the classroom, so these pull down the results in the private sector.
NI: What about the mainstream religious schools. Don’t some of them maintain excellent results?
Teacher: Well yes, but they seem to have risen above their religious affiliation. They don’t require teachers or students to be strict devotees to their own denomination. Nevertheless religious education can be an issue. It can dominate the curriculum to the detriment of basic teaching, A look at the number of entries in the BGCSE tables show that this is the third most entered subject after math and english.
NI: So why can’t we change this top encourage more accountability from the teachers and schools, and more time on key subjects?
Teacher: Both the religious aspect and the teachers are culturally untouchable issues, there is no way any politician is going to suggest spending less time on religion and retiring or replacing teachers.
NI: Well what about privatisation? Something we think will help.
Teacher: Privatisation would only help at the top end of the system, where it already works. We already have a large number of under-performing private schools, so no point in making people or the government pay for more of this.
NI: So how can we overcome this problem of incompetent teachers?
Teacher: One possible approach is to require teachers to have say 5-yearly re-certification based on professional assessments and compulsory retraining where necessary. I understand that the College of The Bahamas basically has this system in place for its faculty, although it is not necessarily enforced.
NI: So what do we do about schools that are failing across the board?
Teacher: Similarly, schools need to be approved and licensed, and also re-certified periodically or closed down. There have to be consequences for failure to educate our children.
NI: Any thing else you would like to say?
Teacher: To reiterate, if the country does not deal with the sub-par teachers in the system, there will be little improvement in education. Equally, just one inspired teacher can transform a generation of students.
NI: Thank you for your time.
Teacher: My pleasure. Let’s hope for the best for our children.