Commentary: Bahamas Government and Opposition agree public education is a failure. What now?

First Published: 2010-05-08

Recently The Tribune quotes Dr. Bernard Nottage’s, speech when he informed  parliament that "Society is in crisis as "far too many Bahamians" leave school without the necessary skills either to join the workforce or go on to further education." Dr. Nottage is the PLP representative for Bain & Grant’s Town.

As Minister of Education for the PLP he must have known the education system was not up to standard. Now as a member of the opposition he confirms what he must have known then, but failed to fix.

Perhaps Dr. Nottage suffers from a form of narcolepsy, clinically described as Excessive Daytime Sleepiness and "Sleep Attacks". It appears he may have awakened to the reality that he has been asleep for too long and something must be done. What will be done? That will be is anybody’s guess.

Parliamentarians have access to information not available to the general public.  The recent exception is the privately funded report “The Learning Crises” by Ralph Massey and circulated by The Nassau Institute. To our knowledge it is the first and only comprehensive overview of the Bahamian education system made widely available.

Years ago when addressing the poor standards of education in the US Milton Friedman wrote: “a stable democratic society is impossible without a minimum degree of literacy and knowledge on the part of most citizens” [Capitalism and Freedom, p. 86]. He proposed a voucher system as a means to transition from the state controlled education to a totally private one “to give parents a wider choice as to the form in which their children get the schooling that the community has obligated itself to provide”.

Dr. Friedman regarded vouchers only as a partial solution as it relieves no one of the burden of taxation to pay for schooling. It would simply give parents a wider choice.

Any government education “plan” for the Bahamas would have to take into account the current system of taxation. It is a job for the “experts” to sort that out. If and when the tax system is changed, and the Bahamian people still want the government to educate their children (not the best choice) that will be the time to get serious about the proper role of the government in a free society.

Prime Minister Ingraham acknowledged that “education has been one of the largest recipients of government funding in every budget cycle since before independence… 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”.

Both parliamentarians have effectively admitted that government is not the solution, government is the problem.

What now?

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