RESURRECTING DEMONS

In the 1950’s and 1960’s the sons and daughters of working-class black families attended the Berkeley Institute. They went to Berkeley because they couldn’t go to Saltus, or Bermuda High School for Girls [BHS], or Warwick Academy, or Mount Saint Agnes Academy [MSA]. They couldn’t go to these other schools because these schools didn’t accept black children – even if they were academically qualified, and even if their parents could pay the fees.

            In the 1950’s and 1960’s these sons and daughters of working-class black families, after five years at Berkeley, sat the same ‘external’ examinations as the children of Saltus, BHS, and Warwick. In the 1950’s and 1960’s these sons and daughters of black families passed these external exams. Often – most of the time – they got better results than the ‘other’ kids at Saltus, BHS, and Warwick.

            Racial integration and the 1970’s arrived. Some sons and daughters of black families began attending Saltus, BHS, Warwick Academy, and MSA. But white children did not begin turning up at Berkeley.

            In the early 1970’s the government-of-that-day closed the Bermuda Technical Institute [‘Tech’] and began to introduce the Bermuda Secondary School Certificate [BSSC]. The BSSC was intended as a replacement for the Cambridge School Certificate [CSC], set by Cambridge University; and the General Certificate of Education [GCE], set by London University.

            By the mid-1980’s, Berkeley, still a 99.98% black school was having less success at the newer GCE’s and GCSE’s which were replacing the old CSC [Cambridge] and GCE [London].

            Had the students entering Berkeley become generically and genetically less able? No. Not at all. Nor had they become less capable. But the trend in results in these external exams had turned downwards, continually downwards. Finally, in 2000, Berkeley stopped regularly entering its students for these external exams. Berkeley’s decline had reached bottom.

            During all this time, Saltus, BHS, and Warwick Academy, whose students had not become genetically superior, had continued preparing their students and entering their students for these external exams. Their students continued to pass these exams.

            By the mid-1980’s, Berkeley students were no longer entering first rate universities and were fading from the ranks of local scholarship winners. Their places were taken by students from Saltus, BHS, Warwick Academy, and MSA.

            Cedarbridge Academy has no record of past success. Berkeley Institute, in this new millennium, does not produce the quality of product that it produced for most of the old millennium. Within twelve months, further up the hill from the present Berkeley Institute, there’ll be a brand-new building which will also be named as the Berkeley Institute.

            Will this expensive new building be used to house failing policies, shelter under-performing students, and provide jobs for a teaching faculty that delivers a product that is markedly inferior to the product coming out of Saltus, BHS, Warwick Academy, and MSA? If Bermuda’s public education policies don’t change – and change fast – the ‘new’ Berkeley Institute will continue to produce an inferior product.

            White Bermudians have already abandoned Bermuda’s public education system. In the 1980’s blacks began to drift away from publicly funded secondary education.  In the 1990’s, this drift turned into a stream. If this black shift continues, it will turn into a black flood and the expensive ‘new’ Berkeley Institute will fail, and will fail in the same way, and for the same reasons, as the present Berkeley.

            It’s now blatantly and nationally obvious that in the 1970’s two wrong policies were formulated and then implemented. The first was the policy decision to do away with the Bermuda Technical Institute – the ‘Tech’. The second was the policy decision to start replacing the CSC and GCE external exams with an internal exam – the BSSC.

            Both policy errors have resulted in a degrading of the quality of public education that is delivered to those Bermudians who can only afford public education. It has also resulted in the non-delivery of adequately prepared middle level [semi-professional and para-professional] workers for our radically changed workplace.

            Both policy errors have also contributed to the now perceptible increase in certain kinds of social tensions and social pressures. These pressures show up in the increase of the massing of young men into their own separate social groups – ‘gangs’; in stronger competition for lower cost housing; and in the growing disparity between the grand lifestyles and wide choices of high-end income earners and the less grand lifestyles and fewer choices of low end service providers. 

            The full effect of these two failed educational policies is that the 55% of Bermudian students who only ever use the public education system, have a lower starting point when they leave this education system and enter Bermuda’s job market or try for tertiary education.  They start one or two steps behind. They start one or two levels below their peers who’ve gone through, or who switched to, the private education system. Having started behind or below, many never catch up or even have a fair chance of catching up.

            Statistical information as well as our everyday experiences tells us that in 2002, we were ‘under-educating’ 55% of our national Bermudian population. We were under-educating and therefore under-preparing this huge percentage of our national Bermudian population in a Bermuda that, in 2002 and 2003, is a global player in a harsh and uncaring global environment. Both ‘Tourism’ and ‘Business’ operate in an environment of global competition. Both industries need to be staffed by people able to win in a competition against millions of well-educated or better-educated people everywhere else in the world.

            Some may – many will – see this difference in the delivery of education as a narrow black/white issue. It isn’t. It’s a much broader race-neutral national issue. The reality, though, is that the overwhelming majority of the people who are being under-educated are black. Because this black majority receives a second-class education, it is in danger of being consigned to permanent or quasi-permanent second-class status. But this inferior status will be a result of their second-class education. Not their skin colour. Even though the vast majority will be black.

            Left unchanged, these failed education policies will take us backwards and will re-segregate Bermuda. But Bermuda will re-segregate on bad new education lines – not the bad old colour lines. However, it will appear as if the segregation is colour-based.[*]           But despite this verifiable reality, the parallel and consequential reality is that re-segregation will resurrect and re-energize the almost buried ‘race-hate’ demons.  Demons that all of us have worked hard at capturing, killing, and burying.  

            Dr Eva Hodgson’s book “Second Class Citizens, First Class Men” [1964], accurately described the Bermuda of the past. The book’s title – re-worded – accurately describes today’s public education situation. It’ll be ironic – damned ironic – if this book’s title just as accurately describes the Bermuda of the future. [**]    

            Given the passage of thirty years; given the clear evidence that Bermuda’s public education system is delivering an inferior product; given the need to avoid more and growing national social tensions; it’s time to admit past errors and make future changes.

            Even superpower USA had to humble itself, acknowledge its mistake, bury its 58,000 American boys, and retreat from Vietnam. Former US Secretary of Defence, Roberts S McNamara, enlightened by twenty-two years of hindsight, admitted that US involvement in Vietnam was wrong. But he did admit it.

            We Bermudians have to do so much less. All we Bermudians have to do is display some good sense and acknowledge past Bermudian mistakes. We’ve no dead to bury. Not yet, anyway!

            So when I opened Tim Hodgson’s weekend newssheet [24th  December 2002] and read that persons from the Ministry of Education were looking at the possibility of bringing back external exams for students in the public system, I thought – Hallellujah!  My people have seen the light!  Some good sense’! It’s fifteen years overdue but  it’s here now!

            By the way, our very public and frenzied ‘fussing’ over the Auditor and the angry words and the accusations and the money and the contract and the builders and the building of the ‘new’ Berkeley reminds me of Rome blazing while Emperor Nero played Bob Marley reggae on the electric guitar – or was it a Handel largo on an electric violin?…

            What concerns you? The fuss or the future? What’s important? The building or what will happen inside the building?

           

 [*] Ask yourself this question: “Has re-segregation been happening already?” But before you answer, examine the relevant data in the 1991 and 2000 Census Reports. [**] Dr Hodgson’s 1964 book was sponsored by the Amalgamated Bermuda Union of Teachers – an ironic twist.

THE REAL ISSUE

“Don’t get your knickers in a twist” is how the Brits would say it. For Jamaican’s, it’s “Hol’ yuh cool.” However it’s said, the message is the same.

            Alpha Phi Alpha took umbrage at what I’d written. What did I write?  Alpha Phi Alpha is a ‘black’ fraternity…”

They are. Alpha Phi Alpha’s history says that seven black men – “jewels” – started the fraternity.  The fraternity adopted its first constitution in December 1907.  It opened its ranks to whites and others in 1945. In 2005, their own chapters describe themselves on their own websites. In 2005, Alpha Phi Alpha is ‘black’ in the same way that the AME church – certainly an international, interracial, and Christian organization – is still a ‘black’ church. Alpha Phi Alpha is still a ‘black’ fraternity.

            Did Alpha Phi Alpha invite all six senior schools to participate? Their follow-up complaint in the Royal Gazette says that they did.  The original “Bermuda Sun” story said Alpha Phi Alpha only asked five of the six schools to participate.

            If Alpha Phi Alpha were seeking to find as many young men as they could, I’d expect them to ask all six senior schools. Whether or not they asked five or six is entirely their own business. 

            If, however, they did leave out one school – which school was it? In the same free world that Alpha Phi Alpha lives in, I’m free to wonder why? I’m free to ask. I’m free to comment. I did.

From census and education statistics, at the senior school level, counting just one age-band of Bermudian boys, there are about 250 black male students in that one age-band. About 180 black male students would be in public education and 70 in private education.

Alpha Phi Alpha’s offer may have been to every student in that age-band in Bermuda. That was excellent. Alpha Phi Alpha’s response in the Royal Gazette obscured the fact that I’d said – quite clearly – that their offer was not fully taken up. That was no fault of Alpha Phi Alpha. The fault lay elsewhere.

Bermuda’s two ‘public schools’ contain the overwhelming majority of black male students. Neither of these two publicly funded schools ensured that at least two of their 180 eligible black male students completed Alpha Phi Alpha’s challenge. Three ‘private schools’ share 70 of these male students.

The real issue – the important issue – the fundamental issue – that really bothered me was this. Why did neither of the two publicly funded public schools complete the challenge? This was the critical issue.  

It bothered me. I thought it would bother everybody else. I hoped it would bother everybody else. That’s why I pointed it out.  That this excellent opportunity wasn’t fully subscribed still bothers me.

A large part of a very real problem, shown in this little spat and spread throughout much of our Bermudian life, is a Bermudian propensity for too many of us Bermudians – certainly individually and sometimes nationally – to focus on the smallest and least important fragment of a much bigger and far wider problem.

Far too many Bermudians work themselves up into a frenzy over one or two niggling points and completely miss the big red monster blob.

Come on people: “Hol’ yuh cool!” See the real problem!

 

LITTLE THINGS

Something’s not working. It shows up again in the picky detail of an ad about Bermuda’s First Mathematics Olympiad.

            The Olympiad is a Mathematics competition set by a Canadian team. It seems that every child in Bermuda, publicly educated, privately educated, or home school educated, was eligible to enter. It appears that the age-range for participants was 10 – 17. That’s eight age cohorts.

            Bermuda has about 6,500 youngsters in that age band. Of these, roughly 35% – that’s about 2,300 – are in some kind of private or home schooling. The remainder, about 4,200 are in the public system.

            The public system has fifteen primary schools, five Middle schools, and two High schools. The private education system has the statistical equivalent of three primary schools, two middle schools, and one High school.

            Why, then, did private schools have such a huge proportion of the named ‘winners’?

            Outnumbered and outspent, why did the private schools a [40%] minority have such a huge [74%] majority of the thirty-eight named ‘winners’?

            Saltus Grammar School – ten.

            Warwick Academy – eight.

            Cedarbridge – seven.

            Somersfield Academy – four.

            Bermuda High School – two.

            Sandys Secondary Middle School – two.

            Downe House School, UK – not a Bermuda school – two.

            Bermuda Institute and another – overseas – UK school – one each.

            Clearwater Middle School – one.

            In the 15 – 17 age group, Berkeley Institute did not place at all. In the 13 – 14 age group, Dellwood Middle, Spice Valley Middle, and Whitney Institute Middle – all public schools – did not place at all.  In the 10 – 12 age group, there were no names – at all – from any of the fifteen public primary schools.  Mount St Agnes Academy, with pupils in all three age-bands, is not mentioned.

            Cedarbridge’s seven shows what can be done.

            Where are the rest? What didn’t happen?

 [By the way… the ad said:  Top 13 winners. Ages 10 -12.   But only 12 names.] 

AGAIN

There it was again. This time tucked away in the middle of an excellent story [Bermuda Sun – 08 Jun – p7]. Topping the story was a big picture of three fine young men. Each dressed in a tuxedo. Each with a confident look on his face. Each was black.

            But you’d expect that. After all, they were the winners in a scholarship scheme run by Alpha Phi Alpha. Alpha Phi Alpha is a ‘black’ fraternity born out of the black American experience. So I would have been surprised – pleasantly surprised – if all or even one of the young men had been white. After all, in an era of racial equality, that would have been perfectly correct and entirely fair.

            But they were young black men who had just been awarded scholarships. The scholarships were awarded not because they were exceptionally bright academics [often referred to as ‘nerds’], nor were the awards coming because they were impoverished students from poor families.

            The awards were for academic worth combined with clear evidence of personal striving in non-academic pursuits. Between them, the three young men received a total of $10,000 towards their further education.

            The story underneath the picture was filled with hundred of words telling how the young men had performed as musicians, mentors for younger students, Candy Stripers, and sportsmen.

            Hidden amongst those fine words were some nasty little facts.

            “This year’s scholarships…started six months ago when organizers asked five secondary schools to each nominate a star pupil.”

            That was the first fact. 

            “Only three students completed the program…”

            The second.

            “Mr Williams, who attends Warwick Academy…..Mr Woods… who attends Saltus Grammar School….  Mr Manders…who graduates from the Bermuda Institute”.

            The third, damning, fact.

            There are only three other secondary schools. Mount St Agnes Academy. The Berkeley Institute. Cedarbridge Academy. At least two of these must have been “asked…to nominate a …pupil.” One of these three was not asked.

            Three questions. First. Why were Alpha Phi Alpha so selective? Second. Why didn’t all the schools who were asked to participate ensure that their students completed the process?  

            Third. Is it right, in 2005, even given Bermuda’s bad racial past, to exclude young men of another race from competing? Is Bermuda’s current racial balance so badly askew that exceptional racial ‘tipping’ is still so necessary, so easily permissible, and seemingly so acceptable?

            There’s another issue. This time with the public education system. Why was there no participation – I stress participation – by young men from the public educating system? Why? What’s not working?

            If Cedarbridge can garner seven good results in the open competition of the Maths Olympiad, why couldn’t they get just one young man to at least stay the course in this local Alpha Phi Alpha process?

            Could it be that the Principals and faculties at Cedarbridge and Berkeley don’t want to identify young men as ‘star pupils’. Maybe they want to bring all their young men along at exactly the same level and pace. If that is what they are trying to do, they are trying to do exactly the opposite of what nature always does.

            Across humankind, there are always differences in people. Some people are brighter – others not so bright. Some work hard – some not so hard.  Some can run fast – some can’t. Differences in human ability and capability always exist. These differences are ineradicable and are a key part of the reality of humankind in all its sameness and all its diversity.

            The purpose of education is to give each individual all the tools that he [she] can use in order to allow herself [himself] to develop to his [her] maximum. Each individual must be her [his] own ‘star’.

            That neither Berkeley nor Cedarbridge had one young man complete Alpha Phi Alpha’s process is sad and wrong. It is also unfair to each one of the hundreds of young men in those two institutions.

            Under-prepared, under-educated, testosterone-filled young men who pass out of the public system are simply ticking time bombs. The ticking time bombs already released into this community as under-prepared, under-educated, testosterone-filled young men who can not readily fit into Bermuda’s complex society, are now blowing up all around this community.

            Like the ticking or explosion of a time bomb, the situation and result inadvertently shown in this story should concentrate our national attention. 

WAITING TO EXHALE

The school year is ending. Exams are over. Teachers – waiting to exhale – are about to give out a huge sigh. Students are looking forward to summer activities. I’m waiting for results.

            What did this year’s graduating crop of students achieve? How successful were the teachers in imparting knowledge? How did students absorb that knowledge?

            By October of this year, I’ll know what Mount St Agnes has done. I’ll be told what Saltus and BHS and Warwick Academy have done. Bermuda Institute will have published its results.

            Will the two senior public schools do anything other than put lots of pictures of students in the paper and say that they’ve ‘graduated’? Will these two schools publish exam results so that we can see what happened, and make comparisons?

            It’s said that education is not a competition. That test results don’t tell the whole story. That the public schools don’t get a ‘good’ selection of students. The litany goes on and on…

            Reality? Once a young Bermudian male or female puts on that gown and mortarboard, walks across the stage, accepts a senior school certificate, then walks on past the VIP who handed them that certificate; that now ex-student walks right into a cruelly competitive world.

            The instant that student passes that VIP, and becomes an ex-student, he or she goes into direct competition with eighteen year-olds from India – the Philippines –  the Caribbean – North and South America – the EU. In fact, every country in the world.

            Bermuda now has a global workforce. Canadians infuse Bermuda’s construction industry. Indians and South Americans are embedded in Bermuda’s hospitality industry. People from the EU and North America flood Bermuda’s ‘international business’.

            Six thousand workers at the Rover Cars plant in Longridge, Birmingham, UK lost their jobs because Rover Cars stopped making cars.  Over in Japan, Japanese workers still have jobs making Toyota cars.

            Mighty General Motors, the US car manufacturing giant, lost a billion dollars last quarter. In order to increase sales of their cars, GM now offers an ‘employee discount’ to every potential customer. Meanwhile, over in Japan and all over the rest of the world,  Japanese made Toyota cars are still selling like hotcakes.

            Look at the ‘made in’ labels in your Liz Claibornes or Pulitzers. Check your cellphone and see where that was made. Once, the only wines were ‘French’ or ‘Italian’. Today?  French and Italian wines fight for shelf space with wines from Australia, Chile, Hungary, and a score more of new wine-growing countries.

            Reality? Everybody is in an open competition with everybody else.

            The other reality – especially for us Bermudians – is that no matter how much prattle there is about the need to defend and protect the students in the public school system; all those efforts evaporate the instant that student passes that VIP. At that precise moment, that public school ex-student goes into a head-to-head, toe-to-toe, knock-‘em down, drag-‘em out competition with the students of Saltus, BHS, Warwick Academy, MSA, Bermuda Institute.

            When ex-students turn up in personnel offices looking for work, or when they seek admission to colleges, they all compete on exactly the same harsh terms. No more protections. No more soft landings. Just cold uncaring reality.

            The school year is ending. Exams are over. Ex-students are entering this hard knocks world.

            We all know the public schools have not been doing as well as the private schools. The job-hiring market reflects this. Look around, see it. Listen, hear it.

             The real results that the two public schools do achieve – whatever they are – must be published. Not publishing them is dishonest and does not conceal the reality that the job-hiring, scholarship awarding, and college admitting processes do ultimately and so blatantly display.

            Publishing today – or in the next two months will publicly and definitively deliver a temporary unpleasant reality. But the job-hiring, scholarship awarding, and college admitting processes have been delivering longer-lasting realities – every year – for over twenty-five years.

            Publishing concentrates essential information in an easy to see format. This enables everybody to see the problem.  This enables and encourages everybody to push towards real solutions.

            Not publishing maintains a national dishonesty and stupidity.  It’s like telling Rover Car workers to keep coming to work making their Rover cars even though no one is buying their cars and – ultimately – no one will be able to pay them for their work.

            Publish and compare the Terra Nova results! Publish and compare the BSC results!  Or damn us all, one more time, by throwing away one more precious year!

Fifty Three…

Next week, ferries, cars and pink buses will fill with school children. Some starting their first year – Primary One – P1. Others, their thirteenth year – Senior Four – S4.

            About 1,200 students will be sequestered in the two public senior schools. These two schools run four-year programs, so there will be about 300 students in each year-group. Thus, in June of 2006, Bermuda should expect to have almost 300 youngsters graduating from S4. 

            We’ve finally been told – though the evidence always pointed to it – that public senior schools graduated only 53% of their students. We’ve not been told that 2005 was an ‘annus horribilis’. Intimations were that 2005 was a normal year.

            So, next year, in June 2006, after thirteen years in the system, do we expect to see only 159 [53%] of Senior Four’s 300 students graduate? What about the 141 [47%] who won’t graduate?

            Are these 141 youngsters just so much social chaff and human waste to be written off the 2006 educational balance sheet? Or, are these 141 genetically inferior?

            Consider these situations.

            Bank of Bermuda HSBC reports a return on investments of 53%. Good!

            A savings bank offers to pay 53% interest on savings accounts. Good!

            Order $20 ‘gas’. The attendant pumps in $10.60 [53%] and demands $20 payment. Good?

            Pay for a case of beer and receive only 53% [13 bottles] Good?

            Depending on the situation, fifty-three percent can be good or bad.

            In education, 53% is bad. Bermuda’s 53% system is a failing system. Bermuda’s educating system competes with educating systems that routinely graduate 80% to 90% of their intakes. No amount of anguished expressions or sympathetic reasons can change this failure reality.

            Bermuda is a sophisticated socio-economic setting that now places a premium on intellectual skills. Like all other advanced economies, Bermuda has experienced a decline in the need for low skill manual labour.  In this socio-economic setting, Bermuda’s public educating system is producing a surfeit of people [47%] who are only capable of low skill manual labour. Bermuda’s public system is actually increasing the pool of under-educated young people who are unable to find a place in Bermuda’s existing economic structure.

            There are two obvious outcomes. Under-educated Bermudians, unable to perform in Bermuda’s existing and future socio-economic environment, could be shipped overseas to be expats in countries where their physical labour will be welcomed. In so doing, they will be the same as the high-school graduates from Goa and Barbados and the UK who are shipped into Bermuda to provide the skills that our 47% do not – and cannot – provide.

            It’ll be a balancing exchange. Trained foreign workers fly into Bermuda.  Bermuda then compensates and balances by shipping out under-educated Bermudians to other countries, there to be employed as unskilled labour.

            If we do not export Bermudians, we will warehouse them at Westgate – which is already filled to capacity. Either way, we’ll deal with that 47%. We’ll do one – or the other. Warehouse or ship out. The only two outcomes.

            Fix? Put in place – now! – programs that actually deal with the oft-complained about under-fed, badly-fed, under-cared for, un-cared for, ill-disciplined, un-disciplined, badly-parented, un-parented, fathered, un-fathered, students.

            There’s limited value in insisting that parents of students change their parenting methods and styles. A twenty or thirty year old ‘baby mama’ is least amenable to any change requested by any outside agencies.  Same for ‘baby daddy’s’. 

            A five to ten year-old youngster is the entity most easily changed by the action of outside agencies. By age fifteen, any opportunity for real change may have been lost. It certainly has reduced.

            Act now.  Change the system. Demand, plan for, and work for better results now. Next year, in June 2006, 53% or 55% or 60% just won’t do. Bermuda is in cut-throat global competition. Bermuda must drag itself up to existing global standards.

            Altering the BSSC and changing the BSC ‘pass mark’ hasn’t worked. It won’t work. It can’t work. In order to compete, 80% to 90% of Bermuda’s public school students must become at least as numerate and as literate as Bermuda’s real competition.

            The real competition for Bermuda’s public education system? It’s not Bermuda’s ‘private schools’.  Bermuda’s private schools are merely on-island institutions whose performance is most readily visible.

            The real competition is with all those public education systems in Goa and Barbados and UK and Canada and…  It is the graduates from these systems who are steadily shipping – or being shipped – into Bermuda.  These are the people filling that 47% void.

 

TERRORISTS IN EDUCATION

That huge full-page ad uncovered a huge lie. An accounting lie as big as the lies eventually uncovered in the Enron accounting scandal.

            That full page showed conclusively that Terry Lister – Minister for Education – has a cross on his back and an anchor and chain around his neck. The cross is fashioned out of the deliberate obfuscations by the teaching professionals in Bermuda’s.

            The cross’s central spine is created from the fact that in 2000, Bermuda’s teaching professionals Terra Nova tested ALL the students in their care. Then, in 2001, 2002, 2003 they decided not to test a proportion of the students in their care. By eliminating lower performing students from the Test, they apparently improved Test scores. Eventually, this removing process saw them ‘remove’ as much as 24% [that’s one out of every four] of the students in their care, and NOT submit them to the Terra Nova Test.

            That was dishonest. The test results were unreal. In 2005, mostly all students were again submitted to the Terra Nova test, and test scores reflected reality. The first part of that full page ad explained that in words. The first chart showed it graphically.

            I have often commented that our public system under-educates. That full-page ad showed that my criticism was absolutely correct.  Even more, the other charts showed that the public system actually DE-EDUCATES.

            A student group, the same student group, who test at one level in P5 are shown to be testing at a lower level, five years later, when they reach S1. This kind of result is consistent for all students progressing (?) from Primary to Senior levels.

            That’s not educating. That’s not learning. That’s de-educating. That’s de-learning. Again, it’s all shown graphically.

            Bermudian students – staying and living in their own Bermuda – have to compete with students from the public educating systems of Goa, Barbados, Trinidad, UK, USA, Canada,…. In this competition, Bermuda students compete for Bermudian jobs and – as we all continually scream – also compete for Bermudian housing space.

            A big chunk of Bermuda’s housing ‘crunch’ is driven by the vicious squash in and high demand for, lower end rental units. This housing squash is driven by employment consequences that result in under-educated Bermudians who are unable to fill skilled and semi-skilled jobs; and their being supplanted by high-school graduates from Goa, Barbados, Trinidad, UK, USA, Canada,….

            So, already feeling the impact of years of under-education; we’ve just been shown – in that full page ad – that we’re actually de-educating. Actually REMOVING knowledge that was once put in. Now that takes some doing! That takes a really special skill!

            These are the facts that have been displayed. That whole ad showed how vitally important it is to PUBLISH and DISPLAY results. Now we know what facts apply to Bermuda’s public educating system. These are the facts:

            ONE – Bermuda children are under-performing and are well behind their US counterparts.

            TWO – The performance of Bermuda’s students actually declines between P5 and S3.

            THREE – Between 2001 and 2003, Bermuda’s teaching professionals collaborated to produce false and misleading results.

            FOUR – Bermuda’s public educating system is in a VERY bad state and it has deep social and wide economic consequences.

            Minister Lister, bowed down by his cross, dragging around his anchor and chain, ought not seek any friends amongst Bermuda’s educating establishment.  He ought to consider them as educational ‘terrorists’ and go to war against them. As terrorists, and well-hidden from our view, these educational terrorists, making full use of their BA’s and MA’s have waged a hitherto successful campaign using obfuscation and subterfuge. That ad exposed them.

            Now, having unleashed his weapons of public knowledge and public information, the Minister should at last begin to garner some public support for a determined offensive to stop the process of de-educating, re-start the process of educating, and raise the performance levels of both students and teachers.

            If teacher standards cannot rise, then get rid of under-performing teachers. Bermuda’s public educating system must ultimately work for the benefit of Bermuda’s students – not the teachers. Right now Bermuda’s system is only benefiting Bermuda’s teachers.

            That’s wrong! That’s dishonest! It’s nationally disastrous! It’s stupid!

 

QUID PRO QUO

Basing a teachers pay on the college degree that the teacher has is a curious development. Despite the temptation, I won’t deal with the comedic aspects of the proposal.

            But I do think that teachers should get more pay. So, if teachers are asking for a higher than normal pay raise – give it to them. BUT, in exchange, insist that all teachers produce results.

            Right now, neither Berkeley nor Cedarbridge regularly produce classes of students who are able to pass internationally accepted examinations.  Right now, both Berkeley and Cedarbridge have difficulty in regularly producing classes of students who reach the adjusted – and lowered – standards of the Bermuda College.  Right now, neither Berkeley nor Cedarbridge regularly produce classes of students who are able to win local academic scholarships in numbers proportionate to their overall size [Berkeley and Cedarbridge together have about 55% of the total Bermudian pool of secondary school students]. Right now, neither Berkeley nor Cedarbridge regularly produce classes of students who gain freshman year places at competitive entry universities and colleges.

            This is not a new state of affairs. It’s been like this, in some instances, for more than twenty years.

            Saltus, Warwick, BHS, BI, and MSA regularly produce classes of students who meet international standards such as the GCSE[UK], IGCSE, and US High School diploma requirements. Saltus, Warwick, BHS, BI, and MSA regularly produce students who win a disproportionate share of Bermuda’s more than $1,000,000 worth of academic scholarships. Saltus, Warwick, BHS, BI, and MSA regularly produce students who gain freshman year entry to the most selective universities and colleges.

            Between them, these five private schools have expanded and now absorb almost half of all Bermuda’s high school students. There’s also been a proliferation of ‘home schools’. Parents who don’t send their children into Bermuda’s private system also send their offspring to public and private secondary schools in the USA, Canada, UK, and the Caribbean.

            Bermuda’s parents, black and white, are heeding Malcolm X’s advice. They are using “every means possible” to get their children out of the already paid-for public system in order to send their children into what amounts to a ‘twice-paid-for’ private educating system or into a home-school – either here or abroad.

            Why do these parents do that? Because these parents see that Bermuda’s public educating system doesn’t succeed. These parents see that it isn’t working now. They see that it fails to produce results that match the dollars spent on it. They see that, through the years, it hasn’t delivered a good output.

            So why pay the teachers more? Pay them – but demand results. Pay them – but insist that the current trend changes.

The trend? Tests show – AND HAVE SHOWN CONSISTENTLY FOR MORE THAN THIRTY YEARS – that Bermudian students who are in the public system score well when they’re five and six. That they score less well – are falling behind – five years later when they’re ten and eleven. And that they have clearly fallen further behind when they’re fifteen and sixteen.

This process of deterioration – dis-education? – was first shown by the ‘old’ California Achievement Test [CAT]. The CAT was used from the early 1970’s until the 1990’s. Now the ‘new’ Terra Nova test, in use since the 1990’s, displays the same phenomenon.

            In plain language, this means that Bermudian children who are schooled in the public system; who spend their whole twelve [now being upped to thirteen] years in the public system; who get as many dollars spent on their education as does a student at Saltus [the most expensive school in Bermuda’s private system]; will not improve – and won’t hold his or her place – over those twelve [now thirteen] years.

            The ultimate reality is that a Bermudian child who spends twelve [now being upped to thirteen] years being schooled in the public system will not do as well as another Bermudian child who spends exactly the same period of years in the private system.

            But, over those twelve years, the same amount of dollars – more or less – will be spent on that child’s education.

            So why spend even more on teacher’s pay? Spend it, but demand, require, insist on, results.

            Each year, every year, for the entire public school system, publish the results achieved. Publish those results by school. Let Mr and Mrs and Ms Public know and see which public schools achieve good results. AND WHICH SCHOOLS DO NOT.

            Give the Principal of an under-performing public school the right to get rid of under-performing teachers. In exchange for more pay remove – from the Union agreement – any tenure clause that guarantees that Union Rules will provide untouchable job security for a mediocre or bad teacher. Take out those clauses that enable a bad or mediocre teacher to lay back in expensive mediocrity or harmful non-performance for all of his or her teaching life. And, obviously, the Principal of a consistently under-performing school will find it wise to seek another career in another field – before being moved on by parental or Departmental pressures.

            Teaching does require a strong personal commitment. Teachers in the private sector, all of whom are teaching to international test standards, either make that personal commitment AND ALSO succeed at teaching, or they get out, or are gotten out. How long would the Trustees of Saltus [or BHS or Warwick or BI or MSA] keep their present Head if end of year results plummeted or fell, year after year?

            How long would a private sector teacher or Principal last if – annually – he or she trotted out a well-crafted, almost poetic, recitation of reasons for failure – “drugs, family problems, breakdown of the family unit, disruptive students, lack of parent support…”.      Doesn’t happen does it? And, over the last twenty years it hasn’t happened. Not in the private sector.

But it has happened – is happening now – in the public sector. Each year, a poetic recitation of reasons. Each year, no decent results. But each year, the dollar cost rises, and the negative social impact increases. Georgia Assemblyman Julian Bond points out: “Violence is …children going to school for 12 years and receiving 6 years’ worth of education.”  So, from Julian Bond’s perspective, our own Bermudian public educating may be “doing violence” to our own Bermudian children.

            If one considers that a child actually goes into the paid-for public system at age four [4], then it will cost more than $100,000 to educate that child over the [now] fourteen years that it will spend in the total public system. It costs about the same – perhaps just a tiny bit more – if the most expensive school in the private system is used for thirteen years.

            No person or family that shells out one hundred thousand hard-earned dollars  [$100,000] for a product should be cheated out of that product, or receive a bad or faulty product that cannot be returned or exchanged. The private system delivers a full product. Full value. The public system delivers a faulty product. Less than full value.

            Pay them! But they must deliver! Deliver! DELIVER!

            Every year publish the results! Publish! PUBLISH!

THE WALL AND THE BUBBLE

With the results out and the latest furore over, let’s consider reality.

            What is reality?  Well reality is like a Bermuda Stone wall. It’s just there. Implacable. Immoveable. Reality stays ‘just there’ unless you confront it directly and use your own muscle-power or heavy equipment or some other drastic action to move it.

            Perhaps you’re driving along in your $30,000 car. Perhaps, exercising your God-given free will and your 1968 Constitutional Order human right, you decide that you will ignore that Bermuda Stone wall and drive right through it.

            Ten thousand dollars car damage and a long hospital stay later, you recognize and accept the reality of a Bermuda Stone wall.

            That’s the way it is with this Education mess.  Like a Bermuda Stone wall, it was just there. Always there. And it stayed there – just there.

            For twenty years, multi-degreed Educators at the Ministry of Education messed with curriculae; messed with CAT, Terra Nova, BSSC, and BSC tests; and messed with certificates and standards. They even messed with Reports and No Reports to the tax-paying public. Eventually, as with the car, they smashed into the stone wall of reality.

            Over the years a tiresome succession of Ministers of Education – six in the past ten years – obfuscated about, explained away, agonized over, or ignored what was actually taking place on their watch. Still, and eventually, each Minister smashed into the stone wall.

            Now we’re finally acknowledging that we have hundreds of damaged people resulting from over twenty years of abysmally low – and still falling – educational standards. Now we say – all over again – that we’re about to see if we can fix the current damage, and heal the system for better future performance.

            This island is inundated with better-educated and infinitely more aggressive global workers who turn up in every trade and profession. Our two decades worth of spew-out of damaged under-educated Bermudians is already having a major social impact. We now have a relatively huge army of highly visible ‘less employable’ or ‘difficult-to-employ’ male Bermudians. Most – but not all – are black.

            Until we acknowledge the stone wall, we cannot begin to work – drive – safely and sanely towards a real Education solution. Minister Horton, the sixth Education Minister in ten years, has acknowledged the stone wall. So what do we – what does he – need to do?

            One – Stop tinkering with curriculae.  That’s all that we’ve been doing since the 1980’s. Fix on one curriculum and get going!

            Two – Accept that – even if they never ever step off this rock – our Bermudian kids will still compete, RIGHT HERE IN BERMUDA, with the output of better functioning educational establishments that are in countries where the hunger for education is often spurred by a real gut wrenching stomach hunger.

            Three – Accept that Bermuda requires one national curriculum that delivers numeracy and literacy at levels high enough to give Bermudian kids at least an equal chance in their race for jobs.

            Four – Accept that if behaviour and other social issues are problems, then behaviour – not academics – needs to be the focus during pre-school and P1 to P2. After all, teachers complain about behaviour, and pollsters report on low literacy and numeracy amongst today’s 18 – 24 hear olds. Obviously, then, early academics hasn’t been working.

            Five – Accept that if parents will not, do not, or cannot provide the kind of learning support that teacher’s say is required; then the public school system must be prepared to use its initiative, tap into other national resources, and expand the range of services that it delivers.

            Six – If, in order to deal with issues identified in Five, the school system needs a comprehensive breakfast, lunch, and after-school dinner cum homework program – THEN DO IT!

            Seventh and last – If correcting years of failure means that we need to surge for a few years, and break with trite tradition and run a longer school year – THEN DO IT!  After all we allowed motor cars (1946); switched to International Business (1995); changed the voting system (2002); so what’s the big deal if, for a few years, we lengthen the school year?

            For Bermuda’s public education system, we’ve finally, finally, acknowledged that the nation of Bermuda ran into a stone wall. We’ve finally acknowledged that we got a national bloody nose. Let’s stop pussyfooting and fancy-wording. This time, let’s fix it for real.

            If we don’t, the steady massing of even more angry testosterone-filled difficult-to-employ Bermudian males will burst our pretty economic bubble – anyhow! Then what

THE HOPKINS REPORT

We’ve finally had the courage to take an honest look at our public education system. The next step is to make an equally honest attempt to fix it. Already though, tired old excuses and explanations are trotting out. Already, the little signs of backing off and toning down are weaseling through.

            Until the courageous public presentation of the Hopkins Report, Bermuda’s public education system was like a person dressed in a nice velvet jacket. Under that jacket, a sporty shirt and expensive silk tie; but on that person’s face were the grimaces of pain and suffering.

            We’ve stripped off that velvet jacket representing years of concealment. In ripping off the still concealing shirt and nicely matching tie, we found a bandage. We’ve cut through that bandage and discovered flesh and an ugly stinking sore.

            Now, only now – in 2007 – can we finally see what we really need to deal with. What we have to deal with is not pretty. We cannot fix this big ugly oozing sore of a public education system without the patient undergoing some pain and without the patient hearing and having to deal with some harsh – and perhaps unpleasant – truths.

            It’s clear that there are – that there has to be – that there has been – significant under-performance by teachers and senior administrators and managers. It’s clear that some schools – and thus some principal/teacher/student combinations – are working. It’s equally clear – unpleasantly clear – painfully clear – that there are some principal/teacher/student combinations that are failing.

            Education’s successes, as well as its failures, are the result of human efforts. Both success and failure must be clearly and publicly identified. There is no death-dealing harm in identifying failure. In the real world – and Bermuda’s public education system operates in the real world – failure shows through anyhow. 

            If we lack sufficient honesty to publicly identify, then we take the first – the very first – step in putting the ripped shirt back on. After that we’ll start looking for the matching tie…next the velvet jacket.  Then we’ll be right back where we were last time; only, we’ll be one giant step closer to the day when Bermuda’s still expanding under-educated and badly-educated horde reaches critical mass and we get a big-bang national social explosion.

            With the bandage of years of lies, concealment, and obfuscation now cut away,   the public system has to drag itself to a school year end that’s now a mere thirty-three days away. There will be no – there can be no – turnaround in these thirty-three days.  We’ll lose half of this year’s worth of boys and girls. We’ll dump yet one more tranche of our own Bermudian flesh-and-blood on to the already too-big junk heap that’s been the only monument – so far – built by our failing public system.

            Now, above all else, we need to stay as honest as we’ve just started. Now, we need to identify success. Identify failure. Reinforce and reward success. Cut out and eliminate failure. Now, we need to do what any good doctor would do for any patient. We will be wrong – nationally and fatally wrong – if we attempt to fix this stinking mess without clearly identifying what we’re fixing and why. How we’re fixing it and what kind of results we’re looking for.

            By September 2007 when the new school-year starts, we’ll be talking about pumping in the antibiotic of money; we’ll probably be adding the pills of foreign ‘axperts’; and we’ll certainly be applying the painkillers of sweet words from administrators and managers.

            But the ultimate test will be the result. The first evidence that the whole process will succeed will show in the degree of honesty and openness that will be applied. Going forward, the chances of real success in fixing this twenty year-old problem will be in direct proportion to the degree of openness. More openness, more chance of success. Less openness, greater likelihood of yet one more failure.

            Like all those Bermudians who’ve run away from public education; like all those Bermudians who’ve been damaged by its consistently poor results; I’m tired of the whole stinking mess. I’m tired of the trotted-out excuses. I’m tired of the tired explanations. I’m tired!  I make this promise. If this initiative doesn’t work out, I will find an Obeah man. I’ll ask him to call all up his Obeah spirits, and all the world’s evil ghosts, ghouls, and goblins. I’ll tell him to put a hex on the Minister and all his mates.  I promise!