Election 2020: ‘Take the politics out of education’

  • Strong views: Danielle Riviere, former West Pembroke Primary School PTA president (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Strong views: Danielle Riviere, former West Pembroke Primary School PTA president (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

An independent authority must be created to take the politics out of Bermuda’s public education system, a parent and former PTA president has said.

Danielle Riviere, who moved her three children into private schools after primary education because she lacked confidence in the public schools, said: “There needs to be real discussion about creating an education body outside of politics.

“We need to remove the political banter around education to ensure that consistency can be maintained.

“There seems to be year-on-year changes around teacher expectation and curricular decisions — it goes back to the conversation about changes in the political realm when there are new ministers and governments.

“Education is always at the forefront of every political conversation, but we are yet to truly feel improvements based on whoever is in power.”

The Progressive Labour Party and the One Bermuda Alliance have backed the establishment of an education authority, a move recommended by advisory group Bermuda First in January 2019.

Bermuda First emphasised the importance of independence for the authority.

But neither party has detailed what would make an authority different from the Ministry of Education and Department of Education.

The PLP platform said an authority would be responsible for the performance management of all schools but Bermuda First also recommended it should also be responsible for “researching and implementing a holistic public education system”.

Rebecca Ausenda, the executive director of education pressure group the Bermuda Education Network, who has a master’s degree in education from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, said that taking politics out of education only solved part of the problem.

She added: “The harder problem to solve is a culture which tends to discourage constructive criticism from the educators on the front lines. I think that’s a product of a centrally controlled system which gives too much responsibility to a small number of senior civil servants.”

One major promise set out by the PLP in the last election was the end of middle schools and the introduction of specialised signature schools.

The last government unveiled a prototype for a revamped education system in Parliament at the end of July designed to give access to international qualifications such as City and Guilds certificates and expand dual enrolment in college in secondary schools.

Diallo Rabain, the education minister, said the changes would give pupils “a broader variety of potential life interests at an earlier age”.

Ms Ausenda supports the elimination of middle schools and the creation of signature schools for 11 to 18-year-olds.

She said: “Signature schools could create new opportunities for vocational education in Bermuda, which I think is urgently needed.

“But schools which specialise in the arts, science, technology, English and maths or sports are very expensive because they require state-of-the-art facilities and highly qualified leaders and teaching staff.

“In the UK and the US, specialist schools have generally been formed under charter school legislation, so I think we need something similar here that allow companies and philanthropists to contribute in a fair and transparent way and also gives community groups a say.”

Diallo Rabain, then the Opposition education spokesman, said before the 2017 election that, if elected, the PLP would carry out a health and safety review of all buildings.

The OBA had already examined all 18 primary schools through a report on schools reorganisation, the Score Report, which found widespread mould and vermin infestation, as well as dilapidated buildings.

Mike Charles, the general secretary of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, suggested that the report should cover all schools.

TN Tatem Middle School was permanently closed as a “sick building” in February because of mould.

Several people have been on sick leave at Harrington Sound Primary School because of mould problems and classrooms at the school was evacuated last year after rats were found living in the ventilation system.

Ms Riviere, a former PTA president at West Pembroke Primary School, said that education improvement would need adequate financing.

She added: “There needs to be an assessment of what education costs from infrastructure improvements to bringing them into the 21st century and ensuring adequate resources.

Ms Riviere said: “There may be a budgetary number assigned, but is it an adequate amount to support our children?”

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Published Sep 26, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Sep 26, 2020 at 6:48 am)

Election 2020: ‘Take the politics out of education’

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