The following speech was delivered by Diallo Rabain during the 2019 Annual Delegates Conference.
Good Evening and Welcome Family.
I want to spend a bit of time talking to you tonight about public education. I want to let you know what we have been doing and what needs to be done. I want to talk to you about what we, as a collective need to get serious about and the necessary next steps as we look to transform our public-school education system.
When I speak to us as a collective, I am referring to not just you gathered here tonight. I am referring to our educators who work so hard within our classrooms and the Department of Education staff; I am talking about our parents, like our party leader, who trust the Public Education system to educate their children and most importantly, our students.
Whether you have chosen to opt to send your children to Private School or have your children in the Public-School system, the success or failure of the system affects you. Parents who have chosen the path of Private Schooling, are still affected by the decisions made within the Public School Education System.
In 2017, we inherited a school system that had suffered years of neglect financially - neglect which resulted in severe infrastructure problems and low morale. Instead of being able to jump right in and get to work on the longer-term things help was elected to take action on, such as phasing out Middle Schools and Transforming our system. A great deal of energy and funding was put into fixing buildings to make them acceptable for our students.
In addition to this, we set about to immediately return scholarships and awards to sufficient funding levels to help tour people seeking to upgrade or re-tool themselves by providing additional funding to the Bermuda College, specifically for financial aid. This is program that has helped over 550 students to date and we are still counting.
We spent a lot effort in the last 2 years addressing basic issues in our schools such as repairing sick buildings, fixing broken things like fire alarms and windows, working hard to fill outstanding educator’s posts, some of which had gone unfilled for several years, and installing Wi-Fi and building up Computer
These are but some of the things that were needed to get our system back to a place, where learning for our children could be worked on so we could start to achieve better outcomes.
We have set about doing those things and while far from perfect or where we would like to be, we are in a much better space today than what where we were in 2017.
Plan 2022 was finished and put in place starting in 2018 in earnest and we are starting to see the fruits of that plan. Since the implementation of the plan we have seen:
- More funding has been allocated to the Child-development Program to enhance Parent engagement.
- The 3-year-old pilot program at the pre-school level. Thesis a program that allows 3-year-olds to attend pre-school.
A program that can serve to ensure our children get an earlier start on their educational journey and well as reduce the financial burden on our parents.
- The introduction of languages at the pre-school level with Spanish, French and Portuguese being introduced this term.
- An ASD Program at the Pre-School Level in now in its first year.
- At the Primary Level, a STEAM Curriculum has been put in place
- At the Senior School Level, alternative pathways to graduation have been introduced such as the Penn Foster Program as well as more City and Guilds Certifications introduced.
- The College Promise Program was introduced which will allow any Graduating Senior from The Berkeley Institute and Cedar bridge Academy with the appropriate GPA to attend the Bermuda College, tuition Free.
While we have made significant strides, we are now in 2019, and we need to have an open discussion about the direction we need to be moving in to truly transform our system. We need to have an honest conversation about where we are as country and what can be done along with ways to get there.
As of today, we have 4587 students in our school system. This is just over 1,000 fewer students that we had in our system 10years ago and 2000 fewer students that we had 20 years ago.
We currently have 10 Pre-Schools, 18 Primary, 5 Middle and 2
Senior Schools in our system. Today we average 122 students per primary school. 20 years ago, we averaged 182 students per primary school. To fully illustrate where we are today, there are currently 5 primary schools with less than 100students each and a further 5 with less than 110 students each.
While our plans to phase out middle schools and revert to a 2-tier system are in train, this cannot be done without the uncomfortable but necessary conversation around the need tore-purpose and realign our primary schools. This needs to be done to allow us as a country to provide our students with the best schools, best teachers and ultimately the best chances of getting everything that they need to achieve success.
Our education system is a comprehensive one. This means that regardless of the ability of the student, the system needs to find a way to ensure that they have the adequate resources necessary to learn. As we educate the many different types of students of today, this is increasingly difficult, with the number of locations we have to maintain.
While it would seem to be obvious that based on the number of students we have, combining students and re-purposing of the schools we currently run, should be the logical next steps.
However, this is a conversation that most people want to begin with "What schools will not be around?" or "You better not think about closing my school!"
We need to move away from train of thought and start to ask
"How will this create a better learning environment for our students?" or "How will this produce better outcomes?"
The fact is that the only other option we have is the spend more on the status quo, an option that is not fiscally feasible or possible. We need to be BOLD to break the status-quo, so we can serve ALL of our Students.
Well, let me give an overview of how I see it when I ask the question "How will this create a better learning environment for our children?" or "How will this produce better outcomes?" You see family, re-purposing our current 18primary schools will allow us to:
- Shift existing resources we currently have, between fewer schools. This can ensure we have the best teachers in all of our classrooms.
- Create a system where primary schools have multiple Deputy-Principals to provide enhanced leadership
- Instead of having to fund, for example, 18 computer labs, the money used for those 18 labs can be used in fewer schools, ensuring labs with more computers and the latest technology.
- We would now have vacant school locations that can be rebuilt to modern state of the art standards without having to rebuild/renovate the buildings while occupied.
- ALL of the funding from the schools no longer used, would be pushed back into the School system and into rebuilding efforts. This will not only provide remaining schools with additional funding, but we can use the funding also to rebuild or Renovate schools which will provide employment for Bermudians building new, state of the art, schools.
We were elected to fix education and our platform stated that we will make Education our priority. We will consult with the relevant stakeholders but we will ACT and we will transform our school system to provide 21st-century learning centres of excellence for our students. Our children deserve nothing less.
The Bermuda First report has recommended an Education Authority, and after reading that report and discussing the it with Bermuda First representatives, this recommendation is under serious consideration by the government. Breaking the status quo of the last 25+ years is important, but difficult. With the challenge of school re-purposing, we must recognize that these types of difficult decisions will need to be at arm's length from politics to ensure that we don't continue the with statuesque.
I came here tonight, to inform and update you as to where we are with reforming our system. I started by talking about us, as a collective and how important it is for this collective to understand the role they play in what needs to be done. I want you to know that any decisions will not be made without consultation from the collective.
However, we have to be BOLD, we need to have open minds and ALWAYS be ready to put our students' needs first at all times. We are at the beginning of a journey that will elevate our Public Education System to a system of first choice. This cannot be done without you, the collective.