Terry Lister: Education Town Hall

September 17, 2010

With Hurricane Igor bearing down, MP Terry Lister continued his public campaign to become the next PLP Party Leader and Bermuda’s next Premier last night [Sept 16]. Inside the small auditorium at Harrington Sound Workmen’s Club, and on the chosen subject of Education, addressing an audience of about 40 people, Mr Lister quoted a reference made by David Miliband – one of the contenders for the leadership of the UK’s Labour Party. Mr Lister: “Education is not the filling of a pail, it is the lighting of a fire.” Mr Lister said that for education to work properly, there had to be the delivery of the “right education to the right student at the right time. “

He said that “low expectations” by both teachers, parents, and students was a problem and that it was important that teachers should have empathy with their students. He said that “each student must be appreciated as the individual that he or she is” and that the known different learning styles all needed to be accommodated within the public school system.

In the lively discussion period that followed Mr Lister’s opening presentation, a member of the audience said that the education system needed to ensure that every student should graduate with at least one technical subject or skill that he or she had mastered.

When questioned about school curriculums and the possibility of yet another change, Mr Lister responded that he believed that the Cambridge International Examination [CIE] curriculum that had been selected was a good one and was internationally recognized. He said that as Premier he “would stick with it” believing that it needed to kept and made to operate to its potential. As Premier, he said that he would push for full implementation. In addition, he said that as Premier he would publish all public school results and would likely use a body that was independent of the Ministry of Education to do that.

Mr Lister, speaking on accountability, said that a failure to hold people accountable is a problem. That there’s a need to change the culture that supports some of today’s lack of accountability. He said: “…my bosses are the 1,100 Registered Voters in my Sandy’s constituency.” He said he saw “Government as the servant of the people.”

The first Town Hall Mr Lister held was on the Economy, the second on Energy and the Environment, the third on Crime and Violence, the fourth on Tourism and Transport and the fifth was on Sports and Culture and sixth was on Labour and Immigration. The final of these ‘Town Hall’ meetings will be at St James’ Church Hall, Sandy’s, on Thursday September 23 starting at 7:00pm.

Mr Lister, Deputy Premier Paula Cox and Dale Butler, are all seeking the leadership position of the PLP which is expected to become available next month upon the retirement of Premier Dr Ewart Brown.

Mr Lister’s full speech follows below:

Good Evening and welcome to our seventh Town Hall meeting. This is the first time I have made a speech at the Harrington Workmen’s club, the home of the Eastern Counties champions.

Tonight we are going to talk about what educators must do to prepare students to be productive citizens in our community. Additionally, I believe that education has an ethical and traditional mission therefore imparting values to our students is essential. All of us have recognised that many of our students in the Public Education System need to acquire a sense of community and social values. Our students must be taught – by their parents as well as teachers, the church and the community – to take personal responsibility for their attitudes and involvement in our community.(By show of hands how many would agree with this statement.)

The Hon. David Miliband MP, candidate for the leadership of the British Labour Party, said that Education is not the filling of the pail but the lighting of a fire – a fire of confidence and inquiry that needs to sweep across society with ever greater intensity, and is reflected in higher standards across the board.

Education is a discipline that is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and prepare them for usefulness in the world. To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is absolutely necessary; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties. However, this is not intended to lay blame but rather for us collectively to accept responsibility to continue the ever increasing task of providing the right education to the right student at the right time while at the same time each student is treated as an individual.

In launching my campaign I stated that assessment of two-year olds by Child Development will be mandatory. This is to ensure that our children get off to a solid start because the assessments identify any needs and allow for the addressing of those needs at the earliest possible time. When Education Minister, I appreciated the impact on the student, the family, and the classroom of those students who were not assessed and whose needs were not identified until age five. Therefore we must demand standards of progress and opportunity through public education in Bermuda. We must help our children to succeed by preparing them for a 21st century challenges by affording them 21st century opportunities.

The success of the reading recovery programme for Year Two students must be monitored and assisted during the balance of each student’s primary school experience. We must ensure that our students can read when they leave primary school. As Minister, I was proud of the fact that our reading recovery programme is one of the best in the world. Yet I was concerned that reading performance of our boys, in particular, fell off through each succeeding year of primary school. Thirty or forty years ago children who dropped out of high school or who never went to college seldom became involved with crime. Thirty or forty years ago most would have gone on to find a job and become self made. However, we no longer live in that world. We must ensure that the needs of our students are met so that they are able to satisfy the demands of the global community. Failure to do this can result in a future that is morally unacceptable and economically untenable in a globalised world.

While every child should be provided with a highly qualified teacher, the most valuable skill a teacher can bring to today’s classroom is empathy for students. A teacher with empathy even when he/she is faced with the most challenging students will give each student a chance to succeed. Students will succeed when a parent or a teacher instils the belief that they can, that they have the ability to and that they are worth it. Thus we must eliminate low expectations by both parents and teachers. Low expectations, as we know, lead to low self-esteem and, in turn, to failure. Bermuda can not afford more failure instead Together we must strive for success.

Physical health programmes for primary, middle and senior school students will be implemented to help develop healthy lifestyles. Research shows that healthy eating patterns in childhood and adolescence promote optimal childhood health, growth, and intellectual development; prevent immediate health problems, such as iron deficiency anaemia, obesity, and other eating disorders; and may prevent long-term health problems, such as coronary heart disease, cancer, and stroke. School health programmes can help children and adolescents attain full educational potential and good health by providing them with the skills, social support, and environmental reinforcement they need to adopt long-term, healthy eating behaviours.

Each student must be appreciated for being the individual that he/she is. Thus skill assessment must be used to place students at the right level based on their assessment. Given our very small class sizes there is no need for students to be left behind because the teacher can only teach to one level in the class. Instead through the assistance of computer based learning, the class can be grouped and taught in these groups for the relevant subject areas.

Meanwhile the talented and gifted students should also be provided for. When I was Minister, a young teacher went to the US to study to be the officer responsible for providing programmes for the talented and gifted students. We must create specifically dedicated centres of excellence to motivate all such students. We can actually operate the centres of excellence, mainstream and single sex streams, within the same facility and will implement these programmes on an as soon as possible basis.

To make better use of the talented student’s abilities we will facilitate peer educating groups that encourage students to assist each other. This will bring the various segments of the student population closer together while closing the gap for those in danger of falling behind. For the talented student this will serve as a recognition reward and provide opportunities for leadership growth.

If all students are to succeed, the allocation of the correct teacher to each group of students is vital. The headmaster will be responsible to ensure that all students are taught by that teacher that is best equipped to reach that group of students. Consistent with this, social promotion will be eliminated. Two changes will be put in place. First, there will be more points at which retention can occur and second, and more importantly, the retention decision will be made by the Ministry on recommendation from the school principal rather than by the parent.

To make better use of expensive school facilities the timetable of the Berkeley Institute and CedarBridge Academy will be coordinated on a phased basis to encourage interuse by students of each institution. Furthermore, there will be the integration of Bermuda College with our senior schools so that the outstanding senior school students will be encouraged to take first year University courses while still at senior school.

The whole discussion about the need for a technical school in Bermuda should have ended in 2006. The facilities at the new Berkeley are superior to anything seen in Bermuda previously however we must ensure the full integration of vocational/technical courses into the new senior and, later, middle school system. The same applies to the teaching of basic business courses. We need to ensure that students take an economics course, an accounting course along with one in international business and another in tourism. At worst, these courses will give students an understanding of the economics of the Bermuda in which they live.

Technical programmes must be better integrated between the National Training Board, senior schools and employers. This will involve increasing the involvement of vocational certification providers. This approach will increase the likelihood of students being taught what the workplace believes entry level workers should know.

Work release programmes are important tools for showing students what their futures can be. Such programmes have to be well thought out to be effective and must be beneficial to both students and business owners. The exposure to careers by this means will enable the student to be job ready upon leaving school.

To increase the likelihood of companies being involved in schools a tax credit programme will be considered. The companies will be expected to provide learning opportunities, internships, apprenticeships, summer employment opportunities and, wherever possible, scholarships in order to qualify for tax credits.

We must now align the results of teachers and support staff to the result of students. Whatever measuring system is used must reward the teachers and administration for the student being mentored, encouraged, and developed into a successful person. To ensure the development and training of teachers effective performance evaluations must be in place. Student progress information must be used as part of the teacher evaluations. These evaluations should be designed for growth and development thus they must be fairly administered.

Given that site management is vital to the success of our schools, programmes will be implemented to prepare potential headmasters for the role. Effective schools are led by effective headmasters who are properly prepared and coached. No new headmaster will be appointed without having undergone a proper development programme.

A re-examination of the progression of educational opportunities in Bermuda will include the role of the Bermuda College. As the only post secondary institution in Bermuda, Bermuda College the capacity to offer its own degrees in limited areas, very similar to polytechnic university.

Lastly, an independent research unit will be established to analyse and publish information on education including education results totally independent of the Ministry of Education.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to be the leader of the Bermuda Progressive Labour Party and in turn the Premier of Bermuda. The ideas that I have expressed tonight will bring significant change in education in Bermuda and better results for our students. I continue to be concerned about how our schools prepare our boys for the future and will promote these ideas to achieve better results for our boys. Upon election my administration will move on these on an immediate basis because Its Bermuda’s Turn.

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