Minister Rabain Updates On Education Reform

May 5, 2023 | 0 Comments

Minister of Education Diallo Rabain provided an update on Education Reform in the House of Assembly today [May 5].

The Minister said, “We acknowledge that the content we have discussed impacts every student and their family in Bermuda differently. We also recognise that our engagement meetings could have been conducted differently to fully achieve the desired outcome: to present the Transition Plan, accept feedback that would be used to guide the plan’s finalisation and then re-engage stakeholders to discuss again. For this, we wholeheartedly apologize, and to everyone who came out or has held subsequent discussions focused on the future of Bermuda’s children and young people, we thank you.”

The Minister’s full statement follows below:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to provide this House and the listening public with an update on Education Reform. I want to take this time to remind honourable members that Education Reform is critical to our country’s success and provides our students with the tools necessary to thrive and succeed in their own country.

We can only progress Education Reform with the collaboration of our stakeholders, such as our Aided Schools, Educators, Parents, Students, Community Partners, and Businesses. Over the last three weeks, the Education Reform Team, consisting of the Ministry and Department of Education with the Education Reform Unit [ERU], has conducted 40 stakeholder meetings to obtain feedback on the proposed enactment of the Transition from a 3-tier to a 2-tier system. It may surprise some, but I am encouraged that some of these meetings that have been held with school communities over the past few weeks have been filled with passion and emotion.

We acknowledge that the content we have discussed impacts every student and their family in Bermuda differently. We also recognise that our engagement meetings could have been conducted differently to fully achieve the desired outcome: to present the Transition Plan, accept feedback that would be used to guide the plan’s finalisation and then re-engage stakeholders to discuss again. For this, we wholeheartedly apologize, and to everyone who came out or has held subsequent discussions focused on the future of Bermuda’s children and young people, we thank you.

The feedback that we received has been used to help shape my Ministerial Statement today. After an initial analysis of the nearly 700 hundred responses and questions we received via the online link and in person, it is clear that we need to communicate more broadly about the following:

  • not just why reforming public education in Bermuda is critical, but why now and what might happen if we don’t;
  • what progress has been made so far;
  • where we are up to now in the process;
  • what is coming next; and
  • how every Bermudian can get involved.

Mr Speaker, as you and my honourable colleagues are aware, although many support the general vision for Education Reform in Bermuda, three questions are often posed whenever the topic of Education Reform is raised:

  • 1. Why are we doing this?
  • 2. Why now, when our young people have suffered so much through COVID?
  • 3. Why can’t we leave the system as it is?

Mr Speaker, “Why are we doing this?” is relatively easy to answer. While we do see some students excel, the system we currently have in place does not serve all our children well. Less than 50% of children and young people achieve the expected standard at various points along their school journey as it exists today. The public education outcomes are not providing sufficient qualified candidates for employment in their industry. In fact, at a recent meeting with business partners, it was mentioned that the state of our Public School system could play a role in whether companies are set up in Bermuda or not.

I am not dismissing the need for foundational knowledge, but this type of education needs to be improved for our young people to succeed in learning and life. And even if they were achieving better results than this, it would be against a set of metrics built for the past. Many of the world’s highest-performing systems, some small island nations like ours, began this journey almost two decades ago. An example of this is Singapore. In 1997, education began to evolve from the colonial system of the past to a system that fulfils both economic needs and supports students’ holistic development, including academic achievement, character formation, societal participation, and self-actualisation.

In short, it is of critical importance to reform public education in Bermuda.

Mr Speaker, “Why are we doing this now, particularly on the back of the COVID pandemic?” is also relatively easy to answer.

The current education system faces challenges that must be addressed urgently to ensure a better future for Bermuda’s students. Many jurisdictions have used the COVID pandemic as the springboard to shift seemingly previously described impossible-to-solve problems in their education systems. They did not attempt to snap back to how things were; they learnt, like we did, about new learning models, new forms of relationships with parents, and how to better leverage technology just as we have.

For us in Bermuda, reform has been promised and attempted many times before, but it still has not met the desired objectives for all students. This is one contributing factor to our system being a highly inequitable one. Delaying the reform process could further hinder progress in addressing the education system’s urgent challenges and negatively impact students’ futures and the future of Bermuda’s society and economy.

Getting to this point has been a long and intricate process, albeit challenging. As many people say, Reform is moving too fast, just as many are frustrated with how long this is taking us.

In short, our job is to strike a balance between the pace of change that can be managed and not delaying the potential benefit for children, their families and the community.

Mr Speaker, this brings me to the third question, “What would happen if we don’t reform public education?” This question weighs heavily on my mind and the mind of the PLP Government.

Today’s jobs are, by and large, different from those of a generation or even just a decade ago. Therefore, the qualifications, credentials, and experiences needed to secure those familiar jobs have also changed. As a result, there is an emerging recognition in education policy and practice that schools can and should better equip students with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in a rapidly changing world.

Our environmental and resource pressures are intensifying. And in Bermuda, we can see how the workforce is changing, fueled by new technologies and social media, and accelerated by the impacts of the COVID pandemic. And as most of us know and acknowledge, our society still has deep and historical divisions.

Bermuda needs an inclusive and culturally responsive public education system that includes restorative learning that values Bermuda’s past, recognises current challenges and opportunities and prepares learners to thrive and lead in Bermuda’s future.

If we do not reform public education, we run the risk of condemning even more young people to increased unemployment or to seek opportunities off the island, increasing inequalities along the lines of the existing racial divide; and a rise in anti-social behaviour and social tension hindering the economic development and success of our island home.

In short, our society and economy depend on Education Reform.

Mr Speaker, I want to briefly recap the process we have been engaged in to date and reassure the House and the listening public that Education Reform has been rushed. I do not say this in a defensive mode or tone, but in acknowledgement that there are some members of our community, including those within these honourable chambers and the other place, which we have yet to reach when discussing all that involves the Education Reform process. The past few weeks have given us a genuine recognition that we can and will have to do a better job at keeping all stakeholders up to date on the journey we have been on.

Mr Speaker, in 2017, Plan 2022 was developed following community conversations and the contributions of thousands of Bermudians. The public called for this work.

2019 saw the development of a scope of works for Education Reform using Plan 2022. The scope of work was shared with stakeholders across the island to see if it appropriately responded to community calls.

In 2020, the Parish Primary consultation began with 131 submissions representing over 1000 consultees. The final report was published in July 2021.

In 2021, the current Education Authority Working Group began the research work to establish an Education Authority.

In October 2021, the History and Legacy Working Group was established and submitted its report in 2022 outlining its recommendations for establishing a statutory History and Legacy Committee.

In 2021 engagement on the possible Signatures took place with over 845 participants across 20+ sessions completed, and teams of people began working on curriculum, teaching and learning, assessment and all the other inside-the-building and classroom practices that were necessary.

In 2021 School Transformation Teams were explicitly formed and focused on the features and learning experiences for S1 of the Signature Learning Programmes at CedarBridge Academy and The Berkeley Institute.

In 2022, we expanded with school transformation teams focused on the features and learning experiences for Signature Schooling and P1 and P7 at the first two Parish Primaries for the Hamilton and Warwick Parishes.

This school year, 2022-2023, our School Transformation Teams have continued, system policy working groups have been expanded, and a new Governance, Leadership and Delivery structure has been put in place.

Since 2022 we have hosted weekly public engagement shows through the Education Matters radio show and the Education Connection online show.

In May 2023, we are actively recruiting educators, parents, community, and business partners to expand the School Transformation Teams even further. The next wave of School Transformation Teams will focus on developing the following:

  • the next 2 Signature Senior Schools will offer Tourism and Hospitality with Education Services at the Sandys Secondary Middle School site and Climate, Environment and Resources and Community and Social Investment at the Clearwater Middle School Site;
  • Parish Primary School Transformation Teams are also needed for the Devonshire, Smith’s and Pembroke and Paget Parishes; and
  • The Alternate Learning School.

And work will continue through ongoing School Transformation Teams at:

  • the Warwick and Hamilton Parish Primary Schools
  • Cedarbridge Academy and The Berkeley Institute

Leading up to the engagement sessions held during the last three weeks, we have held approximately 219 engagement sessions directly related to Education Reform. This includes:

  • 109 Community Conversations held to develop Plan 2022
  • 19 sessions to socialise the scope of works for reforming public education.
  • 20 public sessions focused on the introduction of Public Parish Primary Schools
  • 20 public sessions focused on the identification of appropriate Signatures
  • 60 pop-up sessions led by School Transformation Teams in the community at places like Dockyard, Crawl Gas Station, Mosques and Churches, City Hall and Warwick Pharmacy, to name a few, to test the features of Parish Primaries and Signature Senior Schools
  • 10 Parish Council and PTSA sessions [which were paused to roll out the most recent communications and will pick back up again]

Mr Speaker, that brings us to our work at the moment. As I stated in my opening remarks, the past few weeks have seen us engage in 40 meetings to obtain feedback and responses to the plan Transition from a 3-tier to a 2-tier system.

The Plan that has been shared with internal stakeholders lays out the timeline for the following:

  • opening of all Parish Primary Schools and the closing of other Primary Schools;
  • opening of all Signature Schools; and
  • phasing out of Middle Schools.

Many have asked us why we chose this moment to have that specific conversation.

While much work has been underway on what happens inside the buildings of the schools in transition, the moment the first two Parish Primary Schools in the Hamilton and Warwick Parishes begin to be phased in [September 2023] is the moment we have to start phasing out middle schooling. We must look at the zone-by-zone implications for transitioning children from non-continuing Primary School sites. At this point, our Signature Schools must be ready to accept them into five years of Senior Schooling. This is also true when young people finish at Parish Primary School in P8.

While we acknowledge that the Transition Plan from a 3-tier to a 2-tier system is just one component of the plan to reform public education in Bermuda, it is critical.

The Plan identifies the student movement that is required to:

  • phase out all Middle Schools;
  • operationalise all 10 Parish Primary Schools, each with three preschool streams and two P1-P8 streams; and
  • open all four Senior Signature Schools, each with five years of senior schooling, and the Exceptionalities Signature School and the Alternative Education Signature School.

We acknowledge that these are difficult conversations, and this kind of change is unsettling. The passion, care and concern for Bermuda’s children and young people is abundantly clear.

We must recognise the declining birthrate and public-school enrollment [currently 4003 students in 2023 compared to 7,715 students in 1988] and that human and financial resources are presently spread inequitably across 18 primary schools.

Although it is uncomfortable, we must accept that to realise the outcomes our children and young people need and deserve; we must reduce the number of schools in Bermuda.

Mr Speaker, we acknowledge that all stakeholders need more information to grow confidence in the plan and approach for Education Reform. To this end, we will:

  • continue to meet with stakeholder groups most affected by the change and community groups that are forming in response to Education Reform plans.
  • follow up in writing with all internal stakeholders so that they have copies of the information shared in the initial sessions.
  • publish a series of frequently asked questions for all stakeholders.
  • begin the process of scheduling the next round of engagements with each school community.
  • understanding that unique circumstances depend on the parish being discussed and addressing each parish community considering these unique circumstances.
  • increase our presence in the media and at community events. This will begin this coming Monday, where we encourage those attending the Children’s Reading Festival to come and find our tent at Victoria Park.

As I stated in my opening remarks, we can only progress Education Reform with the collaboration of our stakeholders, so we hope to actively engage as many people as possible in the change process.

Mr Speaker, Education Reform is complex and, at times, disruptive work. It is not glamorous work, and it takes a long time to see the fruits of the labour. However, I want to thank those in the background and foreground working hard to make this happen. I also want to thank the teachers and supporters who have reached out over the past few weeks to offer myself and the team encouragement for the work being undertaken. We still have a ways to go, but the commitment remains as it did when the PLP committed in 2017 to reform education and provide our country with a world-class, 21st Century Public Education System.

When our first Signature Schools students graduate in 2026, they will leave our system equipped for the challenges they will face. They will not just leave with a Bermuda School Diploma. They will also have real-life experiences, internationally recognised certifications, micro-credentials, and critical-thinking skills that will allow them to take their rightful place as valued and highly sought-after people in their country. Bermudians that are educated to lead personally and professionally compete locally and contribute globally. That, Mr Speaker, is the intent I believe all of my honourable colleagues want, and this government will do everything necessary to achieve it.

Thank You, Mr Speaker.

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