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News Report: 'Bahamas urged to ‘get serious on education fix’

Published by Neil Hartnell, Tribune Business, August 30th, 2022

The Bahamas was yesterday urged “to get serious about fixing” its long-standing education crisis amid private sector fears that it will continue to undermine workforce productivity and economic competitiveness.

Peter Goudie, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) labour division head, told Tribune Business that the business community continues to be “very concerned” about the public education system’s output after just 13 percent of students obtained five BGCSE grades of ‘C’ or higher in this summer’s exams.

“That is a question that doesn’t need to be asked,” he replied to this newspaper’s inquiries. “Everybody’s concerned. They keep talking about reforming the education system, but it’s going to take years to fix it and that will only be if someone wants to fix it.

“In many ways, social progression has to be stopped and people have to pass into the next grade. Yes, we’re very concerned. Of course we are. If people are not coming out with better than a ‘D-’ average, we have a problem. The thing is the Ministry of Education has got to get serious about fixing the problem, and also the private sector is worried about people with these grade averages and how much it’s going to affect our productivity.”

Some 633 students gained five BGCSE grades that were ‘C’ or higher out of 4,906 total students who sat the exams this summer. That, though, was hailed by Ministry of Education officials as a 15 percent increase over the prior year when just 550 met this benchmark.

Mr Goudie, who is among the private sector representatives on the National Tripartite Council, the body that deals with all labour-related matters in The Bahamas, said productivity-related concerns surrounding the quality of public high school graduates - their skills, knowledge and suitability for the work environment - were why a Productivity Council had been included in this nation’s Decent Work country programme.

That has been approved by the Government, and he added that an apprenticeship initiative is also planned. Both that and the Productivity Council, though, await the necessary funding from the Government and there has been no indication yet on how or when this will be forthcoming.

#“We’ve got to have people coming out of school with enough education to be productive,” Mr Goudie reiterated. “We’re going to have a problem. We’re going to have a problem if we can’t increase productivity. Anyone can figure that out. It’s very urgent.

“We’ve talked about reforming the education system for years, but it has not been done. Until someone gets serious we’re not going to get anywhere. All you have to do is ask yourself how long have we had a ‘D-’ average on the BGCSE. That’s all you have to ask yourself. That’s not acceptable. We’re in trouble.”

A highly-educated, skilled and agile workforce is critical to The Bahamas’ economic prospects in the service-oriented export industries in which it competes as an international business and financial centre, focused on tourism and financial services. Yet every year there have been concerns over how many of the estimated annual 5,000 high school leavers, especially those entering the workforce, will find gainful employment.

Some 392 students, or just 7.99 percent of those that took the BGCSEs this summer, earned a ‘C’ or higher in maths, English and a science, further serving to highlight concerns about the literacy and numeracy levels of high school graduates. Another 952, or 19.4 percent, gained a minimum ‘D’ grade in at least five subjects. The results came as Sandals Royal Bahamian prepares to hold a job fair tomorrow seeking 60 Bahamian recruits to fill a variety of posts.

The results show that little to nothing has changed since the private sector’s Coalition for Education Reform produced its 2005 report, drawn up by economist Ralph Massey, which revealed that the average mean math and English BGCSE grades for 2004 were ‘E’ and ‘D-’ respectively.

Highlighting real-life examples of functional literacy, or the lack of it, among Bahamian job seekers, the report said: “A recent high school graduate in a beginning class at the Bahamas Technical & Vocational Institute answered ‘22’ to the question ‘What does 2 times 2 equal?’ The next question ‘What does 7 times 7 equal?’ was answered ‘14’.

“A Bahamian executive makes it a practice to interview all job candidates in his departments; and during each interview he always leaves the office and asks the candidate to write a brief paragraph that includes his name and a description of his education and/or work experience. Invariably the applicant cannot write a paragraph with clear sentences, correctly arranged and with minimal spelling errors.”

Turning to the economic implications, the Coalition’s report added: “The Bahamian businessman cannot help but agree with the BGCSE report that the overall level of academic achievement of high school graduates is ‘totally unacceptable’.

“He cannot help but worry about a world that is becoming ever more ‘knowledge driven’. Improvements in productivity can come with the adoption of new technologies that require increased worker and managerial skills, and survival may be possible only by exploiting new service industries requiring greater job skills. In discussing the BGCSE reports and the untapped resource, one can only conclude that something significant must be done with the Bahamian educational system.”

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