2015/2016 BUDGET DEBATE
HON. JEROME K. FITZGERALD
MINISTER OF EDUCATION
HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
11 JUNE 2015
I begin my official contribution today by saying there are two kinds of people in the world: those who seek to build up and those who seek to tear down. I want everyone in this House today and everyone listening and watching right now to ask yourselves, which one are you?
We hear and read day in and day out on the talk shows and in the papers people whose narrative is to talk about how bad they think the country is, and how Bahamians have very little hope for the future. Well the time for saying Bahamians don’t deserve a stronger future is over! Saying “I will believe it when I see it” tears us down! What we should be saying is “I will believe it and I will build it”. This is when we thrive. I believe we can have a Stronger Bahamas Mr. Speaker. We will build a safer, prosperous and modern future and we will include all Bahamians in this initiative. It was through the feedback of Bahamians that Stronger Bahamas was developed. We consulted with them Mr. Speaker, through national surveys and in-person discussion groups. What we heard was a resounding “This is what The Bahamas Needs. Hope. What I see in this initiative is hope.”
The challenges in our country cross all party lines Mr. Speaker! They cross gender barriers and economic barriers. So we are inviting all Bahamians no matter their life circumstances or their political leanings to believe that we can have a stronger future, and work together to build it.
Mr Speaker our country grows through partnerships. We as citizens learn through not only our domestic training systems but through international experience. This initiative brings together in a spirit of true partnership the experience of both domestic and international experts in the field of strategic communications, marketing, creative development and production and research.
Mr Speaker we do believe in Bahamians. That has not changed. That is why we are ensuring that Bahamian experts both in the public service and private sector are engaged with us every step of the way. This is necessary so our local economy from all activities our government embarks upon Bahamians can benefit from knowledge transfer exercises and best practices.
Mr Speaker this is the same reason I travelled with my senior management team over the past 3 years to Finland, Canada, Singapore and this year Australia. We want to examine and discuss education best practices. It’s the same reason that in 2 weeks we are hosting the 19th Commonwealth Education Ministers meeting where 53 education Ministers are expected to attend and over 1000 stakeholders in education from every corner of the globe. We will discuss best practices and learn from each other. There will be a transfer of knowledge. It’s the same reason myself and hundreds if not thousands of other Bahamians got some job experience internationally before returning home. To build capacity. That’s why thousands of Bahamians have studied abroad even though we have a local college and thousands of Bahamians have traveled internationally to training seminars and returned home to institute international best practices into their organization.
Mr Speaker we may be an Island Nation but that does not mean that we must believe that we are an Island unto ourselves and be insular and insecure in our thinking. To build a stronger Bahamas we have to think big and we needs all hands and minds on deck and yes some of those hands and minds that help us build a stronger Bahamas will not be Bahamian but if they are people or companies of good will there is nothing wrong with us encouraging or engaging them to work with us. Lets grow up!
For too long Mr. Speaker the narrative has been about what is going wrong in our country – again by those that seek to tear down. We have an opportunity with this new Stronger Bahamas initiative to talk about what we can do and accomplish together. Let’s start talking collectively about what we are doing, and can be doing, to be great – let’s build up!
Most importantly Mr. Speaker, Stronger Bahamas is not about the past but it is about our capacity for the future.
Again, I believe we can have a Stronger Bahamas. We can have a safer, more prosperous and more modern future, and I wholeheartedly endorse the vision of this administration.
Mr. Speaker, the 2015/2016 Budget is consistent with what the Prime Minister presented to the Bahamian people in his Budget Communication on the 27th May, 2015.
I am an ardent proponent of Building a Stronger Bahamas, and most specifically building a Modern Bahamas – this focus directly impacts the work of my Ministry. “We are Building a Modern Bahamas grounded in an all-enhancing development strategy, with stronger and more effective educational standards for high school graduation, enhanced post-secondary education through the creation of the University of The Bahamas, as well as an improved and sustainable array of other social programmes…”
We accept that no two people are exactly alike, yet until now, we have not begun to augment our approach to education. We have been teaching the same things year after year, using the same methods and appear mystified when we get the same results. Our high school graduation rate in the public school system has been roughly at 50% for the past 15 years. This number is not uncommon in many parts of the world but as Minister of Education I know we can and should do better. In The Bahamas – a country of approximately 350,000 people, we have recorded about 2,500 students not meeting the criteria to graduate each year. As a quick calculation over the years this group now accounts for about 35 to 38 percent of the present work force.
How does a country sustain itself if as much as a third to 40 percent of its population does not possess a basic education in a world where change is not only constant but almost instant, and the pressure of competition and market forces can be merciless and devastating?
It is a dichotomy that presents both challenges and opportunities.
Mr. Speaker, if we are to Build a Safe, Prosperous and Modern Bahamas, then education must become a core value. It must become an intrinsic part of our social identity. Education cannot just be a priority of some; it must be the core value of ALL.
It goes without saying that education is the driving force for the success of any nation. We heard this when we spoke to Bahamians as part of the listening exercises that led us to the development of the public engagement program that is Stronger Bahamas. Education is a matter of National Security and it is a matter of livelihood – Education is the foundation of a Stronger Bahamas. I am reminded of the manner in which Dr. Ben Levin outlined the cost to a nation when the education system is inadequate. He states that countries will experience five major socio-economic challenges as a direct result of poorly educated citizens:
1. Foregone national income, GDP.
2. Foregone tax revenues for the support of government services,
3. Increased demand on social services,
4. Increased crime, and
5. Poorer levels of health.”
Simply put, a poorly educated populace leads to a decrease in tax revenue and GDP and increased demand on social services, health services and safety services. And if we are honest with ourselves, we are seeing the effects of it manifested in our communities right now.
After becoming the Minister of Education, I met with senior education officials and we embraced the challenge and opportunity that beset our country’s educational progression. We undertook a decision to expose ourselves to global best practices in modernization. This has paved the way for the acceptance of some of the changes now embraced in our educational system.
BAHAMAS NATIONAL HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA
1. A Modern Bahamas encompasses the Bahamas National High School Diploma. For the first time in the history of our educational system and country, we have embarked on standardizing high school education and creating opportunities to improve the rate of success for our high school students. Now, more than ever, we need to focus on children’s aptitude, whether it is an aptitude for music, an aptitude for painting, an aptitude for solving mathematical equations or an aptitude for writing. The long and short of it is – that our children all have a natural tendency and it is our job to tap into these gifts and enhance them to maximize the child’s potential and position them for success.
Mr. Speaker, The Bahamas National High School Diploma seeks to do just that. Allowing students to choose Paths that are designed to increase their success and provide them with transferrable skills so that they are better equipped for the real world upon the completion of high school. Concisely, the National High School Diploma will establish a benchmark for what is considered a minimum basic education that every child should obtain before leaving the school system and will include standards for:
Community service and
Mr. Speaker, what The Bahamas National High School Diploma has done, is revolutionize the high school system in the country. We have redesigned and modernized the curriculum to maximize student achievement and success. The subjects students select will no longer be haphazardly chosen but based on the pathway that the student desires. There are five types of courses offered:
Mr. Speaker, the Career Academy concept supports the Government’s efforts to strengthen the Career & Technical Education sector in Senior Secondary Education (SSE) in order to improve labor market opportunities for high school graduates, and ensure sufficient skilled labor for The Bahamian economic and industrial development. The Career Academy seeks to address deficiencies presently observed in our existing educational structure, relative to Career and Technical Education (CTE), specific training and assessment, with a view to continue to improve national examination results, reduce the dropout rate and enhance the capabilities of students presently considered non-performers in the general comprehensive school environment.
The establishment of a Career Academy in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas will result in:
Improved graduation rate
Decreased dropout rate
Increased industry-based training
Expanded employment capacity
The Career Academy will also offer considerable advantages over comprehensive schools including more diverse course offerings, increased cost-efficiency resulting from economies of scale, and the opportunity to develop stronger teaching and mentoring teams. At the same time, the quality of the model schools will be enhanced by identifying international benchmarks and providing the resources needed to help schools achieve them. Such Academies focus on competency based training, with an instructional focus on literacy and numeracy across the curriculum.
Career Academy programs prepare students for:
Advanced technical institutions
College or University
Entry into their chosen career
Mr. Speaker, DATA is the driving force behind all the decisions being made. To Build a Modern Bahamas will entail the use of modern practices. Policy must have data planning and accountability as its foundation.
Student Achievement Unit
Mr. Speaker, a Modern Bahamas, uses research and data as an integral part of its decision making. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology knows full well that modern societies rely upon best practices abreast with global trends and we are doing just that. In order to effectively implement The Bahamas National High School Diploma it was determined that there was a need to establish a new unit within the Ministry of Education; The Student Achievement Unit.
This Unit is the backbone of the National High School Diploma and is the research and data component that undergirds many of our new initiatives and strategies. This unit will be the catalyst for intervention from preschool straight through to high school. The Student Achievement Unit mandate is to use data to improve student performance. For too long, we have been guessing and we see where that has gotten us; now we are compiling data on each student in our public schools to determine whether or not they require intervention to ensure that they are given the best chance at success.
At present, the Student Achievement Unit can provide data on all of our 9th, 7th and 4th graders based on last year’s national examination results and can tell us how many students are above, at, or below grade level; areas of strengths and weaknesses; the exact number of BJC’s the present tenth graders have; and who is and is not on track for the Bahamas National High School Diploma. As a result, we are able to identify all the students who would benefit from tutoring in certain subjects and we provide that free of charge during the afterschool programme. There is no doubt that we are embracing the ideals of a Modern Bahamas.
Student Intervention & Proposed Star Academy
Mr. Speaker, one of the greatest challenges that beset our educational system is the lack of parental involvement and nucleus of our society, and poorly socialized children is endemic among our lower-income families.
STAR ENRICHMENT PROGRAMME & STAR ACADEMY – Not a temporary fix
Mr. Speaker, Frederick Douglass once said & I quote
“It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men.”
Mr. Speaker, since 1992, the government of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas has provided alternative education programmes for students with behavioral challenges. Despite efforts made, far too many of our students are “falling through the cracks” and becoming a part of the criminal elements that are wreaking havoc in our society.
Mr. Speaker, William Fielding chair of The College of the Bahamas Planning Unit completed a research study on violence in schools with emphasis on public schools:
His research revealed the following:
Between 2009 and 2012, 908 juveniles were charged with crimes against the person; 58 were females and 850 males.
Academic performance is negatively impacted by adverse behavior and criminal offences that causes distress and put students at risk of not maximizing their full potential. Observations of our youth as they interact at school, home and community have highlighted the increase of anti-social behavior and the need for enhanced programmers and facilities.
Star Enrichment Program – Changing the culture of our schools by being more proactive than reactive.
Mr. Speaker, the Umbrella Project will encompass all schools with specific programs for our alternative programs and schools such as Program SURE, Taps, Penn/Pratt, Pace, Haven, Refocus Centers and STAR Academy.
During our first week of planning we were fortunate to have interaction and feedback from Mr. Andre Norman – a motivational speaker who is renowned for his work with at risk populations, from Harvard Law School assisted us on April 23-24. The information he shared brought insight on how to improve this program, Shame, Home visits and academics must be address.
He is so impressed with what we are doing that he decided to schedule a subsequent visit during May 11-15, 2015 to continue to work with us.
At Risk- (Greater emphasis on character education throughout all grades levels to motivate all students; and not focus only on the high & proven risk
We will implement programs that can be measured (pre & Post Test and T-test (assesses the average of the pre & post test & shows the difference between the two which will prove if what your doing is working) that includes Intervention and Therapeutic programs. These will address the social issues such as anger management, conflict resolution, drugs,
Chapter 1- Myself (self esteem)
Chapter 2- Personal and Family Values
Chapter 3- Communication and “Masculinity” /
Chapter 4- Sexuality
Chapter 5- Dating Violence
Chapter 6- Abstinence and Contraception
Chapter 7- Sexually Transmitted Infections
Chapter 8- Goal-Setting
Chapter 9- Decision-Making
Chapter 10 – Parenthood
School hours – 8:45 – 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. required after school programs
Professionally train personnel- guidance counselors, school psychologist, reading specialist, special education teachers, school police officers and trackers/monitors must be in place to follow the students’ performance upon their return to school. Another very import arm must be parental involvement & training.
Mr. Speaker, a Modern Bahamas will positively influence and educate the whole child, academically, emotionally and psychologically. The Student Transitioning, Achieving & Re-focusing Enrichment Programme (STAR Enrichment Programme) will cater to those students who are deemed high risk and “will provide a quality learning environment which will assist students with personal development and foster an environment and school culture for students to develop and realize their individual potential in ways that they value who they are, their language, culture and identity.”
Mr. Speaker, a multi-faceted approach will be taken to ensure that the goals and objectives are achieved. At the end of the day, we must ensure that more students are not just leaving school but graduating from school and the same applies for those school-aged children who find themselves running afoul with the law. A Stronger Bahamas and a Modern Bahamas will ensure that no child is left behind and that all school-aged children, regardless of academic, socio-economic, social, religious or nationality standing is provided with the environment to strive and grow and discover who they are and what they are capable of in order to be contributing members of society.
The Marjorie Davis Institute for Special Education
The Marjorie Davis Institute for Special Education is indicative that we are a Modern Bahamas. This state-of-the-art Special Education facility is another intervention platform that is already experiencing unprecedented success. Birthed out of a need to address the learning challenges facing primary school students who have diagnosed learning disabilities, the concept and strategies were being engaged prior to the institute’s existence, however, the facility allows for greater emphasis and concentration to be placed on meeting the student’s learning needs. Officially opened on Thursday, 16th April, 2015, parents are already making requests to have their children remain at the school rather than matriculate back into the traditional classroom due to the love of learning that is being fostered and the rate of sheer joy of success that the young students are experiencing. This Mr. Speaker is what a Modern Bahamas is about. Stepping outside the box and replacing traditional methods with best practices.
Mr. Speaker, this is the first of its kind in the region and we are determined to ensure that all students entering first grade are tested so that teachers and parents can be informed and advised on the best learning environment for their child(ren). Simply put, we are now being PROACTIVE instead of reactive and seeking to identify learning disabilities before students experience frustration and difficulties, which can greatly affect their self-esteem. A Modern Bahamas and a modern educational system acknowledges that all children are gifted learners, but also different learners and can all experience academic, social, and emotional success inside the classroom.
T. G. Glover Professional Development & Research School
Mr. Speaker, in August 2013, the Cabinet of The Bahamas approved the establishment of the T. G. Glover Professional Development and Research School to be housed at a state-of-the-art primary school campus that had recently been opened. The purpose of the
Professional Development School is four-fold and focuses on:
1. the preparation of new teachers;
2. faculty development;
3. inquiry directed at the improvement of practice and
4. enhancing student achievement.
Mr. Speaker, a universal best practice is for colleges/universities as well as teacher education institutions to form partnerships with elementary and high schools. As a result of the symbiotic relationship, both the quality of teaching and student learning are improved. Mr. Speaker, T.G. Glover has adopted this best practice and this institution is keeping in line with global trends.
Mr. Speaker, through a partnership with the College of The Bahamas, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is ensuring that the philosophy of a professional development school is being adhered to. The MOEST will continue to be responsible for staffing and procurement of instructional resources.
Mr. Speaker, Dr. Thalia Micklewhyte, Associate Professor in the School of Education at The College of The Bahamas is the Resident Professor at the T.G. Glover Professional Development & Research School. Pre-service teachers from COB School of Education continue to be assigned to the school during their Methods course as well as for their Teaching Practice Module. Mr. Speaker, the students are also given the opportunity to volunteer as Teacher’s Aides. COB will also be involved with research activities at the school.
THE MABEL WALKER PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT INSTITUTION
Mr. Speaker, the Mabel Walker Professional Development Institution is vital to the success of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology’s shared vision for 2030. Through this institution, employees will be assured of opportunities to continually keep pace with current 21st Century educational standards; maintain and enhance the knowledge and skills needed to deliver professional service and pursue knowledge that is relevant and up to date. It is believed that with well planned continuing professional development activities, employees will not only be able to safeguard their careers, but also the interests of the employer, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the public, the schools and the community at large.
Mr. Speaker, the goal of the Mabel Walker Professional Development Institute is to create, in The Bahamas, a cadre of education professionals who are better prepared with the requisite skills to lead and serve, while promoting the value of on-going learning and growth for all. The Institute will offer to all educational professionals, administrative and support personnel, a variety of relevant and effective professional development activities and resources that are based on agreed performance standards and competencies. The Institute will seek to align policy with practices; build leadership and capacity to deliver change at all levels; improve the delivery of services to the public, particularly students; and generally, to increase effectiveness and efficiency within the Ministry. Additionally, Mr. Speaker, the Institute will seek to work with various stakeholders in education, unions and training institutes to advance the quality of education and job performance.
Mr. Speaker, with the erection of a state of the art 400 capacity auditorium, two demonstration classrooms, an interactive computer classroom, recording and editing studio, and an employee assistance complex, it is envisioned that the institution will provide a range of training opportunities for employees in the education system, acknowledging international and research-based standards and best practices for professional learning and growth. Mr. Speaker, the estimated cost of phase I is approximately four million dollars. An investment of this magnitude will impact the future of education in The Bahamas as there will be increased opportunities and flexibility in scheduling of professional development activities.
I am pleased to say that the goals of the Charter for Governance for preschool have been achieved and is continuing thus far in a most successful manner. The INSPIRE project which was given a loan of more than 20 million dollars for the improvement of Education in the Bahamas included early childhood education as a very important component. This project prior to my coming to office made some progress but increased its progress tremendously during the years 2012 to 2014.
The Early Childhood Standards and Regulations were unanimously passed in Parliament in 2013 which resulted in the establishment of a Preschool and Daycare Centre Council which now has the responsibility for the management and supervision of all private preschools and daycare centres. The council is well on the way in setting up a proficiently run office and will be operating on a small budget.
In the past two years the preschool component extended training to 100 preschool teachers and caregivers of government and private preschools at the various local colleges who were successful in maintaining associate and bachelor degrees in early childhood education.
More than 250 caregivers and operators of private preschool facilities obtained certification in early childhood education on the islands of New Providence, Abaco and Grand Bahama (persons from Eleuthera and Andros were able to join in the various cohorts and become certified).
Officers from the preschool section were able to publish and implement materials to parents to enhance quality care and education for very young children under the age of three who may not have the opportunity to be exposed to stimulating nursery environments. These materials were implemented and distributed on the islands of Cat Island, South Andros, the Eastern end of Grand Bahama and the MICAL Constituency.
Early literacy packets for one hundred government preschool teachers were published and implemented.
Expansion of Government Preschools
The islands of New Providence and Abaco have been provided with new high quality environments that are conducive to early learning. Transformation has taken place at the Naomi Blatch old primary school now converted into a new preschool. The Old St. Bedes Primary School has been transformed and is a state of the art centre where a preschool is provided in addition to Administration blocks for The Department of Education Preschool Officers and the newly formed Preschool and Daycare Centre Council.
The Buttonwood preschool just behind Cleveland Eneas Primary School provides preschool classrooms for a total of 60-70 students and is in the process of converting 5 more classroom settings for preschool children.
On the island of Abaco two new preschool units were built and remodeled.
In Fox Town Abaco, a new unit was built and officially opened on March 12, 2015. The James A. Pinder Primary School, Sandy Point was provided for the first time a new preschool unit and was officially opened on March 11 of this year not to mention that Moore’s Island has also opened its doors to a new preschool unit.
Expansion continues as we seek to provide the southern part of New Providence additional space for preschoolers. We have discovered that this is a densely populated area. Registration now shows almost a full capacity of sixty students. For a new preschool in the
Cow Pen area.
It is also anticipated that the Thelma Gibson Primary school will also be afforded two additional units in September along with the Claridge Primary preschool.
As we leap into the future we would continue to expand and offer quality environments to children under the age of five particularly four year old children. Inquiries for the suitability of expansion on the islands of Grand Bahama, Exuma and Bimini are now being conducted.
Mr Speaker by the end of this financial year the this government would have invested over 12 million dollars in the expansion and improvement of preschools.
Primary School Education – Mission Educate Bahamas
Mr. Speaker, the experience a child has in primary school greatly influences their level of success in junior and senior high school. A startling fact is that school is a place of refuge for many of our children. Their home lives are so chaotic and stressful that many of them are unable to focus and learn. Many of our teachers will tell you that they function in multiple roles and our children are burdened with social maladies. Unfortunately, we have adopted the culture of social promotion during the past two decades and we are reaping the bitter fruits of that. We are trying to turn this on its head Mr. Speaker, through building a stronger and more modern Bahamas.
Mr. Speaker, primary school should encourage life-long learning and solidify core values that will aid in in an student’s future success. A few years ago we accepted that there were too many subjects at the primary school level and adjustments were made to place greater emphasis on numeracy and literacy skills.
Mr. Speaker the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is doing things that have never been done, to get the new and favorable results. A Modern Bahamas engages in modern practices and public-private partnerships are undeniably a modern approach. The Ministry of Education has partnered with Mission Educate Bahamas and its TuneIn to Reading computer based literacy programme to provide primary school students with a new, exciting and innovative reading tool; not only to help them to read, but to love to read. This program which is operational in many of our primary schools is about to expand to many more not just in New Providence but as far as MICAL thanks to the generous donations of my Parliamentary colleagues who contributed from their constituency allowances, computers to facilitate the programme within schools in their respective constituencies.
A Modern Bahamas realizes that education and technology make for a winning combination, especially in this technological era in which our children are being raised. Education is utilizing technology so that our children are more engaged and prepared for a modern world. We are establishing a strong foundation so that there is something solid to build upon as the child moves up the grade ladder.
Technology – INSPIRE Project
Mr. Speaker, when we consider the investment that has been made to integrate technology and learning, it is beyond modern. The INSPIRE project that is an ongoing initiative has spent more than $5 million dollars to upgrade computer labs in our junior and senior high schools. Not only have we placed computers in these schools but we have partnered with Promethean to provide interactive whiteboards, which is a Modern tool that incorporates multiple dimensions to the teaching and learning experience.
Mr. Speaker, “Our goal is to create an educational system that is technologically sound and competitive and that develops the strength of each child, whether academic or otherwise, towards the maximum contribution that he/she is able to make to the national development of The Bahamas.”
Mr. Speaker, to ensure the success of technology in the classroom, the Technology Coordination Unit was recently established to ensure that the equipment is properly maintained and to provide technical support to the schools to maximize use and effectiveness of the technology.
Mr. Speaker, Microsoft has also partnered with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to provide an email platform for all public school administrators, teachers and principals and we will officially launch that platform at the beginning of the 2015-2016 academic school year.
Mr. Speaker, we will be able to connect with all of our teachers with the click of a button and to date, again, Mr. Speaker, based on research and data, more than 700 user groups have already been identified and created. Keep in mind that encompasses the more than 4000 teachers and 50,000 students in the system.
Mr. Speaker, one of the many challenges that the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology faces is EQUITY. There has to be a way to level the playing field and when it comes to scholarships, I will remain resolute in providing equity in scholarship opportunities for our public school students. Again, the data speaks for itself, only 10% of our scholarship dollars assigned for international colleges and universities are going to public school students. The other 90% goes to independent school students. Mr. Speaker, this past year, we have made great strides in this area, thanks to the hard work of the Scholarship Consultant, Mrs. Monique Hinsey. The numbers of Memorandums of Understanding that we have signed onto and that are being drafted are unprecedented.
Mr. Speaker, this year, I have had more requests for courtesy calls from leaders of American universities than ever before. American colleges and universities are knocking on our door to offer scholarships to our students. Of the more than dozen courtesy calls, the same sentiments where common among all; the level of respect from our students; the superior work ethic, the diligence, determination, and drive of our students; they also noted that Bahamian students were actively engaged in campus life and always established themselves and make a name for them and their country.
We are taking a different approach Mr. Speaker, we are making demand so to speak and for every scholarship dollar that the Bahamian government gives to a student. We are now calling on Universities to match our scholarship dollars thereby providing more opportunities for students who were otherwise academically challenged. We discovered that many of our public school scholarship recipients were easily able to maintain their scholarships based on academic performance but unfortunately, many of their families were unable to buy the plane ticket to get their children to college, or pay the living expense or simply couldn’t afford to purchase the required books.
Simply put, a scholarship that only covers tuition fees is of little or no value to some of our children and their families. They simply cannot afford the associated costs and fees and as a result a child bursting to the seams with potential and on the brink of changing the trajectory of his or her life and that of their family, hopes, dreams and aspirations become dashed. But we are putting an end to that. We are entering agreements that serve in the best interest of the child and will ensure that the arrangement guarantees success.
A Modern Bahamas ensures that it provides opportunities for tertiary education. We are setting our children up for success and not failure. It is our responsibility to create the systems that minimize students from not taking full advantage of scholarship opportunities. I must say also Mr. Speaker, that it is the responsibility of students and other influencers like parents and mentors, to take advantage of the opportunities infront of them. They must work hard to attain their goals.
Mr. Speaker, A Modern Bahamas provides opportunities that give students an advantage and positions them on the same level with their global counterparts. Contrary to popular belief, our public schools are overflowing with high performing academic students. Students who are the best and brightest! Mr. Speaker, you will recall that just a few weeks ago, I recognized a group of students from Anatol Rodgers High School. They are highly motivated, focused students who embody excellence. In fact one of those students from Anatol Ameera Poitier shot a video and be seen on strongerbahamas.com. She like many Bahamian students want to be a part of building a stronger Bahamas.
Mr. Speaker, our high achieving students need to be challenged and provided with more opportunities for success. Thanks again to Mrs. Monique Hinsey, we are introducing the Advanced Placement in our public high schools. Initially, we were going to pilot the programme with five schools; three in New Providence and two in Grand Bahama, but when the high school Principals heard about this, they along with the Guidance Counsellors all got on board and availed themselves to the extensive training that was conducted during the training sessions conducted by the College Board.
Yes, Mr. Speaker, the College Board has partnered with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to provide AP courses in our public schools. Mr. Speaker, in September, those students identified by their teachers are academically strong and capable of pursuing courses with college rigor while in the 12th grade will be the first cohort of the AP Programme.
Mr. Speaker, there are many benefits of the AP programme. Students who successfully complete the AP exams have preferred scholarship opportunities, they enter college with college credits, hence fast-tracking their college years and are exempt from taking many of the first year college courses.
Language and Immersion Scholarship Programmes – Rosetta Stone, GeoForce, Costa Rica
Mr. Speaker, A Modern Bahamas encourages its citizens to be bi-lingual or multi-lingual. Languages are the passport to the world. We must encourage the acquisition of foreign languages among our students.
Mr. Speaker, many of the professionals in the Financial Services sector, as highly trained and experienced as they are, lack a second language. Mr. Speaker, to help alleviate this problem, we are partnering with the Ministry of Financial Services and Rosetta Stone to complement and enhance the modern languages programme in our public schools.
Mr. Speaker, exposure and immersion is the best way for an individual to learn a foreign language. We are not just about providing our students with information but also experiences. We know the value of providing the opportunity for our students to have a first-hand experience of a language and culture and so we provided it. As we did in the previous years, we will do again and our public school students will travel to Costa Rica and Guatemala for an intense language immersion programme. A Modern Bahamas embraces languages and cultures and ensures that its citizens are able to speak multiple languages.
Mr. Speaker, we are also providing our junior high school students with the opportunity to travel abroad to immerse themselves in field study. Mr. Speaker, the GeoForce Programme is a programme that allows students interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to participate in a summer camp at the University of Texas thus providing them exposure in the area of geosciences. Mr. Speaker, the more exposed our students are, the better they are able to complete globally. A Modern Bahamas prepares students to be globally competitive.
Mr. Speaker, This four-year structured programme is designed and facilitated by the Jackson School of GeoSCIENCES. Students are taken on geological trips in Texas and throughout the United States.
Mr. Speaker, the goals of the programme are to:
engage high-achieving students from in junior high schools and keep them in the programme through college;
provide spectacular learning experiences, which will broaden students’ understanding of the Earth and emphasize geosciences and engineering;
build a large cohort of high achievers;
give students the tools, confidence and motivation to pursue college;
help students to achieve college graduation, especially in STEM fields.
During August 4th to 11th, 2015, twenty-six students from Long Island, Grand Bahama and New Providence will participate in the programme. Students will spend the first four days at the University of Texas, while the remaining four days will be spent in New Providence studying sedimentary processes. Each year the focus of study will change.
Each year a new cohort would begin and after four years it is expected that approximately one hundred Bahamian students will benefit from the programme.
Mr. Speaker, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has embraced this partnership with the University of Texas and is encouraging our students to take full advantage of this opportunity. Students entering into STEM areas will be able to pursue careers in a diverse number of areas.
Mr. Speaker, the MOEST will continue to place emphasis on STEM education and will encourage students to explore subjects and careers in STEM fields. STEM education is now a global phenomenon and will help to define the future. As stated by President Barak Obama, “Leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today – especially in science, technology, engineering and math.” This is indicative of A Modern Bahamas.
Shared Vision for Education 2030
Mr. Speaker, A Modern Bahamas must undoubtedly have a national education plan.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased with the progress that the bi-partisan committee for education is making. Mr. Speaker, we have completed our first draft and finally, there is a shared vision for education that will be devoid of political interference.
Over the last 40 years, there has been a continuous commitment by successive Governments of The Bahamas to providing quality education for its citizens. This commitment has been characterized, however, by what may be termed ‘stops’ and ‘starts’ with changes in political administration. It is accepted that the educational well-being of students in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas will be best served by the execution of a vision which is long-term and comprehensive, and a strategy to achieve it which is uninterrupted.
Mr. Speaker, in light of the above, the bi partisan political directorate charged the National Education Committee (NEC) headed by President of the Senate Sharon Wilson a former educator and judge, to prepare a paper which will form a realistic and workable plan for education for the next 15 years in The Bahamas through to 2030.
Mr. Speaker, The NEC also comprises of senior officials from the Ministry of Education, representatives from the Bahamas Union of Teachers, senior educators from the private and public sectors, youth leaders and a cross-section of independent stakeholders.
Mr. Speaker, the NEC, as a part of its work, has considered and sought to build upon the work and recommendation for change in education contained in several past papers prepared for and by the Ministry of Education. Whenever there was a change in government and change in Minister of Education, there was often an audit conducted to determine the needs of MOEST and identify the programmes and initiatives that may or may not have supported the government’s political agenda. Mr. Speaker, Vision for education 2030 is in keeping with A Stronger Bahamas, a Safer Bahamas, a Prosperous Bahamas and a Modern Bahamas.
University of The Bahamas To Undergird National Development
Mr. Speaker – A Modern Bahamas includes a robust, strong and globally recognized University of The Bahamas.
That is the goal around which The College of The Bahamas community of faculty, staff, students and alumni is mobilized. The goal was set more than 40 years ago when the institution was officially opened.
Mr. Speaker, today, The College is on the cusp of its transition to university status and is building capacity in academic programme development, institutional effectiveness, infrastructure and national development leadership. All trademarks of A Modern Bahamas
Mr. Speaker, “A university represents the strength of a country; an institution of higher education, an institution for research, an institution for innovation, one that treasures its culture and history,” explains College of The Bahamas President Dr. Rodney D. Smith, who is leading the institution for a second term. “There needs to be a repository and an initiator of change and that is what the University of The Bahamas will represent for The Bahamas.”
Mr. Speaker, President Smith’s vision includes creating a University of The Bahamas System that increases access to tertiary education throughout The Bahamas, gives autonomy to The College’s campus in Grand Bahama and uses a $23 million infusion from the Caribbean Development Bank and the Government of The Bahamas to improve critical university operations.
Mr. Speaker, the institution opened its doors for the first time in September 1975, with an enrolment of some 2,000 students, in a range of programmes leading to associate degrees, diplomas and certificates and General Certificate in Education (GCE) ‘A’ Level studies. Today, the student enrolment is approximately 5,000 and the majority of graduates are earning baccalaureate degrees.
Mr. Speaker, from inception, it was envisioned that The College would eventually become a university, as affirmed by former Prime Minister Sir Lynden Pindling at the official opening ceremony. Since then, the institution has grown steadily in critical areas.
Mr. Speaker, in March, the COB Transformation Project – supported by a collaborative $23 million contribution from the Government of The Bahamas and the Inter-American Development Bank to strengthen operational and infrastructural capacity at the institution – was initiated. Senior administration, in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General, has reinvigorated its crafting of the proposed University of The Bahamas Bill. Mr. Speaker, a Master Plan is the blueprint guiding key infrastructural changes for the campuses in Oakes Field, New Providence and East Grand Bahama
Mr. Speaker, the real impact of these improvements will be reflected in the quality of research and scholarship, vibrancy of campus life programmes and the contributions of alumni.
Mr. Speaker, when he addressed a caucus of more than 400 university leaders at the VII Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama in April 2015, President Smith shared his vision for the realignment and development of academic programmes to help stimulate the economy.
Mr. Speaker, “Gone are the days when we should focus on delivering duplicates of the same academic programmes on several islands. It is time to develop Colleges with specialties on respective islands; while extending the outreach of academic degree programming via the online environment to all the islands of The Bahamas and abroad,” Dr. Smith said. Reflective of A Modern Bahamas.
Mr. Speaker, the institution offers a range of baccalaureate degrees across a broad spectrum of disciplines in Liberal and Fine Arts, Social and Educational Studies, Pure and Applied Sciences, Business and Culinary and Hospitality Management. In addition to the masters degrees in collaboration with overseas institutions, The College also offers two of its own – the MBA and Master’s of Science in Reading with a concentration in Inclusive Education.
Mr. Speaker, although the changes that will usher in the University of The Bahamas are extensive, they will pay homage to the noble roots of The College of The Bahamas and leave an imprint that is distinct and unmistakable.
Bahamas Union of Teachers & Signing of Industrial Agreement
As I conclude Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank The Bahamas Union of Teachers for what I deem very successful negotiations and the conclusion of a mutually beneficial Bargaining Agreement. What this agreement reflects is the terms and conditions of our teaching staff, inclusive of guidance counsellors for the remaining three of the five year agreement. The last agreement signed between the Government and the Bahamas Union of Teachers was for three years however, this agreement spans five years.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to bring to your attention our commitment to upholding our end of the bargain. When I became Minister of Education, Science and Technology in May 2012, there was quite a substantial amount of money owed in back-pay to many of our teachers. I made settling those outstanding payments a matter of priority and between April 2013 and April of this year, my Ministry paid approximately $5.3 million in arrears to one thousand, one hundred and nine (1,109) teachers. In some cases, these payments were outstanding for more than ten years. While there are still a small number of arrears to be paid, we have made significant progress and we can assure you that all outstanding settlements will be made.
Mr Speaker I am committed to ensuring that whatever has been agreed upon is upheld. Mr. Speaker, we hope that the teachers recognize and appreciate what this agreement represents, and how comprehensive it is. The first lump sum was made in May and the second will be made in September.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to also thank all the individuals from both sides who worked tirelessly to conclude negotiations and come to a mutually beneficial agreement. There is no doubt that the Bahamas Union of Teachers is a strong advocate for its members and that the Ministry Officials who represented the Government’s interest did so as nationalists, mindful of the economic posture of the country and the needs of our teachers.
Before, I take my seat Mr. Speaker, I wish to end by thanking the 4000 plus teachers and teachers aides who work tirelessly; especially those who go above and beyond the call of duty. You are vital to the success of the programmes and initiatives of the Ministry of Education as well as the academic success of our students. You are Building a Stronger Bahamas. You have chosen the noblest profession and we realize that no amount of money can compensate for what you do. A Modern Bahamas, depends on your ability to modernize your classrooms, your lessons and your approach to education in the 21st century. A modern education system requires all hands on deck and we are counting on our veteran, experienced and novice teachers to remember that our students are counting on you; not just for chalk and talk but to instill life lessons that will benefit them beyond the classroom. Education is everyone’s business if we are to modernize our country through the transformative power of education.
I wish to thank all my senior managers PS, Director Deputy Directors, Assistant Directors Senior Education officers and all other officers in the Ministry. The 14 District Superintendents the Principals of our 170 plus public schools. It an honour to lead you you and you deserve the credit for the great strides we have made over the past 3 years. All the stakeholders of all the independent schools who work closely with the Ministry. Your subvention has been increased by 10 percent this year.
To all the clerical and custodial staff I say thank you.
Mr Speaker to the Prime Minister , the Ministry of Finance and my Cabinet Colleagues none of this would have been possible without your support and approval of my request for increased funding and the approval to introduce new programs and policies. Your support and continuous encouragement as been humbling indeed
Before I close I also want to say Happy Father’s day to all the Fathers in The Bahamas, and to all those who are father figures. Happy Father’s Day also my own father Edward Patrick Fitzgerald. Daddy I love you. God is great! Thank you.