« Here's to the Bootleggers of the Bahamas! | Main | On Art and Truth »

September 26, 2007


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Problems of Bahamian Education:


drew Roberts

Figures - some assumed.

Students: 50000
Student/Teacher ratio: 10
Yearly pay / Teacher: 50000

Overall yearly salary: 250 million.

"This year alone the government will spend $265 million on scores of public schools (and the College of the Bahamas) to educate more than 50,000 students."

Anyone have a break down by age on those student numbers?

Ideal / excellent student teacher rations by age?

Actual student / teacher ratinos in government schools?

Current number of teachers teaching in government schools?

Would we get better results than we do now if we put basically all of the education budget into better pay for teachers and a better student / teacher ration. Even if it mean sending the teacher into the neighbourhoods to teach on porches and under trees? (I know it sounds crazy.)

all the best,


Underwater Fun

Old Scholar

The quotation from the Saunders/Craton book is so typical of this duo -- no knowledge of what was really happening in the mid-20th century so far as education of black persons was concerned. I am a product of that era and after the public school training and then GHS, my classmates included the first female Chief Justice, the first female member of parliament etc etc all of whom could be considered "black". There were no illiterates in my family and in fact my great grandmother who would have been well over 100 years old today was a school teacher.
The problem with education now is that the emphasis is not put where it belongs -- on preschool and primary school education. By the time the students reach junior, the majority of them are not fit for further learning.

EB Christen

Without a doubt, the single most dire problem facing the Bahamas today. There is very sadly a cultural void here when it comes to the 'value' of education. Try explain to the average young Bahamian why learning a second language or focusing on math is valuable and you are greeted with mock laughter or a blank vacuous stare, especially with boys, as you pointed out. The 'fast' life presented in media is much more of a priority, but they have absolutely no idea of how to achieve that short of hoop dreams of basket ball, hip hop dreams or worse. It is very, very sad. People like to blame the media and society and the school system and the government, but it ALL starts with parenting. The collapse of parenting inevitably leads to the collapse of civil society. It is not about a lack of religion either. They have plenty of religion in the Islamic world, but no basic language and mathematics skills. In a nut shell, the hip hop culture is our functional equivalent of Islam for our young men.

Until people look at this problem functionally, they are going to miss the point every time. Good statistics would be a huge help. Even better, a tiered schooling system would be essential at this point. One must make some effort to separate the A, B and C student from the dysfunctional student. In order to avert a 'lost' generation of young Bahamian men, a very serious educational reform must be undertaken. Separating males from females in school might very well be just the kind of BIG symbolic change that is needed, but much, much more is needed as well.

You make some salient points, as always, and that study needs to be looked at closely by the Ingraham regime, but unless one of our Prime Ministers embraces education as his or her pet problem of their tenure, then the bureaucracy will keep on keeping on and this country will face massive problems. There are many, many jobs in this country but we are literally churning out unemployable Bahamians. The back lash from this phenomenon will come and it will come in the form of more socialist or more religious regimes. Either would spell the beginning of the end for the prosperity of our very little country.

larry smith

Responding to Old Scholar...

Actually, I included that quote for a bit of mild irony - because we still have a large number of functional illiterates (as any employer can tell you) 40 years after majority rule, 30 years after independence, and after the investment of many hundreds of millions of dollars.

But I'm not sure I agree with you that the authors don't know what they are talking about. Saunders went to QC but Craton was a teacher at GHS.

As you say, GHS was a selective grammar school that produced some of the best Bahamian leaders. And it is a shame that it was abolished in favour of 100% comprehensive education.

The point you make about pre-school and primary education is valid, and the IDB is lending money to the MOE as we speak to build more pre-schools.

I guess what is most disconcerting is that there is no leader trying to make education reform a national collaborative effort. It seems to be the usual political and civil service BS response.

Gordon Mills

Your piece is, as always, well researched and very readable. However, I have long been wary of the Coalition for Education Reform as they advocate an elitist solution by suggesting the restoration of the old Govt High School, and don’t take into account the fact that a large % of students sitting the BGCSEs are precluded from scoring higher than a C in many subjects because they are not entered for the extended papers.

In their love affair with the way things used to be they ignore the fact that the old 'O' levels were taken by a small % of the country’s youth, and had everybody taken them as is the case with BGCSE (as you pointed out) the average grade would have been as low or lower than a D.

And they look at all the old chestnuts when suggesting what might be done, but don’t look at the real core of the problem which is the outdated and unsuitable curriculum.

It is clear from the exam results that teachers are preparing their students for exams they cannot cope with and probably, to a large extent, in subjects they are not interested in.

The subjects and their groupings are relics from old grammar schools, academic, and relevant only to about 25% of the population.

Those F students you write about need to be served with a curriculum that takes into account the many different possibilities that the world of technology has opened up for us, and other subjects that are relevant to The Bahamas and what will be available to them when they finish.

This does not mean that they don’t need to learn how to write fluently and accurately, read critically and employ mathematical strategies to solve numerical problems - but they have to do these things in situations that will mean something.

For example, it is scandalous and stupid that there is not a tourism course for senior high school students or a course in maritime topics. Every student should be doing some culinary activities and learning about the myriad opportunities to create media using computers, CDs DVDs, cell phones and other hand held devices. The world of physics could come alive with such a study of electronics. Health education is another area that could be developed and all these ideas would require accurate writing and reading and number skills.

I could write more but I will leave it that for now. It is clear to me, though, the education system needs a complete revamp and specialists put in place. There is not a real educational idea being offered by anyone at headquarters as those in the ministry love to call it.

Retraining for teachers and the constructing of a model for our students that is not a mirror of old stuff or privilege but relevant and meaningful to those who are subjected to it and which can take the students and the country forward.

Steffon Josey

Congratulations for once again daring to touch such an important issue.

I am quite fed up with the amount of non-productive talk Bahamians engage in on too many critical areas. We need to become a society of problem solvers and not purveyors of the obvious. Too many of us have made the assumption that once my kids have been cherry picked into the best schools, we are okay. The problem is we still live in a country where the young people whose concerns are not being adequately addressed create havoc.
The question I would ask each commentator is simply this-What are you doing personally to ensure that one child in the public school system succeeds? In the absence of active engagement I respectfully request that most stop the murmuring and seek constructive ways to make a difference.
Here are some ways that you can help:
1 Adopt a Language Class- Any class ,any public school-volunteer to assist the teacher with helping to add real world applications to the lesson.
2. Adopt a Math Class in a public Senior High School- Volunteer to tutor and mentor failing students.
3. Professionals- Adopt a student from the Public School system, mentor him or her. Sell them on the benefits of education and productivity in society, based on your story.

Until we are able to do some of these simple things- the education problem will always be someone else’s. problem. The Tragedy of the Commons manifest itself again- It is all of our problem- we are all supposed to fix it, None of us fixes it, we all suffer! Constructive Engagement!
Unfortunately I must take exception to some aspects of Mr. Mills otherwise very informed comments. It is not acceptable to throw huge amounts of resources across a wide spectrum of providers to produce minimal results. We need an approach which is both holistic and customized to the needs of individual communities.
It is not elitist to build one proper science lab with adequate instructors, supplies and materials. It is a waste however to build ten sub par ones without adequate resources.

EB Christen

Response to Steffon:
While I agree with you that more could be done at a one on one level, lets not kid ourselves. Bahamian tax payers - and contrary to popular opinion we are all TAX PAYERS if we are consumers in this country - pay a lot of money to the treasury. The treasury in turn wastes at least 50% of that, if not more, on an extremely inefficient bureaucracy and on government corporations that provide shoddy service at best.

It is nice to be romantic and think that people have time to contribute as you are indicating, but most of the productive Bahamian population is already running full tilt and have very full days. Sacrifices could be made - I am not saying they can't be, and more power to those people who make them, but this is definitely first and foremost a question of restructuring a systemically impotent educational structure and reallocating government funds to achieve that aim. You can't correct the problems of an education system dealing with 50,000 children through a volunteer big brother program - that is pure romance. Through such a program, you may be able to help 1000 - 5000 kids, at most, but that would be ambitious. If ZNS is losing our money? Cut it and reallocate those funds to education - I assure you that every dollar spent on education will be worth 10 dollars of what is wasted in ZNS and we wouldn't have to wait long for that return on investment. We have Cable 12 and we have other private channels clamoring for an audience already - let them flourish. The same is true for many other Government corporations.

Until Bahamians are ready to face the stark reality that GOVERNMENT must lead the charge and restructure the education system to be more competitive, flexible and realistic with the students and set up that it has - nothing will happen. We need the Prime Minister to be committed to education reform - not pay it lip service and then pass the buck to the bureaucrats. Bureaucracy will shuffle kids through the system ad infinitum and the tensions between the productive Bahamian population and the unemployable will escalate.

Again, I am not saying you are wrong about volunteer programs, but the scope of their impact must be honestly considered. Once one has done this, the bitter reality that sweeping institutional change on the national level is the only viable solution becomes glaringly obvious.

Finally, you made a point about people commenting on the obvious in this country. The glaring reality in this country is that most 'sensible' Bahamians have a pretty good idea of what should very 'obviously' be done. However, government is constantly hopelessly out of step with what should 'obviously' be done. People must talk themselves black and blue here just to try to get these very obvious points to stick into the government people's ears. What to do with Bay Street - bloody obvious. What to do with education - bloody obvious! What to do about tourism - again - bloody obvious. What to do about traffic in New Providence - obvious! Why are there so many cars in a place like Harbour Island - bloody obvious. Why is a place like Bimini being transformed into another mega project and destroying its fragile environment - bloody obvious! Why no attempt at alternative energy - OBVIOUS! The list of the obvious is long, but the political will and serious thinking in government woefully short. Have you ever watched the parliament channel? It is laughable that these are our leaders. They talk and talk and talk NONSENSE! At least the obvious things being discussed in the newspapers and in the web columns are insightful and obviously coming from people who are concerned and put in the mental effort to think about what is OBVIOUS!

This could be the best little country - to paraphrase another columnists heading, but it is very, very far from that at the moment. We have all the innate advantages of a thoroughbred track star, but our coaches are incompetent buffoons who think praying will win the race.

Steffon Josey

EB you are in fact a person after my own heart. You correctly highlight the point that consecutive Bahamian governments were devoid of the grand visionary programs to advance this country beyond its unfulfilled potential. We did not select them because they were visionaries- we have not had one of those in some time. The future of our country rest on the ability of organizations like the Coalition, coming together in a non-partisan manner and finding viable solutions to real problems. We further cannot rest until we develop the format to implement those solutions. Former President Clinton today demonstrates this principle that governments do not have all the answers. In fact the brightest minds in our country will not subject themselves to the level of political debate in our country. My concession is that the government is not it!
Above and beyond anything else it is pointless to look to this group as an institution to bring about the change and the correction needed now. The Coalition for education Reform took a very important first step in diagnosing the problem for themselves. The next critical step now is to form the first public/ private non -profit school in the country led by the Coalition team, which will in fact show the government and people of the Bahamas how it should be done. They would recruit failing students from the public school system and create a program based on their research and best practices which would provide the necessary intervention. Simply request that the government match each dollar that the coalition would provide. If by such an effort 1000 productive students are turned out each year it would be money well spent!
It is a crop out to suggest that we are already making our contribution via taxes and we are overextended without extra time. We are paying with our lives and the safety and security of our children’s future. Our options are to pay more now or pay much more later.
I will apologize for the very romantic notion that making a one-on-one difference in the life of one child is far-fetched.

EB Christen

Response 2 @ Steffon:

I think we are in almost complete agreement here and simply slightly miscommunicating. Perhaps some clarification: when I say that government must do it, while maintaining that government isn't doing it, I am most assuredly imploring the Bahamian public (aka private sector, but also voters) to bring pressure on the government to bow to the call for educational reform. My point merely maintains that without government being pressured into making changes - there is very little control over the Ministry of Education that the private sector and Bahamian voters will ever get - the bureaucrats will collect pay cheques and the status quo will continue. Neither am I stating that all people in the M of E are hapless. There are many people working there that are great. Just as in the classrooms, we have many gifted students, but they are also mingled with students that have little to no interest to learn academia. These groups must be separated at some point along the educational ladder if those who are keen to educate themselves in academia are to be successful. These people could go on to take higher level courses in preparation for being doctors, lawyers, engineers etc. The kids who demonstrate a lower interest in academia could go on to direct vocational studies. There is no shame in this. In Europe this system exists in a great many countries. We follow the American model of school, school, school, but the US ranks poorly in global education studies. The same pattern holds true in the M of E. Those who are doing good work must be allowed to do it and those who are there for their pay cheques must go.

As to your last comment, I think that was slightly unfair. At no point did I suggest that there wasn't worth in one to one assistance. I was simply pointing out that under such a scheme the scope of the effect would not solve the problem at hand - not by a long shot. As I said, more power to all such people doing such work - it is good work, but we aren't going to get 50,000 kids out of a backwards education system that way. Each and every child counts - without a doubt, but systemic problems must be addressed systemically - everything else is a most welcome bonus.

The Bahamian voter/taxpayer must learn to demand their money's worth from the government. We shouldn't pay taxes so that ministers can ride around in plush cars with free gas or have free cell phones. This is a small nation. We have wealth in abundance for our population size, but the poor expenditure of the treasury's finances is a massive problem. To me, the issue begins with completely reevaluating how government is spending its money. Bahamians don't demand that their tax dollars are going to the right issues, because they generally operate under the gross illusion that they don't pay taxes to the government. In their eyes, businesses pay taxes and therefore let businesses suffer, but this is a myth of biblical proportions. Businesses pass on every cent of customs revenue to the Bahamian consumer, as they must, in order to make a profit and have the ability to reinvest and grow the economy - thus creating more jobs. Bahamians must awaken to the reality that they are paying taxes and thus can hold their government accountable for their money.

larry smith

It is the job of a commentator to discuss and interpret national issues and suggest possible remedies. Otherwise we would only have the politicos to listen to.

In this case, I was reporting on the contribution of a clearly representative private sector group rather than presenting original research.

All of the above comments have merit and the ideas discussed deserve to be aired. And that is the whole point - no-one is making this a national collaborative effort despite the seriousness of the matter for all of our futures.


What really concerns me is there is no sense of embarrassment from the Cabinet of The Bahamas, the Ministry of Education or the teachers.
Seems to me that until they admit there is a problem there is no chance of improving the situation.
In the mean time, hundreds...no thousands...of Bahamian kids are at a disadvantage.

Ralph J Massey

Response to critic of education reform
Ralph J Massey
The Nassau Institute

On September 26 Larry Smith in his “Tough Call” column wrote about “Reversing the decline of education.” He reported on a preliminary second report of the Coalition for Education Reform; and posted his column on bahamapundit.com. Gordon Mills, the Editor, Office of Communication, College of the Bahamas, responded to Mr. Smith's article and criticized the Coalition’s ideas. His full response is posted on “bahamapundit”, but his major points appear as follows:

Point #1. The Coalition for Education Reform advocates an elitist solution by suggesting the restoration of “Old” Government High. Their proposal is “an old chestnut”, “a mirror of old stuff or privilege”, “a love affair with the way things used to be.”

Response. This is simply an erroneous statement. The proposed All Male Primary & Secondary School is described in detail in Appendix C, pages 18-19, of the June 2005 Bahamian Youth: The Untapped Resource report as posted on bahamasemployers.org. It is based on the Knowledge Is Power Program, a national network of 57 free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public schools in under-resourced communities throughout the United States. More than 80 percent of KIPP students are low-income and more than 90 percent are African American or Hispanic/Latino. Nationally, nearly 80 percent of KIPP alumni have matriculated to college.
Attendance at the proposed All Male Lab School would be on merit; and admission would require written commitments to academic excellence and a code of behavior by both Parent and Student. Failure to fulfill those commitments would mean a return of the student to another public school. The objectives are high expectations, much more study time, a positive and cooperative attitude and respect for both teachers and other students.

Point #2. The real core of the problem is the outdated and unsuitable curriculum that is a relic from old grammar schools and is relevant to only 25% of the population. Today’s failing students need a curriculum based on today’s technological world, a world of CDs, DVDs, cell phones and other hand held devices…physics could come alive with a study of electronics.

Response. This is another erroneous statement. The Coalition contends that “the problem” is very basic. The forthcoming Coalition report will show that “56 per cent of students from public schools who take the [BGCSE] English language exam “fail”, and 82 per cent of public school students who take the [BGCSE] math exam “fail.” This level of academic achievement produces graduates who are unprepared to learn job skills.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a very large funder of education reform in the U.S. For instance, it has given $130 million to New York City alone. Bill Gates states –
“If you don’t know how to read, it doesn’t matter how creative you are. More than a third of the people with high school diplomas have no employable skills.” He and his Foundation would like to push technology; but he feels that schools are flunking the basics. He states “When we gave up on phonics, we destroyed the reading ability of those kids.” (Parade Magazine, Miami Herald, September 23, 2007.)

Point #3. “Of course, students do need to learn accurate writing, reading and numerical skills.”

Response. This Point is not a criticism but an “understated assumption” that alludes to an issue contained in the above quote of Bill Gates. Such a comment is the by-product of the heated conflict over the best method of reading instruction that arose in the 1980s and 1990s.
The English language is indeed complex and is based on the idea that letters represent sounds. Some words are composed of single letters that alone represent specific sounds and together comprise a single word. However, the same letter may represent different sounds when preceded or followed by other letters. There are “literally dozens of rules that are 75% or more reliable.” This body of knowledge is referred to as “phonics” or “language skills”. However, single words have limited meaning; and whole sentences, paragraphs and stories can have great meaning.
“Whole Language” is an instructional philosophy that became very popular in the 1980s and 1990s being actively promoted by the Education Departments of virtually all major universities. It was based on the theory that one did not learn from small chunks of knowledge but by “experimenting with stimuli and responses”…by frequent reading, independent reading, free interpretation of text and free expression in journals. Whole language considered grammar, spelling, capitalization and punctuation as not being linked directly to understanding and “true literacy”; and these skills were at best relegated to mini-lessons embedded in other lessons.
The problem with the Whole Language movement was the statistically significant drop in reading scores on the National Assessments of Educational Progress in the U.S in the 1990s. This drop occurred at a time when huge investments were being made to improve the quality of education for everyone. Two large scale national studies in 1998 and 2000 found that “phonics instruction of varying kinds…contributed positively to students’ ability to read. Both panels also found that embedded phonics and no phonics contributed to lower rates of achievement from most populations of students.”
Mr. Mills appears in Point #3 as a Whole Language advocate making a reluctant and perhaps even a dismissive concession to the importance of language skills in the early years of schooling.

Point #4. The BGCSE Core Exams tests students at a “C” grade level or lower; and these students are precluded from taking the Extended Exams that test at the “A” and “B” level.

Response. This Point fails to separate two distinct issues.

a.) Is the two test system valid? The “Core” exam tests skill levels of “C” through “U” on the eight point scale, and the “Extended” exam tests skill levels “A” and “B”. One cannot answer the validity question without an informed evaluation of the system.

b.) Is the system properly administered? Clearly a school administrator that does not encourage students to aim higher and take the Extended Exam, as the critic suggests, is failing in his/her duty. It is not a test design problem but an administration problem.

Point #5. Retraining teachers and the constructing an education model that is relevant and meaningful to students can take them and the country forward.

Response. This is the one point raised by Mr. Mills that is truly common ground.

October 2, 2007


"Try explain to the average young Bahamian why learning a second language or focusing on math is valuable and you are greeted with mock laughter or a blank vacuous stare, especially with boys,..."
-EB Christen

That reminds me of a comment made by 'BigManOnCampus' over on digg.com about the story 'Rick, Black, and flunking'

"I have to respond to your comment. You mention that your experience is all private-schools, which in my opinion completely invalidates the applicability of your arguments. Most people do not go to private schools. Indeed, the percentage of inner-city minority students in private schools is much much lower than the national average. This means that you are attempting to speak about a section of the population which you have had little contact with. Minority students of any race who are in private school by definition have parents who care enough about their education to spend money above and beyond taxes on their children. Parents (of any minority) who send their kids to public school split along many different lines. Some parents really do care and simply cannot afford private school. Other parents cannot afford it and do not want to spend the time, these parents simply want a public-funded babysitting service. I have been to public schools in Los Angeles County, I have friends of every race who went to public schools in Los Angeles County.

I can tell you from firsthand experience that by and large my black friends react to math and science education with comical disdain. In fact they used to make fun of me in this regard (I am white). I remember quite vividly one occasion where they saw me pissed off at someone such that I decided to throw a tennis-ball at this guys head (I was trying to provoke a fight). They saw the whole thing, and they still laugh to this day at what they perceived was me "calculating" the throw. They used to say, "Now the derimeter..." while making a motion of me holding a tennis-ball up to throw. To them the idea of someone being scientific on the fly was funny, silly, a joke.

These same guys were in some impromptu electronics learning sessions with me. At the church we all went to there was a guy who was the definition of a geek. He was black, but he was an electrical engineer and a total geek, completely absorbed in his profession. He was a nice guy, and he loved his field so much that he decided to try and teach us electronics for free. When I say us, I mean me and my three black friends who were in the same church. To say they did not take the lessons seriously would be to say that the universe isn't small. They regarded the entire subject as a waste of time and refused to open up to any understanding of it. They were my friends but I could not convince them, nor could the instructor, that this was interesting stuff that has usefullness. Ordinarily I would say that was fine, not everyone is interested in electronics. But people in other cultures would simply say, "you know what, this doesn't interest me." and find something else to do. These guys instead make fun of this black man who knew electronics. They called him Erkel and regarded him not as a smart man, but as a joke.

This cultural perception is not isolated to the American Black community, it exists everywhere. But it is especially prevalent in the black community in the U.S. It is reinforced through movies and T.V., It isn't contradicted by parents, it isn't contradicted by black leaders. Inner city kids are left with no perception of their own future possibilities outside of Famous Rap Artist, or NBA star. That is the f-ing truth. I ride the blue-line through south-central-LA to work every day. There's more b-ball hoops per-capita there than anywhere else in the city. The leaders of this community effectively feed a lie to the people by not contradicting perceived notions of futility.

In summary, you are wrong, community ideas of inferiority and "not acting white" that are believed by parents and taught to young people play a huge role in this problem."

And now I'd like to point out that I'm an F student who should NOT have graduated from St. Augustines College (but they gave me a diploma anyway, go figure) with a functionally illiterate mother who only has a good job because she "knows someone" and an absent, alcaholic father. Lack of parental interest, lack of parental ability to help even if they were interested, lack of interested teachers, nepotism and social promotion ruined my generation...ok maybe not the entire generation but it sure had an effect on me.

Like the black electrician mentioned in the quote above, I have tried to teach others about the hobbies I'm into FOR FREE. I have books and training videos that I have been trying to GIVE AWAY to any Bahamian who wants them FOR YEARS and have only found 2 people who turned out not to be really interested. In that time I've gotten dozens of emails from people in the US, Mexico, Canada, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Brazil and elsewhere from people who planned to vacation in the Bahamas and wanted a free copy of the material when they got here.

When it comes to what I actually do for a living, at my job they had an opening for YEARS before I filled it (& I wasn't really qualified) and then we still had another opening for YEARS before it got filled recently. I've offered to share my job skills with others for free on many occasions in hopes that maybe a few years later they'd actually be able to work with us. But again, I can't find anyone interested. We've offered free training to COB, The Ministry of Education, and even some of our competitors. No response.


@Gordon Mills

I have no problem with an elitist school. If all the nerds (aka future economic leaders of the country) want to work their tails off to gain entry to an elitist school where they'd be surrounded by other intellectuals and exceptional teachers with no distractions then I say let them have that opportunity.

Maybe set up something similar to http://www.islandschool.org/ and let any student from anywhere in the country with exemplary grades have the option of attending the school for free.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Become a Fan


  • Bahama Pundit is a group weblog that publishes the work of top Bahamian commentators. We welcome your feedback. You may link to this site but no material may be reproduced without permission.

Email this blog

Global Village

  • Global Voices Online - The world is talking. Are you listening?

Text Ads

Site Meter

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 09/2005

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner