Back to School Message 2008
Minister of Education the Hon. Carl Bethel
August 31, 2008

My Fellow Bahamians,

Tomorrow, the new academic year will begin. Some 76,500 children will enter the nation’s public and private schools to begin the 2008/09 school year. Approximately 51,000 of these are enrolled in Government maintained schools.

I wish to assure parents, students and the public that every care has been taken by my Ministry to prepare for this academic year, and to implement plans and initiatives for the further development of education in The Bahamas.

We must all redouble our efforts to improve education, because, as we all know, education is the vehicle for national, social and economic development, and for the full development and empowerment of our children, the heirs and beneficiaries of all our efforts to improve the quality of life for all who live in our Bahamaland.

Unlike more that 100 million children and one third of the world’s adult population which have no access to basic education, in The Bahamas, there is 100% access to basic primary education. Students in secondary and post secondary institutions are exposed to opportunities to develop academic, technical and vocational skills which prepare them for the job market, further study or both.

I would like to commend the dedicated efforts of the staff of the Ministry of Education, private contractors, school boards and other stake holders in preparing for this new school year.

This summer, more than $7 million dollars have been spent on school repairs over the past 8 weeks. This sum includes the $1 million paid to Local Government Authorities in June of this year which was used to good effect in every School District in our Family Islands and Grand Bahama to conduct minor repairs to school premises throughout our country.

This new initiative gave local communities a greater degree of control and involvement in decision-making as to what repairs would be conducted in their local schools. Greater efforts will be made over coming years to give even more decision-making power to the People in all school Districts throughout The Bahamas.

I also wish to acknowledge the support of Madam President of The Bahamas Union of Teachers, Mrs. Belinda Wilson, and her Executive Team, school administrators, teachers and parents for their overall contributions to the education system.

I especially wish to welcome the 166 new teachers who have joined the system this year, and to let them know that their contributions are eagerly awaited. Trained teachers in schools throughout The Bahamas are ready to assist with welcoming our students and settling them in.

My fellow Bahamians, if we are to truly revolutionize education, we need a full community effort. Globalization has made quality education and quality schools absolutely imperative. The global economy of the 21st century, of which The Bahamas is an integral part, is an economy dependent on technology, innovation, information and technical skills. This is the world we have to prepare our students to compete in.

The education of our children is our greatest national responsibility. It matters to all. The effect of any failure can cause our citizens to pay a huge economic and social price. This is why my Ministry has redoubled its efforts to develop strategies to improve student performance through increased professional development courses for teachers and have expanded these into the family Islands.

The Bahamas Learning Channel, as a tool for distant education is in its 4th season on Cable 12; the highest technology of interactive Promethean computerized “White Boards” are being installed in every school; more computers are being integrated into the classroom setting, and the internet will continue to be among the tools used to further empower students.

Although Examination Results are not what we would like them to be, nevertheless, there were significant improvements in a number of subject areas. In the BJC national exams, improvements were attained in Mathematics, Social Studies and Family and Consumer Sciences. These improvements led to an increase in the crude grade level national average to the level of “C-“ for the first time on record.

Special commendation and recognition should be given to Sherlin Bootle High School in North Abaco where 97% of the students grade 9 students received grades between A to C in mathematics at the BJC level.

At the BGCSE level, improvements were realized in approximately 10 subjects, most notably Art, Biology, French, Literature, Family and Consumer Science and Geography, where the number of students obtaining grade C and above have increased, thus enabling them to automatically gain entry into the College of The Bahamas.

The overall improvement in student achievement in the BGCSE examinations has led to an improvement in the crude national grade at BGCSE from a “D” to a “D+”.

A total of 826 students having 5 BGCSE with grades C and above, (inclusive of Maths and English) have qualified to enter the College of The Bahamas with Government bursaries. This means that the Government will pay the full costs of tuition for these students.

For students who have been accepted for study at the College of The Bahamas, the government has provided a million dollars ($1,000,000.00) for COB to give financial help to those who have financial need, particularly students from our Family Islands. Last year more than 780 students received needs-based scholarship assistance from the College of The Bahamas at a cost of more than $830,000.00.

Additionally, last year 80 students received National Merit, Academic, Technical and Scholarship Grants of money between $10,000.00 and $25,000.00. This year an additional 85 Grade 12 graduates received the same Scholarship Grants for a total of more than 160 students who have received national scholarships and awards over the last 2 years since this government returned to Office.

These include merit, technical, grants and the All-Bahamas Merit scholarship totaling $1.8 million dollars this year. This significant investment in tertiary level education has over the past 2 years helped hundreds of Bahamian students obtain university education who would not otherwise have been able to afford to go to college. This shows both the commitment and the support of this Government for the advancement of our deserving children.

Fellow Bahamians, two new state-of-the-art schools, the South Western High School in New Providence and the Junior High School next to the St. George’s High School in Freeport, Grand Bahama are scheduled to open their doors this year. This will have a positive effect in reducing class size and contribute to student learning.

Tonight it gives me great pleasure to announce that the new South Western High School will be named in honour of a great Bahamian educator, the first female Principal of the old Government High School, the Late Mrs. Anatol Rodgers, the daughter of another great Bahamian educator, C.H. Reeves. “Anatol Rodgers High School” will open its doors to receive students next week Monday, the 8th September 2008 at 9.00 a.m.

This academic year, renewed emphasis will be placed upon Literacy and Numeracy at the primary level, while at the secondary level the focus will be on Mathematics, Sciences, literacy and Career and technical Education. Key changes in the instructional programme include the ongoing revision of the Curriculum and a shift from content based instruction and a teacher centred approach (colloquially called “chalk and talk”) to the application of skills to student learning and the development of critical thinking and problem solving abilities.

The Curriculum will be divided into three broad parts to accomplish the task of ensuring that students obtain a well rounded education that also serves their career interest: CORE, OPTIONS and ENRICHMENT. Instruction for below average students will be more intensely focused upon core subjects of Language Arts, Mathematics, a Science subject, Religious Studies and Social Studies.

Emphasis will also be placed on collaborative efforts with the business community to provide expanded on-the-job training opportunities that will ultimately increase the performance of students.

The new Transitional Alternative Programme for Students (TAPS) has been implemented to address disturbed, troubled and disruptive students, both male and female in an effort to take direct aim at the root causes of school violence.

Its main objective is to identify and remove students who are at risk for violence and place them into alternative settings where they can receive therapeutic treatment, counseling as well as academic, vocational and technical programmes designed by experts and specialists to help to modify their behaviour.

My fellow Bahamians, we are delighted to reveal that for the first time in Education, the Magnet Programme will be offered in each high school in New Providence and at the Jack Hayward High and St. Georges High schools in Grand Bahama.

These schools and their magnet programmes are as follows:
C.R. Walker – Business Studies, Academic Science, Nautical Science and Pre Allied Health;

C.V. Bethel – Academic Sciences, Pre Allied Health Technology, Marine Sciences, Information Technology and Building Trades;

C.C. Sweeting – Hospitality and Tourism Studies;

Government High School- Performing Arts and Agricultural Studies;

R.M. Bailey – Hospitality and Tourism Studies;

C.I. Gibson – Photography and Audio Visual Technology, as well as Information and Communications Technology;

Jack Hayward High – Building Trades;

St. George’s High – Hospitality and Tourism Studies;

Doris Johnson High – Hospitality and Tourism Studies;

Anatol Rodgers High School in South West New Providence – Pre Engineering and Information Technology.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are ensuring that students at the pre school level are taught and nurtured in the best possible environment and that the training of caregivers in the area of early childhood education is paramount in achieving this goal. My Ministry has initiated the Grandfathering Programme for adults who are at least forty years old, and who have worked in the private sector pre-schools for at least 10 years.

Candidates for this programme came from throughout The Bahamas including the islands of New Providence, Grand Bahama, North and Central Andros, Abaco and Long Island.

The courses will equip private sector providers of pre-school education with the skills and tools necessary to meet the challenges of teaching and training the youngest learners, consistent with the new Guidelines and Standards of health, safety and education which will be promulgated and enforced in the near future.

The After School Programme of Study Halls, and Homework Centres, which was piloted last academic year, will be implemented into schools from the beginning of this school year. Last year more than 1,200 students throughout The Bahamas participated in the pilot programme.

We believe this programme has had a direct effect on the improvements realized in the 2008 BJC and BGCSE Examinations results, as well as on reading scores and outcomes in primary schools.

Further, the provision of safe after school programmes and additional instruction, as well as the provision of a healthy snack, helped to keep those children who participated “off the streets” during the dangerous and largely unsupervised hours between 3.30 and 5.30 p.m. We urge more parents, particularly of students who are not doing as well as they might academically, to encourage their children to take advantage of this new initiative.

My fellow Bahamians, there is a need to recruit more trained Mathematics teachers. We believe this effort will enhance our existing programmes and ultimately, student performance and national examination scores. The Department of Education has been mandated to aggressively recruit trained Mathematics Teachers, Bahamians first, but also from the United States, Canada and Great Britain.

My fellow Bahamians, educating today’s youth for tomorrow’s world is not an easy task and will require the collective efforts of all of us.

I invite every parent to renew your commitment to your child’s learning; become involved with the school and encourage your children to develop healthy study and dietary habits. Both contribute enormously to the development of people and our nation.

On behalf of the Government of The Bahamas, the Ministry and Department of Education, let me wish all our hard working administrators, teachers, support staff, students and parents a most successful and rewarding academic year. May God bless your efforts to ignite a burning desire for learning and high achievement in the hearts and minds of all of our children.

Let us truly work to perfect our educational system so that each and every child, in each and every classroom, in each and every school, in each and every island from Grand Cay, Abaco, in the North, to Matthew Town, Inagua, in the South, can achieve their dreams through education.

Thank you, my fellow Bahamians. Have a good night and a wonderful new academic year.