Challenge: Making quality education equitable across the board
The education system in The Bahamas is producing phenomenal students in pockets, and the children who take away the best of what’s available to them are light-years above their American peers, when they get to college, according to educator, scientist and mentor Casey Bethel. The challenge in The Bahamas, he says, is making quality education equitable across the board.
“We have to make sure what’s happening at so-and-so school is also happening at so-and-so school and so-and-so school. We don’t want to be in a situation where either parents or children or the community feels like, in order for this kid to be successful, he’s got to go to so-and-so school. It begins with us being courageous to admit that that exists, and address that so a kid can go to any school,” said Bethel, a Bahamian who has taught high school science in the United States for 14 years, and is the coordinator for the Douglasville School District, Georgia. He coordinates curriculum, resources and teacher professional development for 16 schools.
Bethel said there’s no reason why a child who attends a government school can’t be just as successful as the child who attends a private institution.
“When you walk into any classroom, what you see in any one of them should mirror what’s happening in all the rest of them.”
Ensuring that happens even if a child lacks motivation, he said, means becoming a country that empowers young people to believe in themselves, to believe that education is still the great equalizer and that education is the key to success.
“And I’m not certain that they’re getting that message often enough. We as a society, speaking about The Bahamas, we need to provide that message early and often – regardless of where you live, regardless of what school you went to,” he said.
“I’m a son of the soil. I grew up in Culmersville, off Mackey Street. I’m a part of the Bethel and Moultrie families. I am a product of the education system in The Bahamas. I went to Palmdale Primary and St. Augustine’s College, and then I went off to college. I didn’t become smart when I got to St. Augustine’s College. I was smart at Palmdale Primary, but that was because at that time in my community I was empowered to believe that hard work at school would set me up for future success. And if young people aren’t believing that anymore then that’s the root cause of the problem. The kids are a product of society. If the fruit is bad, you address the tree.”
He says school and home life have to go hand-in-hand.
“The school can do the best they can for a student from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., but when they get home at 3 p.m. someone’s got to check their homework. Someone’s got to make sure the kid’s reading and not just playing Game Boy. Somebody has to provide this young person with educational experiences.”
He recalled his parents taking him places like Ardastra Gardens and Coral World on the weekends, providing him with educational experiences that provided a broader exposure that made what he was learning in school relevant.
Additionally, Bethel blogs on topics related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education; student engagement; teacher recruitment and retention; and school discipline reform. In March 2018, Bethel was invited to the U.S. White House and U.S. Department of Education and led a panel at the National Forum on Education Policy in May 2108.
He was selected as the Georgia Teacher of the Year in 2017 and the runner-up for the National Life Changer of the Year.
He may teach today, but initially Bethel pursued higher education thinking he was destined to be a doctor. The first career he landed in after college was in science doing research. He then got into education, which he said is his passion and what he believes he was created to do.
“I love teaching. I love making those investments in young people,” said Bethel who was the keynote speaker for the Office of Student Leadership of the University of The Bahamas (UB) in conjunction with Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Iota Epsilon Lambda Chapter, as it celebrated the life and legacy of Civil Rights Activist the late Dr. Martin Luther King (MLK) Jr.
He made the transition from medicine to education as he got closer to medical school, when he realized he did not have a real desire to be a doctor.
“I was caught up in the pride of saying I was going to be a doctor. I liked the look on people’s faces when I said I was going to be a doctor. I finished my bachelor’s degree in pre-medicine, applied to medical school, was accepted and all that, but I had to really decide at that point if I was going to do something that’s not enjoyable just to fulfill that for other people. And I decided not to, and became a scientist instead. I got my ,master’s degree in genetics, got involved in genetics research and now biochemistry research.”
He said the “education thing” was supposed to be just an experiment for one year teaching high school. It ended up being so much fun for him helping other people understand difficult things that one year became two years and now he’s 14 years on.
During his talk at the Harry C. Moore Library and Information Centre Auditorium, Bethel spoke to the topic “Follow in His Footsteps … Live the Dream”, melding education points into his message about King, and a celebration of his legacy. He noted examples of King’s actionable steps that he took that people today can duplicate. Things he said King did that he would have hoped that 21st Century people would be doing.
He spoke to his audience about how people today follow King’s example, because he said and did many more things than his “I Had A Dream” speech.
Without diluting the sacrifices of any Bahamian, he said there’s absolutely no coincidence that what MLK did in the 60s was followed up by what happened in The Bahamas in the early 70s.
“I bet some of the earliest leaders for us, what we think of as the traditional Bahamian society, took some examples from him (King), and courage. His message, his legacy certainly has a place here in our past, in our present and in our future, if we’re willing to take up the steps and be intentional about doing them.”
Bethel said he thinks about the country of his birth every day and wanting to make positive contributions at every stage. Also that if the path God has laid deals cards that lead to him returning home that he would be happy to.
“I never left here out of disappointment with The Bahamas. I’ve never made a conscious decision to leave here. Me being there (U.S.) is kind of like you go to school, you start working and before you know it… it’s 15 years. I’m more a case study in how fast time adds up. I never said I’m leaving this place. I love this place.”
The educator, scientist and mentor also said what he has accomplished is because of the seeds that were sown in him at Palmdale Primary, at St. Augustine’s, in Culmersville and at St. George’s Anglican Church.
“I’m the product of those seeds,” said Bethel, who also conducts biochemistry research at Georgia Tech, hoping to find cures for Alzheimer’s disease and inherited glaucoma. His team’s most recent findings were published in the Nature-Chemical Biology journal.