With the possibility of an influx of private school students into the public system, Minister of Education Jeff Lloyd said yesterday that the ministry is looking at every “conceivable option” to the issue, including whether to increase the subvention to private schools.
The minister also expressed concern over the postponement of the national exams and the impact it will have on students and teachers.
Schools were ordered closed shortly after the outbreak of COVID-19 in The Bahamas. The country is under a state of emergency with 24-hour curfews and weekend lockdowns.
Regarding a possible influx of students, Lloyd said it could mean the government may have to provide funding for private schools if the public system cannot accommodate all the students.
“We have to prepare for it,” he said while appearing as a guest on the Guardian Talk Radio 96.9 show “The Revolution” with host Juan McCartney.
“As you know, now that you have situations where so many persons are without work.
“[If] parents cannot bring their students into the private sector like they were accustomed to, they don’t have the school fees, one of two things will happen: either those students are going to enter into the public sector, and there is also a challenge because the public sector may not have the space to accommodate them, or the government is going to have to find additional means, meaning finances, to support those institutions, those private institutions.
“[N]othing is off the table. We have to look at every single conceivable option that can be thrown up as to what do we do.
“Do we increase the subvention to those private institutions, private school systems like the Catholics, the Methodists, the Baptists [or] the Anglicans, now? Do we increase it or do we absorb more of the students who are unable to pay?”
As for the delay in the national exams, he said a task force will be formed to determine what should be done, but there are many things to consider.
“There has to come a date when we have to decide, ‘Are we going to have the exams or not?’” he said.
“[To] conduct an exam, it’s about a two to three-month process. Why? Because you’re looking two months to take the exam. And then you’re looking at another month or so to mark the exam.
“Generally, those exams are conducted in the summer because schools are available, but also, more importantly, the teachers are there to mark the exams. The teachers are on holiday. They have the time to mark the exams.
“But let’s say we cannot do it because the virus would not let us. We go into the fall. Can we have the exams in September, October, November?
“Because if we do, we need space to have the exams. We may be required to observe social distancing. Do we really have the space while the regular school continues? Secondly, who marks the exams? Teachers.
“Will we have teachers to mark the exams while they are also continuing with their own instructions? Major questions. And can we do it? At the moment, it doesn’t appear as if we can without pulling the teachers out of school to mark the exams, which would compromise the regular, ordinary school.”
The national exams are typically scheduled for May and June.
Lloyd added, “What will we do, let’s say, come August 1, and we’re still in this state of curfew and lockdowns? Do we cancel exams? And if we do, what is the implication? Well, we know that the public service still requires the exams in order to determine who enters the public service.
“We know that there are many persons who determine the employability of a particular applicant based on the exam results. So, we know that. We know that the government still [looks at] the exam results in terms of scholarships.
“What about those students who are going away to universities? We know that these universities also look at these exam results in terms of admissibility. So, we have so many questions that need to be answered satisfactorily.
“[M]any students we have here today may be 15, 18, 20 percent of our students who leave high school who go on to tertiary education. So, that’s two out of 10. What happens to the other eight out of 10? They go into the work world. If they don’t take their exams at the end of their 12th grade, what likelihood will they come back to take those exams, say next year? Probably not.
“So, that means that you will have eight out of 10 students, potentially, who will be out there without some kind of credentials. Can we afford that as a society?”
The government has launched a virtual learning initiative.
Students at work in food stores
Lloyd also asked food store operators to stop allowing students, particularly packing boys, to work during school hours.
“I have gotten a lot of complaints about students who are in these food stores packing during school hours,” he said.
“I have made representation to these food store owners, please. I understand that many times some of these students have to work because they are the only one’s working in the household. I understand that.
“You’ve got to respect the social environment that we live in. I’ve asked these food store proprietors that if it is at all possible, please don’t schedule these students to come to work during school hours. They should be on their programs.”
Lloyd also said that it is entirely possible that the complete reopening of The Bahamas won’t take place until next year, and noted that this will surely have an impact on schools.
“[Y]ou heard the prime minister and there will be a phased opening,” he said.
“That opening, the eventual opening of the entire system may not happen until the spring of next year, or even later.
“We don’t know. The virus will tell us.”
On Monday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis revealed plans for a phased reopening of the country.
There are six planned phases: 1A, 1B, 2, 3, 4 and 5. The country is still in phase 1A. The limited opening of schools is not expected to take place until phase 3, with the opening to be expanded during phase 4.