Minister of Education Glenys Hanna-Martin appears to have taken her role seriously since being appointed to the post.
Indeed, she seems to have taken on a personal charge of figuring out, if not fixing, what ails us in education.
She faces a daunting task, but her focus on the children is desperately needed.
Before schools reopened under a hybrid system in January, thousands of children fell through the cracks as the former administration promoted virtual learning and dithered in getting students back into the classroom.
It could be argued that four months of virtual learning under Hanna-Martin did not help matters, but she was new to the ministry and her administration was new to governance.
As recently as yesterday, Hanna-Martin admitted that many children who dropped out of school when it went virtual, never came back when school reopened.
Parents and guardians, too, must take their share of the blame.
Children are not accessories to be warehoused and babysat by government officials while those who bear actual responsibility for them shirk their duties of supplementing their education.
Sadly, many parents in our society are themselves, too, poorly educated or nonchalant to proactively assist in their own children’s education.
But there are also many parents without advanced education and without a lot of disposable income who sacrificed throughout the pandemic to keep their children as close as up to speed as possible, as they are aware of the future that likely waits for the child who becomes an uneducated adult.
There were also dedicated teachers who went above and beyond, as so many of our teachers do, to ensure their students would be prepared for the resumption of school and national exams.
The fact remains that there are still thousands of children who have not and perhaps will not return to school.
And the Ministry of Education appeared to be at a loss as to why this has happened.
However, Hanna-Martin told the House of Assembly yesterday that they have, through painstaking work, identified the children who dropped out of school – many of whom are now adults.
“Teams will now reach out to those young people to strongly encourage them either to reintegrate into the mainstream school system or, depending on their age, take advantage of and attend free-of-charge programs to be offered in the summer,” Hanna-Martin told the House of Assembly in her contribution to the budget debate.
“The ministry has collaborated with BTVI and the adult education division of the Ministry of Education which has already created programs designed for these young persons and stands ready to coordinate and immediately mobilize nationwide.
“The intent is at a minimal to bolster literacy and numeracy skills and training in an employable skill, so as to assure a quality of life and survivor skills for these young people. This is not a simple undertaking and will require the full cooperation and active participation of all stakeholders including the community in general.”
She rightly added that “the alternative cannot be contemplated”.
Thousands of children in The Bahamas who fall well behind in their education today, can become thousands of teens and adults shut out of opportunities for advancement tomorrow, which in turn not only increases risks for entering a life of crime, but further threatens a national workforce productivity level that leaves much to be desired.
Children who, through no fault of their own, have fallen well behind their peers academically in the pandemic, can be at heightened risk of depression and social isolation, further complicating efforts to combat the societal ills such dynamics can foster.
Hanna-Martin said, “Going forward, however, we will not accept a state of affairs where school-aged children are engaging in truancy, the so-called chronic norm; and, in this regard, we recently advertised in daily publications for the recruitment of additional attendance officers who will work with the schools, parents, school boards, police, urban renewal and social services.
“We will form an army to get children back in school and with regular attendance and punctuality.”
Hanna-Martin’s verve and commitment are to be applauded.
We think that so far she has demonstrated an understanding of the challenges we face and the determination to confront them.
We hope that parents and all stakeholders find her energy contagious.