A conclusion of the Oxford Economics report laid out a problem at the heart of Bahamian society. In its World Trade Organization (WTO) Impact Assessment, the quantitative analysis firm found Bahamian workers lack the necessary skills and education for firms to adequately perform in a global economy. This contributes to our high unemployment rate in comparison with countries in the region.
The assessment should surprise no one. The Bahamas has a much-discussed education problem. Bahamian newspapers and intellectuals have commented on it for years.
The state tries. There is free school from first to twelfth grade – and more free preschool. There is heavily subsidized tertiary education at the University of The Bahamas and the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute. There is the National Training Agency. There are scholarships.
The state pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into public education each year. Yet, many of our children leave school – whether by dropping out or “finishing” – functionally illiterate and innumerate.
These young men and women then enter the job market. For this batch, the best-case scenario is a job as a basic laborer.
There are problems in the public education system. Teacher quality could be better. Class sizes could be smaller. The curriculum needs to evolve.
Our education problem, however, is greater than all that.
There is a pervasive anti-intellectual, incurious culture in The Bahamas. The fast dollar is valued; learning and knowledge, much less so.
Too many parents use the public schools as daycare centers. They are places that keep their children. They are not involved in their learning. They do not know the teachers. They do not ensure homework is done. They do not set standards of achievement. They do not attend parent-teacher meetings.
It is easy to “blame the government” or to “blame the schools” for the poor products produced. However, the culture and parents these children come from are just as responsible for their failure.
It costs nothing for a parent to set standards at home; to ensure that homework is done; to meet with teachers, and to help a child rise above his or her deficits.
If more Bahamian parents set as a goal that their children would be more educated and skilled than them, much of our society’s dysfunction would not exist.
A significant part of our problem relates to our founding. The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) of Sir Lynden Pindling committed bad habits to this culture.
The drug culture of the 1970s and 1980s under Pindling’s watch taught that education was not needed to thrive. Smuggling and selling drugs made boys millionaires in short time.
These drug dealers became the heroes of the culture. You didn’t need school to be a success.
This was not true, of course. Many who made the fast money ended up in jail, dead or broke.
Then there is the Pindling public service culture. The PLP padded the service with appointees for political reasons. Competence was not the reason for getting hired. Work did not advance you. Fidelity to the party was what was valued.
We can do better as a country if we each, on a micro level, recommit to valuing education. Aspire for your children to be smarter than you. Demand good grades. Make sure they attend school. Talk to them from young about tertiary level education. Visit the school beyond drop-off and pick-up times. Get to know teachers and come to events.
When children know their parents and families care about education they are more likely to care about it, too.
Our education and skills problems are not just “for the government to fix”.
We must do better in our homes and aspire to be better than we have been.