Genesis of education woes is failure to act

  • Wrong move: potential removal of Freddie Evans does not address historical education problem. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

MURIEL WADE-SMITH PhD has been fighting the fight for education and for recognition of her craft for the past several decades. In recent times, she has taken to writing to politicians to be given what she believes to be her fair dues, as well as fellow educators when in her opinion that state of learning in our schools has fallen below expected standards.

Last week, with the Ministry of Education in meltdown over the Freddie Evans “sacking”, “administrative error” and ultimate “unsacking”, Dr Wade-Smith’s most recent submission appears timely for The Royal Gazette to publish.

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”Marcus Garvey

In the September 20 edition of The Royal Gazette under the headline ”Ministry silent on Evans reports”, the article states: “The Ministry of Education has refused to confirm or deny whether calls have been made for the termination of Freddie Evans as Commissioner of Education.”

Bermuda’s educational woes, like all the other woes inflicted on blacks in a white supremacist society are deeply rooted in racism. The foundation of the system is racist and designed against black children. Consequently, we the people of Bermuda must combine our forces and demand a fair, just and equitable system of education.

Does the Ministry of Education not consist of a team of players? If we remove one player from the team, does that help us to address the historical problem of racism?

What were some of the things that impacted education for blacks from 1949 to 2009?

Free education (1949)

1, In the January 9, 1949 edition of The Royal Gazette, it is stated that The Central School PTA called a meeting to pass a motion for all parents to refuse to pay fees for primary school education. The revolt was occasioned at the request of the House of Assembly (Parliament).

2, As noted in the book Dr E.F. Gordon: Hero of the Working Class, by Dale Butler, 1987, the House of Assembly had requested that the Board of Education examine and make recommendations on the provision of free education for the period of education that was compulsory.

3, The board appointed a committee consisting of P.W. Feakins (chairman), William S. Cooper, Albert E. Nicholl, Doris Trott Butterfield and Hilda Astwood.

4, The committee had three meetings on the matter and concluded that free education “is neither desirable nor practicable”.

5, Apparently the committee’s recommendation was not accepted by the Government; free education at the primary level did come into effect shortly thereafter, as The Schools Act 1949 introduced free primary education to schools designated as free schools.

6, All the white schools were enabled to have boards of management when free education was introduced in 1949. The black schools were managed from the central office of the education department.

7, During the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, consultants or commissions appointed to look at ensuring equity within the community each recommended management boards for all schools. Regardless of these repeated recommendations, the Government failed to implement such recommendations. In addition, the media focused on other aspects of committee recommendations and gave little attention to this aspect.

• Source: A Random Walk Through the Forest (Reflections on the History of Education In Bermuda From the Middle of the 20th Century) by Joseph Christopher, 2009

Dr Christopher’s book should be required training for all teachers entering the Bermuda public education system.

History of Education in Bermuda by Kenneth E. Robinson, 1952

1, In 1952, in an unpublished dissertation entitled History of Education in Bermuda, the late Kenneth Robinson, a Harvard graduate, stated: “From the outset, the system has been diversified both with respect to purpose and structure.”

In addition, Dr Robinson found it necessary to list major special education objectives with which coloured Bermudians should be concerned.

2, Yvonne Blackett PhD, in an unpublished report dated May 1976, indicated that official documents in 1948 revealed implicit and explicit indications of the following:

A, Philosophy of Education 1948: schools should be for the maintenance of the social, economic and political status quo

B, Educational Principles 1948: that of social, economic and political dominance by white people

C, Educational Objectives 1948: to cultivate white children for hereditary leadership

D, Educational Objectives 1948: that the Government theoretically supported private schools

The Education Planning Team (1988)

1, In 1987 the Ministry of Education had been investigating ways to respond to the increasing concerns expressed by the business community with respect to graduates from the government school system.

2, The concerns expressed by business included the following:

A, The school system is producing insufficient persons who are interested in or skilled in technical or craft areas of employment.

B, Students do not possess the skills needed to become salespersons or to enter other jobs at a similar level.

C, There are not enough males with high academic standards entering the job market.

D, Many job applicants who have completed tertiary education have unreasonably high expectations with respect to salary and level of employment.

E, Many job applicants are purported to have attended tertiary institutions that have inadequate standards of performance.

The Minister of Education finally sought enough input and support from the entire community for reform of the government system.

This was the genesis of the Education Planning Team. The EPT was appointed in December 1987 and reported back to the minister in December 1988.

It consisted of some 27 people representing parents, teachers, principals, members of aided schools, boards of governors, members of the business community, active members of political parties, private citizens and education staff.

The Ministry of Education distributed a summary of the report that included a score of belief statements.

The summary provided 15 highlights of the report.

Dr Christopher stated that the EPT belief statements and highlighted proposals are notable for several reasons. I will include his statements about school boards here:

Dr Christopher stated: “The proposal of boards for all school is related to the desire for enhanced parent involvement in schools. This proposal also reflected proposals mentioned in the 1960s within the Houghton Report, the education board recommendations, as well as the Wooding Commission Report.”

Dr Christopher further declared: “As a member of the EPT sub-committee that recommended boards for all schools, I can state categorically that there was no discussion of these earlier reports by that sub-committee. All these proposals, separated by 20–plus years, reflect a concern in Bermuda with respect to the extent to which any politically oriented body can truly serve the needs of parents and their children.”

Has not the time come for us, the caretakers of our children, to take the bull by the horns and face the truth about how the evils of racism in our public schools has hindered our children?

Has not the time come for us to demonstrate guts, gumption, grit and the will to provide a fair, just and equitable, world-class system of education for Bermuda’s priceless resources — our children?