Speech: Back To School Address

Good evening fellow Bahamians!

At this time of year, students across the archipelago of islands are returning to school where they will be challenged academically and socially to increase their knowledge and capabilities across a variety of disciplines. It is through the education system that our nation’s young bright minds are shaped. As all Bahamians know, knowledge is an exceedingly valuable resource that we must continue to grow in our country.

There is no doubt that a country’s growth, health and level of economic development is driven by the level of education of a nation’s citizens.

We must always remember this as we strive to build a stronger and more modern Bahamas.

Back in 2012 when I assumed Ministerial responsibility for Education, I never dreamt that it would be so rewarding. My assignment became a calling driven by passion, purpose and people – the people being the young people of this country. I truly believe that I have the best job in the world.

I have the privilege to lead a dynamic group of dedicated professionals who are highly trained and well equipped for the task at hand. I want to publicly thank all of them – the teachers, the school administrators, support staff and the administrative staff at the Ministry’s headquarters.

From day one as Minister, I knew there was a need to make some big changes and I appreciated the impact education has on our country. At the Ministry we therefore committed to ensuring all decisions were strategic, data-driven and would serve the best interest of the students, our teachers and the country as a whole.

Therefore, my primary goal has always been to give our students Hope and open the door of Opportunity for them.

Students, parents, teachers, administrators and the public at large, I am delighted to report that during the past four years, with the support of every person within the Ministry and Department of Education, the encouragement of my parliamentary colleagues and the resources provided by the Prime Minister as Minister of Finance we have been able to deliver on every single promise as outlined in our Charter of Governance; including doubling our investment in education.

In fact as you will see, we have far exceeded what was outlined and we have been able to accomplish far more than even we thought possible in such a short space of time.

As we seek to build a stronger Bahamas. We also know that more needs to be done.

 

At the preschool level, we know this is where children develop core skills.  This is where life-long learning begins. To this end:

We established the National Preschool Council, which is commissioned to regularize and standardize preschool education nationally for both publicly and privately owned preschools.

At the primary school level:

  • We have increased literacy and numeracy instruction time significantly, as we recognized that doing so would be more beneficial to our students and more targeted to our challenges as a nation. In this regard, we have incorporated integration instruction into subjects like science, social and religious studies that can be taught through reading. This method of integrated instruction strengthens the learning process due to consistent reinforcement.
  • We are contributing to a modern Bahamas by ensuring that many of our students have access to technology and computerized literacy programmes. One example is the Tune Into Reading programme, which is a public-private-partnership with Wendy’s and Mission Educate Bahamas along with Corporate Bahamas. It is an initiative to outfit public primary schools with Tune Into Reading Computer Labs to help improve the literacy skills of students.
  • We have made special education a priority. The Marjorie Davis Institute for Special Education is designed to meet the unique learning needs of each student. We have identified students and have enrolled them for a period of time where they are exposed to high qualified and experienced special education teachers who provide these children with tailor made instruction to optimize their ability to learn and give them the confidence they need to have a positive education experience.
  • We have seen steady increase in our GLAT results over the past 3 years with some schools registering increases of over 30% in the past 2 years alone.

 

At the junior high school level:

  • As a part of the newly instituted Bahamas High School Diploma, the Ministry increased its emphasis on the BJC examinations and now, all grade 9 students are required to sit a minimum of four BJCs before transitioning to senior high school. With this renewed focus, BJC results continue to show steady improvements as more students are sitting the exams, allowing us to identify the academic strengths and weaknesses of each student before they move to high school.

 

  • One of the newest initiatives within the Ministry is the Student Achievement Unit. This data-driven intervention tracks each and every student in the public school system from preschool to grade twelve, and closely analyses individual GLAT, BJC and BGCSE examination results so we are able to recommend student-specific academic support. This is done with a goal to improve student performance, increase graduation rates and help students reach their fullest potential.

 

  • Over the past 3 years we have seen steady year over year improvements in our BJC results and this is indeed very encouraging.

 

At the senior high school level:

  • For the first time in history, our country has moved away from a one-size-fits-all model of education. Our education system was failing our young people in this regard. We have adopted career path and course clusters to allow students to pursue subjects of career interest and academic strengths. We are now able to enforce standards of accountability throughout the system and better equip our children to thrive as adults.

 

 

  • The Public School Scholarships Programme allows qualified students to have access to tertiary education both at home and abroad. I have advocated for and received increased funding for scholarships from 7.75 million dollars in 2011 to 16.2 million dollars in 2016. The Ministry has signed memoranda of understanding with many colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, and these scholarships are specifically for public school students. In 2015, we had nineteen (19) students go abroad for this program. This year that number tripled to 57 students from multiple islands fulfilling their dreams of going to college abroad. Next year we expect this number to grow to 100 public school students.

 

At the tertiary level:

  • The College of The Bahamas’ transition to The University of The Bahamas is a historical milestone for our country, and something that has been a long in the making. On November 10th 2016 The Bahamas will officially be able to boast about having a local university with a reputation of global excellence. The economic implications are far-reaching and our hopes for the University of The Bahamas remain high as it becomes an integral part of the growth and development of our beloved country.

 

  • The Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute remains the premier technical and vocational facility in the country and continues to provide 21st century job training to Bahamians of all ages. BTVI has expanded in course offering and in infrastructure.

 

As we continue to elevate the profile of both academic and career and technical education in all levels within our education system, I am confident that there is a place for all Bahamians who want to learn and contribute to a modern and prosperous Bahamas.

Commitment to learning and growth is also why the Ministry has elevated professional development, using modern technology and committing to a Shared Vision for Education, under which all education initiatives fall.

 

As it relates to Professional Development,

  • We teach our children the value of life-long learning, and we know that our teachers must also embody this concept. The Mabel Walker Institute for Professional Development is a training and resource centre for education professionals to enhance and improve their skills.

 

We are committed to a modern Bahamas by investing in Technology in education

 

  • We have upgraded infrastructure technology in junior and senior high schools throughout the Commonwealth of The Bahamas by investing more than $6 million dollars. This is indeed the largest single investment in public schools in the history of The Bahamas!

 

Finally, I wish to speak of the bi partisan “Shared Vision for Education 2030”

  • The Shared Vision for Education 2030 is a policy document that creates a long-term national plan and provides direction on furthering our educational goals no matter which party is in power. In our Shared Vision, we set an overall goal for the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to increase the graduation rate from 50% to 85% by the year 2030. All of the initiatives and programmes that I have referenced in this address contribute to achieving that goal. We must also recognize that meaningful, positive and sustainable change in any country’s education system is never quick, comfortable or easy, which is why it is a long-term plan for success, and one we believe is attainable.

 

As I conclude tonight’s address, I do so with a message specifically for all parents and guardians. Parental Involvement in a child’s educational experience is absolutely necessary. We need all parents, grandparents, role models to be more actively involved in the education of our children.

They are the future leaders of our country! Parents please get involved in your children’s education! The success of your children and the future development of our country depend on the amount of time you invest in them. Make sure you value education and instil that value in your children.

 

I believe in our bright and untapped minds with unlimited potential.  Now is the time to harness that power within every single student in our Country. The Ministry of Education is committed to providing our students with the resources, both financial and human to help all children succeed. Let us all work together to further our Shared Vision. This is my Bahamas, this is your Bahamas; let’s together build a Stronger Bahamas.

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