Updating MPs on the consultation process for the proposal to introduce parish primary schools, Education Minister Diallo Rabain took issue comments on the proposed changes in the public domain.
“If Education Fails, Bermuda Fails,” said Mr Rabain.
“We all need to be on the same page, the Government, the Opposition and the Public. Public education is of national importance.
“We need your feedback and to hear from you. I urge members here and the public to register to attend one of the remaining consultation meetings to learn about the proposal to introduce parish primary schools.”
To date, he said: “The Ministry has received a total of 65 written submissions via the consultation email link.
“The majority of the responses have been from parents or extended family members. This is good.
“The transformation of the public school system is of national importance. Therefore, the Ministry needs everyone to contribute so that the best decision is made for our children today, and future generations.”
Speaking in the House of Assembly on Friday (Feb 19), the Minister said comments posted “have not represented our proposed Education Reform’s true nature”.
To “clarify what has been happening” since the consultation document was released in mid-December, he said: “In essence, the proposal is to reduce the number of primary schools from 18 to 10 primary schools, recommending one (1) primary school per parish, except for Pembroke parish that will have two primary schools. The part of the consultation process involving stakeholder meetings commenced earlier this year in January.”
The “overview of the consultation” started with internal stakeholder groups, followed by consultation meetings with “Ministry and Department Staff, the Board members, representatives from all three Unions, Principals and Preschool Administrators”.
“These meetings were the first to be held during January. During the first weeks in February, the consultation meetings continued with two public meetings. The general public was invited to attend, hear the proposed parish primary schools’ presentation, ask questions, give their input and/or suggestions.
“The Ministry has also held a total of eight parish meetings for stakeholders who live in the respective parish that could potentially be affected given the proposal,” he added.
“Two meetings were held for St George’s Parish stakeholders and education advocates, two for Smith’s Parish, two Devonshire and two for Pembroke parish residents. All consultation meetings are undertaken using the virtual platform Zoom. Participants register for the meeting they are interested in attending and can submit questions in advance.
“All consultation meetings held on Mondays and Thursdays are also broadcasted on the Government’s CITV and streamed on the Bermuda Government’s Facebook Live and YouTube channels.”
On that note, he said: “The Ministry aims to have as wide a reach as possible to the Bermudian the community. The YouTube and Facebook streams are monitored, and any questions posted on there are recorded. Additionally, these questions, as much as possible, are answered during the Zoom meeting.”
Moving forward, the Minister said: “Participants have asked about the implementation timeline for the introduction of parish primary schools and potential closures.
“I would like to reiterate that a decision has not been made on primary school closures. We have presented a proposal on the introduction of parish primary schools to start a national discussion. Therefore, at this point, a specific timeline for implementation cannot be provided. We intend to give careful consideration to every submission and feedback so that an informed decision is made,” he added.
“The Ministry is often asked why are the high performing schools being proposed for closure. Stakeholders must know that the Ministry is consulting broadly to obtain as much feedback and input as possible.
“A powerful vision for learning has been proposed, and that vision cannot be achieved with the school buildings of the past nor the teaching and learning styles of the past. Thus, careful thought went into determining the school building sites recommended for parish primary school locations. It is critical for these sites to have the potential for expansion and development to support the new vision for learning. It would not be fair nor prudent to propose school building sites based on the performance when there are many other social and economic factors that impact a child’s school performance.
“We must have a system that caters to all of our students and their needs. It is important to meet them where they are,” said Mr Rabain.
On the question of “where is the funding coming from for the possible refurbishment, renovations and/or rebuilding of primary schools”, he said: “The Ministry is currently looking at various funding options, including public-private partnerships that have demonstrated proven financial support for big-ticket building facilities and projects.
“We want to assure our stakeholders that the funding will be provided, more importantly right now, is to develop a blueprint of what our primary schools will look like. This blueprint can then be assessed for costs, timelines and roll out, given the resources needed.
“Another reoccurring question centres around the potential of overcrowding of school buildings and classrooms,” he added.
“If the consultation’s outcome is to have parish primary schools, those schools selected will be refurbished or rebuilt to accommodate up to 300 students.
“The Ministry is also proposing a maximum class size for primary schools of 15 students. The school enrolment projections also show steady declining student enrollment for each parish up to the year 2027. The school enrollment projections support a decision of 300 students per school with a maximum of 15 students per class. Therefore, overcrowding would not be an issue.”
Admittedly, he said: “There is a fear that closing particular schools would eradicate that school’s history or legacy.
“History or legacy is carried on by people and what they do with information, knowledge, and past experiences. Therefore, there are many ways to preserve the legacy of experiences attached to school buildings. Examples include renaming school buildings and/or classrooms, writing the history in the school curriculum, or establishing a history hall of fame. This has been done in the past and can continue.”
Overall, he said the consultation meetings “have been very engaging”.
“The consultation process will continue during the next two weeks as the Ministry holds specific meetings for Paget, Southampton and Sandy’s Parishes.”
The last public meeting will be held on Marth 8th and the consultation process will conclude on March 12th.
“I intend to communicate a final decision before the end of the school year.”
In closing, the Minister urged residents to “take some time to complete a consultation submission form by visiting the www.moed.bm website”.
“Let’s make this a national effort to transform public school education.”