By Joseph Darville, former Grand Bahama Catholic High School principal
First of all, I would like to address the expression attributed to my dear friend, the Honorable Minister of Education. Supposedly, he or his government will “hunt down” those individuals who have dared to establish unregulated educational facilities in the nation.
To “hunt down” immediately awakened in my mind the images of well-armed hunters sent forth with bows and arrows, hand guns and pistols to capture some escaped criminals or to kill some wild and threatening beasts of prey. I know it is not what was meant, but the images linger in my mind.
A more conciliatory method , I thought, would have been to invite these clandestine offenders who have set up centres of learning without proper sanctions to come in voluntarily in order to be regularized in accord with the law. I pray, therefore, that this method could still be employed.
Nonetheless, this situation has occasioned me to address the many dangers surrounding the ongoing and efficient education of our children. We know not for how long this pandemic of Covid-19 will continue to interrupt the traditional manner of facilitating the education of our children.
Hence, I venture to make the following suggestions. Firstly, every child of formal education age must be equipped with the necessary instruments with which to commence or continue learning. Now, deeply into the electronic age, each, and every child should be in possession of that one piece of equipment basic to learning, especially in the field of virtual learning. That instrument, a laptop or fully functioning tablet should be in the possession of all children. By extension, every teacher in the nation should be so armed with all necessary equipment and training to facilitate learning at a distance.
You may ask, in light of the economic doldrums now facing this nation, from whence shall come all the funding for such a venture. Remember that these children are the product of mothers and fathers who have toiled, at times almost like slaves, to allow the oligarchy of this nation to accumulate enormous riches. They have benefitted from an incredibly inordinate and unfair taxation system which has facilitated the millions and billions they have been able to store in local and foreign banks. Privileged to be honored with exemption of corporate or income tax, they have grown to be the one percent of the population owning ninety-nine percent of the wealth of this nation.
Thus, it is time they be asked, pleaded with, or persuaded to give back to the children of this nation. I estimate it to be within the range of less than thirty million dollars to equip every school-age child in this country with proper instruments for learning.
It is indeed a sacred obligation that we must pay immediate, knowledgeable and wise attention to this national and essential obligation. Without this urgent attention, we will set this country up to be the capital of illiteracy in the world. We already have a dumbed-down literacy level in this nation.
And thus, we have no other recourse but to go onward, upward together in the redemption of our youthful population. They are the leaders of tomorrow and neglecting them, they will return and be the demonic hunters in our blessed nation.
I have already mentioned the absolute necessity of arming our teachers with all necessary instruments to carry out their demanding and sacred tasks. Now we look to the homes of our children. One has to be very daft not to know and admit that our homes where these children reside need serious assistance. Parents, by and large, are not literate when it comes to modern technology, except for cell phones and minutes. Additionally, many of them, even at the traditional level of 39 percent, are living at or below poverty level. Thus, there needs to be an army of facilitators prepared and sent forth in all these homes to assist students and parents in gaining basic understanding of using instruments for distance learning.
Exiting the halls of institutions of learning this year, last year and many in the past, we have a huge cadre of savvy young people, in the thousands (like ten thousand or more), from high schools and universities, who can be employed at basic wage to be that army of facilitators sent forth in homes to assist our students and their parents. What a marvelous way to give back to the nation and at the same time to obtain employment for themselves! Funds to cover this, again, can come from the accumulated riches of the privileged in our nation.
You know, I can easily name individuals and corporate entities in this regard, but let us just say, they can easily come forth voluntarily for the benefit of our children.
Now, let us take a look at the private institutions of learning in this country. For many, many years, they have valiantly assisted our country with the incomparable education of our children. They have endured for a long time the inadequacy of funding to carry on their indispensable work. Many times, parents have been unable to pay school fees, but, yet wanted their children to have a private school education. Yes, the government has assisted private schools to a certain extent in the past. But will it be able to do so now within the economic stagnations now facing the nation.
A suggested path to take would be for the government to assist in keeping the private schools afloat by providing the necessary subsidies, equipment and enrolling many of the public school children in these institutions, thus alleviating the congestion in the present public school setting. By this action, another problem will be solved. As private schools would not be able to attract but a fraction of their usual enrolment, due to economic reasons again, many of the teachers who would be necessarily laid off. Thus, the remedy could now be to reemploy them to carry on their good and necessary work. Economically, this is a golden win-win situation. Years ago, as a principal in the private school setting, an estimate was made comparing the cost of teaching a child in public school and one in the private setting. The result was that it cost 15% more in the public setting than in the private.
Finally, I call upon the Minister of Education and the Government of the Bahamas to seriously recruit wise, intelligent and knowledgeable individuals in this nation to assist in establishing a solid, functional and modern path in the education of our children in the present or post COVID-19 environment.