Education Is The Key To Equality

Monday 06th, May 2013 / 08:01 Published by

It was promising to see some average, everyday Bahamians gather at Rawson Square this week to demonstrate about matters concerning them. In last week’s column, I spoke about the need for us to break out of the mindset of sitting and waiting for a general election to take an active role in our democracy. To the extent that right-minded Bahamians are starting to get that message and go beyond just talk to action, I am encouraged.

Now that some Bahamians are beginning to stand up publicly at the seat of power (Parliament Square) to demand equality and ownership of areas they feel Bahamians don’t have, it is also time for the organisers of these demonstrations as well as the participants to take a sobered look at what is holding many Bahamians back in their own country.

What is holding many of us back is our mindsets, and our mindsets are both fermented and cemented by a lack of education and a failure to appreciate how education makes the difference between bondage and liberty. We have many Bahamians who feel they do not need an education to advance and “be in charge” of the wealth and opportunities in our country and that is not true. It is not true anywhere else in the world and it is not true in The Bahamas. It is easy to blame a foreigner for what you do not have, because then you do not have to look at where you need to improve or change.

We need to revamp our thinking about education in our country. Poor education is the reason many of us cannot get a job or a “good” job. Poor education is the reason many of us are easily deceived and manipulated by the powers that be. Poor education is the reason many of us are making personal life decisions that keep us in poverty and servitude. When your thinking is low, so shall your position in life be.

And poor education is the reason many Bahamians get angry when you talk about our widespread need for improved education – because education to many of us is something you only need to get if you are looking for a raise or a promotion. Education to us is a piece of paper.

Many of us do not understand that reading, critical thinking and exposure in life help to make us better human beings. Bahamians must elevate their mind through reading and learning, because only then can we fully understand what our role is in our democracy, the power we have and how to use that power to improve ourselves and our families.

Without knowledge, you are the best candidate for a lifetime of bondage to others. Without knowledge, you cannot see all the options that are open to you in life. You don’t deserve the best in life simply and only because you are named “Bahamian”. You deserve the best when you earn the best – and the way to earn the best is by working hard, studying hard and not taking school and education for a joke.

The most destructive message ever passed onto a Bahamian is that you don’t have to be skilled or educated to get the top spots and have ownership of everything – you just need to be Bahamian. Only a person who hates himself and his country would push a message like that. If you hear someone say “Bahamians first” and their first focus is not education, they are essentially encouraging many Bahamians to be first in status but last in mind and skill.

Back to Basics

In Education

If you cannot do math, you cannot run a successful business because you will never be able to tell if you are being robbed of profits or income. You cannot be trusted to handle someone else’s money. If you cannot read and comprehend at a 12th grade level, you cannot know whether agreements you are signing are in your best interest.

If you cannot spell or write well enough to properly fill out a job application – the chances of the employer hiring you are very slim. And if you get a job, the chances of you being able to advance on that job are slim to none because you cannot grasp certain instructions given to you and do not fully understand the reading requirements put before you on the job.

Yet this is the case for thousands of young Bahamians who graduate from high school every year. These are students who graduate with no certificates at all or with grades that they should be ashamed of, but they instead brag about those poor grades. What is worse, they expect a big paying job in air-conditioned offices when they threw away 12 years of schooling.

They are able to brag because The Bahamas is not a country that esteems higher education and critical thinking. The saying “I don’t need no degree to do no job” has a deeper meaning than its surface. When we say that, what we are saying is, “education doesn’t matter as long as I know someone who can get me a job” or “I know others who don’t have a degree but have the job”. And how can you blame the average Bahamian for thinking that way when so many key positions are given to people who don’t deserve it and aren’t qualified, but are politically or socially connected in some way?

Tackling the deficiencies in our educational system is no small task, but we need to get back to basics in education. Instead of bogging down primary school students with a heavy curriculum to give the appearance of doing something modern in our schools, we need to throw away a lot of the fluff and start truly focusing again on the ABCs and 123s. Basic grammar, spelling and comprehension, and basic arithmetic and mathematics are what we need to ensure students have a firm grasp on at the primary school level.

If these foundations are not solidified at the primary school level, all you will have is thousands of students sailing through junior and high school just “passing”, barely getting by. And nowadays, the grading system in schools is so low, “passing” is equivalent to knowing nothing much at all.

When I was in primary and junior high school, this was the standard: 90-100, A; 80-89, B; 70-79, C; 60-69, D; 50-59, F. In my school, students actively fought for the top spot – nobody wanted to get less than a C, and even a C was a depressing matter. Now, how many schools and external examinations have grading scales and competitive standards that high today? If you set the bar low, students don’t have very much to aspire to.

During my formative years I had excellent, competent, well-trained and well-educated teachers – Bahamian and foreign. They were of course the key to my success, in addition to my gifts, abilities and hard work. We have many teachers who fall into this category of excellence in The Bahamas, but not all teachers do.

In some countries, teachers are not qualified for hire unless they have at least a Masters Degree. Needless to say, the scholastic performance of the schools in those countries is to be envied. What those countries have demonstrated is the understanding that if the teacher – the bedrock of the educational system – is not highly educated and trained, he or she will be less able to produce well educated, critically thinking students.

Are the teachers in our public school systems being given all they need to succeed with and for the children they teach? And at the same time, are all of these teachers highly educated and skilled men and women? Should the Ministry of Education look at raising the bar of employment qualifications for teachers?

I imagine that would raise questions about whether more foreign teachers would be needed to fill whatever gaps such changes would create while more of our Bahamian teachers upgrade their skills. That’s an argument for those who think 100 per cent of the teachers in our schools need to be Bahamian.

In junior high, my science teacher was Bahamian, my English teacher was British and my math teacher was American. In high school, my AP Math instructor was a former NASA engineer. My literature and debate coach was Indian. My chemistry teacher was Trinidadian. My art teacher was Canadian. They were all brilliant educators.

Having been educated by among the best from home and around the world; I believe that when a nation is taking a serious look at its educational system, it should look at what is best for the students entering its schools, not about trying to fill an impractical quota to satisfy an imaginary standard of patriotism.

We have excellent Bahamian educators. We also have excellent foreign educators. When coming to the system with the proper skills and when given the proper materials, they make a formidable combination in shaping the minds of Bahamian youngsters. I fully understand though, that it is also what comes into the classrooms from homes around this country that makes it hard for the best educators to see the achievements I’m sure they desperately want to see.

It Starts At Home

Why do you think Bahamians can be given the chance to go to BTVI for free to better themselves and their skills and they refuse to do so? Why do you think Bahamians can be given on-the-job training opportunities or opportunities to get partial or full financial support from their employer for training courses and they refuse?

Why do you think Bahamians can be provided free education to the 12th grade but let it go to waste, while children their age in other countries would give anything for that opportunity? Outside of youngsters who may be struggling in school because of developmental challenges or abuse in their homes, many of our youth learn their negative attitudes about education where they learn many other habits whether good or bad – the home. Parents do not value education and so the children grow up with the same value system.

There are young Bahamians who work very hard in school and are doing very well and to them I say keep pressing on and stay focused. It is not always an easy road when they are surrounded by their peers, most of whom “only wanna pass” and see no real incentive in excelling in school.

Parents do not invest time in their children’s studies, and so the children invest time in everything else but their schoolwork. To the extent that a child grows up seeing school as something he has to go to because it is the law of the land, as opposed to seeing education as the food without which he will live a starved life, will be the extent to which our schools turn out Bahamians year after year who cannot compete in the job market and who struggle to see their way clear to a better life.

Education is life. Education is freedom. Education is the vehicle by which Bahamians will truly lay hold to the levels of equality they say they do not have today. Bahamians who marched this week say they will return in 30 days. That is good.

In the meantime, may they take their children in hand, sit down together and read a schoolbook, watch something other than cartoon network or programmes not intended for young viewers, and start to embrace the reality that the march for equality must always begin in the mind – a mind that is fuelled by knowledge, the thirst for knowledge and the kind of freedom from chains that only education can bring.

Tribune Column By Sharon Turner

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