Education

Education in the Bahamas: Legions of Smart Kids Having Their Minds Shackled By Bahamas Government Bureaucrats

The Bahamas boasts an adult literacy rate of more than 95 per cent and an English speaking population of more than 300,000.

The Bahamas has an education system which unfortunately is mostly public (i.e., government fiscally and intellectually controlled). According to the Bahamas government as much as 24 per cent of the National Budget is allocated to education. Despite this fact (or perhaps because of it) the quality of education has decreased over the past decade as government officials have taken a more involved role in education.

School attendance is compulsory between the ages of 5 and 16. As of 1999, the government fully operates 158 of the 210 primary and secondary schools in The Bahamas. The other 52 schools are privately operated. Enrollment for state and private primary and secondary schools amounts to more than 66,000 students. School starts from nursery (age 3) or kindergarten (age 4) all the way up to high school (grade 12).

Teachers and Students in Public and Private Schools
September 2003 – June 2004

1 Island Students Teachers Ratio
Male Female Male Female
New Providence Primary 9,023 8,482 58 815 1:20
Junior High 3,920 3,519 113 386 1:15
Senior High 3,301 3,240 151 360 1:16
2 Abaco 1,293 1,247 40 116 1:16
3 Acklins 84 50 4 9 1:12
4 Andros 1,143 1,126 45 119 1:8
5 Berry Islands 79 84 4 6 1:15
6 Bimini 105 117 6 12 1:12
7 Cat Island 218 229 21 21 1:11
8 Crooked Island 46 41 2 10 1:7
9 Eleuthera 1,037 1,037 1,080 40 132
10 Harbour Island 187 177 9 11 1:18
11 Exuma 463 435 13 58 1:13
12 Grand Bahama 4,321 3,995 103 392 1:17
13 Inagua 105 103 7 10 1:12
14 Long Island 362 350 20 57 1:9
15 Long Cay 4 2 - 1 1:6
16 Mayaguana 42 37 1 7 1:10
17 Ragged Island 4 7 1 1 1:5
18 Rum Cay 12 9 1 1 1:10
19 San Salvador 148 105 5 16 1:12
Total 25,897 24,435 644 2,540 1:16
50,332 3,184
Sources: Adapted from data provided by the Ministry of Education.

The Bahamas Ministry of Education: F+
A confidential BGCSE Report [2004] states “Were it not for the Private schools and a few Public High schools in the Family Islands, the Mean Grade for the country would have been an astounding E [rather than D]. This [level of academic achievement] is totally unacceptable.” The Mean Grade for the Public High Schools on New Providence was F+ while the Mean Grade for the Private High Schools on New Providence was D+. Both the absolute levels and the gap between the two are truly disturbing.

Exam Academic Taken Grade
Mathematics 4,367 E
English Language 4,281 D
Biology 2,705 E+
Religious Studies 1,739 C
Literature 1,153 D
History 841 C
Spanish 761 D+
Chemistry 511 D+
Geography 572 C
Physics 518 D+
Combined Science 413 D+
Economics 400 E+
French 196 D
Total Academic 18,457
Business:
Bookkeeping 664 F+
Typewriting 461 D
Commerce 430 D
Office Procedures 322 D+
Total Business 1,213
Vocational:
Foods & Nutrition 378 C
Art & Design B 363 C
Art & Design A 285 C
Graphical Comm. 209 D+
Carpentry/Joinery 179 C
Music 167 C
Electrical Installation 95 C
Clothing Construction 80 C
Auto Mechanics 46 D
Total Vocational 1,802
Total 21,472 D

Source: Confidential Report 2004, Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education, Testing and Evaluation Section, Ministry of Education, Bahamas Government.

The government provides education at its Ministry of Education schools throughout The Bahamas tuition free. In the Family Islands, 127 are government-run and 22 private. Schools in The Bahamas fall under the following two categories: Primary Ages 5 – 11 and Secondary Ages 11- 16 and over. There are also various schools catering to special education for all ages and schools for higher learning.

The College of The Bahamas, established in Nassau in 1974, provides programs leading to bachelors and associates degrees. The college is now converting from a 2-year to a 4-year institution. Several non-Bahamian colleges also offer higher education programs in The Bahamas.

There are several other government-operated institutions in The Bahamas which offer higher education, such as the University of the West Indies (regional), the Bahamas Hotel Training College and the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute.

In addition, some universities in the United States offer degree programs in The Bahamas such as University of Miami and Nova Southeastern University. Classes are held on weekends and in the evenings in Nassau. The colleges in the Bahamas are mostly two year, though there is one four year college in Nassau.

No Free Lunch: Commentary on Government Intervention in Bahamas Education

According to the Bahamas government as much as 24 per cent of the National Budget is allocated to education. From growing up in the Bahamas, public schools are seen as free-babysitting services for their children. Some parents in the Bahamas do neglect their children and seek to pass on their children to government to take care of them, while they are out busy making more children. Public schools, unlike private schools, give them the economic incentive to do this by attaching a lower than market value to education (zero tuition).

By allowing government to gain financial control of education, then so it must necessarily take over the content of that education: the realm of ideas. i.e., to make sure it’s “money” is well spent. In such a situation is there any doubt that the supreme ideas to be taught are obedience, loyalty, and servitude to the supremacy of the “people” and its spokesperson the state? Such is the death of the free-thinking individual as children are inculcated into “group-think” as dictated by the Minister of Education.

The truth is that tuition is not free for the bulk of Bahamians–as we have to pay the government in the form of duties to pay for the public schools–whether we have children or not, and whether we send out children to public schools or not.

If a Bahamian parent does not approve of a private school they can remove their children and their money from it, and take both elsewhere. No such option exists with public schools: whether parents send their children to a public schools or not, and whether they approve of the ideas taught in those schools or not, they must still pay for public education through compulsory taxation (duties). This added burden often makes it impossible for many parents to even afford to send their children to private schools in many cases would be their preference.

My interim political solution would be duty credits for education for parents who can afford to send their kids to private schools, and transitionally, with reservations, vouchers (similar, but not identical, to how vouchers operate in Sweden, but with less restrictions and less interference) for parents who cannot afford to send their kids to private schools even with duty credits.

The voucher (or “Pupil Passport” as it is called in the UK [2]) can carry a value equivalent to the cost of educating a child at a state school and parents will be able to use it at any state school or private school. Parents can also totally opt out of the voucher system through duty credits.

Duty credits will transfer fiscal control from state bureaucrats back to Bahamian citizens, thus forcing public schools to compete in the market for Bahamian dollars — just like private schools do. The result would be a plethora of intellectual diversity and innovation in Bahamian education.

References:

[1] Quoting from the BBC News:

“The former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead believes public exams like GCSES and A-levels are getting easier.”

[2] Mike Baker. BBC education correspondent, “The school choice debate hots up” (April 30 2004)