Education: Is it an OBA priority or not? *iStock photo
Education: Is it an OBA priority or not? *iStock photo

‘Twas the nightmare before Christmas

 And all through the House

Sat political expediency

Unjustifiably, the Minister got dropped.

Bah! Humbug!  That’s my feeling about the recent Cabinet shuffle that resulted in the Ministry of Education being merged with the Ministry of Economic Development. It’s not the shiny, red fire truck every boy wants. It’s the lump of coal that ruins Christmas morning!  

I get it. Times are hard, there needs to be shared sacrifice, and the Premier needs to stand up and “make the tough decisions”.  But they must be the right decisions, and I think the OBA got it horribly wrong on Education.  In my opinion the social challenges we face as a result of a neglected public education system needs the full attention of a Minister.  His/her energy should not be diluted by the distractions of another Ministry.  To me, the OBA’s decision  is a colossal contradiction to everything the OBA has been saying since their formation.

Not so long ago, the 2011 Throne Speech Reply to be precise, the Opposition OBA proclaimed the following about public education:

“Four and a half years ago, the Hopkins Report revealed that the education system was “on the brink of meltdown.” Two years ago, the Bermuda First Report issued “a call to action,” stating that “Education is justifiably one of the top priorities of Bermuda’s government.” It connected educational opportunity for individual Bermudians with “economic growth, fewer drains on government resources and improved social outcomes such as lower crime rates.”

Professor Mincy’s 2009 report on young black males highlighted the fundamental importance of keeping young black Bermudian men in school. The report identified a clear correlation between “education attainment gaps” and lower income levels and unemployment.

The message could not be clearer. It is repeated in report after report. But the PLP Government has not reformed our public education system. With few exceptions, the Hopkins recommendations have not been implemented. Yet the individual success of our students, the stability of our communities and the secure future of our country all depend on getting this done.”

Whatever happened to “the urgency of now”?  Perhaps it doesn’t apply to public education.  Watching the Premier try to rationalise the change to the media was about as painful as stepping barefooted on a Christmas tree ornament. The gist of it was that Bermuda has too many Ministries, and in order for us to become more effective we need to consolidate them. Dr. Grant Gibbons was already speaking in the House of Assembly for the Education Ministry, but the OBA felt that Education needed greater attention and representation.  Because Gibbons was already speaking on Education, there were synergies already in place.  And thus it supposedly makes perfect sense…  Bah Humbug, I say to that!  

It’s far less important to have increased representation in the House than to have a competent Minister with the time and resources to drive through much-needed education reform that is long overdue. I cannot comprehend, even remotely, how consolidating these two Ministries is good for the country.  If anything, it’s a huge step in the wrong direction. Surely the Minister of Economic Development already has his hands full.  If not, he should!  He’s one of the smartest and most educated representatives up on the Hill, but the two Ministries combined seems like far too much for any single person (even with a Junior Minister for support) to handle.  

We all know that the socio-economic costs of slow progress in public education will continue to result in bottom-line expenses that are exponentially greater than the amount saved by eliminating a single Minister’s salary. It should also be noted that while SAGE recommended that the number of Ministries be reduced from 12 to 8, they did not recommend that Education be merged or absorbed into another Ministry. As a matter of fact, both Education and Economic Development were recommended as standalone Ministries. Obviously SAGE saw the importance of having a singularly-focused Education Ministry, but the OBA appears to have ignored their recommendation (even with 10 Ministries).  Now that’s what I call a nutcracker!  

Oh well, looks like political expedience trumps empowerment once again.  Kinda feels like when The Grinch Stole Christmas, doesn’t it? Let’s turn the clock back to November 2011 one last time:

The public is desperate for dramatic change in education.

“Despite the Government’s best intentions over 13 years, they have not made it happen. The One Bermuda Alliance will provide the consistent leadership and political will to reform the public education system so that it works now for students, educators, parents and our community.

Bah! Humbug!  If ever there was a time that the OBA needed a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past, this is it. 

He sprang over to Caucus, to his team gave a whistle,

And then they all braced for the PLP missile.

But I heard him exclaim, no he wasn’t making light,

“It’s gonna be a bumpy ride, you all better hold tight!”