From Slate to Interactive White-board: The Development of
Education in the Modern Bahamas
In terms of the development of a country, sixty years is a relatively short time. However, when
We examine the changes that have taken place in The Bahamas over the last sixty years, we
realize that progress has been rapid and, quite significant. The transformation of the Bahamian education system vividly illustrates this.
As late as 1950, the typical primary school student in The Bahamas would have attended a
Government supported school which was overcrowded, with student-teacher ratios in excess of 40 to one, and under-resourced with minimal furniture and tuition materials. Actually, instead of exercise books, students used slates which were like miniature chalkboards. After being given a few minutes to memorise their notes, students would have to erase them and then continue with the next lesson. This presented much difficulty for the teaching and learning process and, although many students were able to learn, because of these conditions, many did not realize their full potential.
Progressive educators of the day, including leaders of the Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT),
realizing the obvious deficiencies in the Bahamian education system, began to call for major reform. Subsequently, governments of The Bahamas have sought to bring about needed improvement. On several occasions, committees have been convened and reports, position papers and plans were commissioned to assess the state of education and make recommendations for the sectors improvements. These reports have served to provide decision-makers with information required to set broad policy objectives and to implement, as conditions permitted, the appropriate programmes. The Houghton Reports (prepared in the early 1960s) recommended that all Bahamian schools be desegregated while the Hope (1968), Leys (1968) and Williams (1969) reports followed, including:
● Focus on the Future (Governments White Paper on Education, circa 1972);
● Educational Development in an archipelagic nation (the Maraj report (1974);
● The Master Plan for Post Secondary Education (1991);
● National task force on Education (The Bethel Report (1994));
● Draft Strategic Plan 2004: Bahamian Education in the 21st Century (2004); and
● Report of the National Commission for Special Education (NCOSE (2005)).
Until the mid 1960s, access to education was limited in The Bahamas. Although most persons were able to receive a primary education, only the privileged few were afforded a secondary education. With the advent of Majority Rule, however, a focused and determined effort was made to ensure universal access to education. In Focus on the Future, the Government of The Bahamas puts forth the position that “… the system provides an education for our person which is emotional and physical needs of all. To this end tremendous efforts have been made, particularly from the late 1960s to the mid 1970s, to provide students with access to educational institutions, particularly at the secondary level. Private schools were not only desegregated, but the government significantly expanded its subventions and grants programme. This enabled private schools to accommodate students, who prior to this period, would not have been able to gain access. The Common Entrance Examination, which for a long time prevented the majority of students from accessing secondary education, was abolished. Dozens of public secondary schools were established throughout the country to accommodate the increased enrolment at that level. The College of The Bahamas Hotel Training College and the South Andros Training Centre were also established. By the end of the 1980s, The Bahamas had virtually achieved Universal Secondary Education and by 1996, the Education Act was revised, making school attendance mandatory for all 5 to 16 year old children living in The Bahamas.
After schooling had been made available to the vast majority of Bahamians, it was natural for the government to focus on improving the quality of the education provided. From the late 1970 to the late 1990 the government can be credited with the following:
- An improvement in the quality of the teacher training programmes available locally;
- A massive curriculum revision and development exercise to meet the new needs of the society and the diverse needs of students;
- A significant increase in the procurement of relevant tuition materials to complement the new curricula;
- Production of indigenous teaching and learning materials to enhance the instructional programme;
- The restructuring of the curriculum division and the appointment of curriculum officers representing subject areas across the curriculum to assess the instructional programme and to make recommendations for improvement;
- An expansion of professional development activities by hosting seminars and workshops for teachers throughout the academic year;
- The introduction of the Future Teachers of The Bahamas Programme and the Career Path for Public School Teachers to attract and retain the brightest and best to serve as professionals in the education sector; and
- The decentralization of the management of the public education system by establishing school districts and school boards to improve efficiency in educational management.
In an effort to measure the success of efforts made towards improving the quality of education, the government introduced diagnostic testing to measure student performance at grades three, six, and eight. The Grade Level Assessment Test (GLAT) was initially designed and produced by the Psychological Corporation, a U.S. based company. Later, the GLAT was indigenized to eliminate cultural bias and also sought to highlight deficiencies with a view toward remediation. At the high school level, efforts were made to improve the assessment of student performance. The General Certificate Examination (GCE) was replaced by the Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) which is a locally developed examination, endorsed by the University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate. This year, 2009, marks the seventeenth consecutive sitting of this examination.
With the coming of the new millennium, the Ministry of Education, guided by the Dakar Framework for Action, recommitted itself to providing Education for All. Having already achieved universal primary and secondary level, attention was then placed on increasing access to pre-school and expanding the educational opportunities for those with special needs. The specific focus on these two areas is based on the premise that targeted intervention can prevent school failure.
It was not until early in the first decade of the 21st century that the Department of Education was able to make some impact on the quality of instruction at the pre-school level. Pre-school centres were not only established at virtually all public primary schools in New Providence and Grand Bahama, but pre-school classes and individual pre-school facilities were introduced in a number of Family Island communities. Further, new legislation designed to regulate this largely privately-operated sector was introduced. With financial assistance now provided by the Inter-American Development Bank, efforts are being made to train pre-school teachers and to work with non-government operated pre-schools to ensure that they provide quality education to students at this critical developmental stage.
Not since the establishment of the Centre for the Blind (1948), Stapledon School for the Mentally Retarded (1962) and The Centre for the Deaf (1965) was there a concerted effort to attend to students with special needs. In 2003, the Government of The Bahamas appointed the National Commission on Special Education (NCOSE) to assess the status of special education and to make recommendations for its improvement. With funding and technical assistance provided by the IDB, efforts have since been made to develop a realistic and effective inclusion policy. Special needs units, such as the Autistic Unit at the Garvin Tynes Primary School and the Transitional Alternative Programme for Students (TAPS), a programme for students with behavioral challenges, have been introduced as initial attempts to provide special needs students with educational experiences that will meet their learning needs while ensuring that their self worth is not diminished.
The Ministry of Education is well aware that available information and communication technology can play an important role in improving the efficient management of the education enterprise as well as enhancing the teaching-learning process. The development of a comprehensive Management Information System will enable all public schools to instantly provide vital information to district offices as well as the Ministry of Education Headquarters. When this system is fully operational, it will allow data needed for informed decision-making to become immediately available. At the same time, information communication technology is being promoted within the classroom setting. The majority of students have access to computers in their schools and a growing number of students, along with their teachers, are using interactive white-boards in the teaching-learning process.
In many respects, the Bahamian education system has been transformed! With a student-teacher ration now at 14 to 1, well resourced classrooms outfitted with adequate furniture and tuition equipment and supplies, specialized classrooms and laboratories, well qualified teachers and trained school administrators, today’s students in the public school system have greater opportunities to realize their potential. With improved classroom conditions, best teaching practices and access to modern technologies such as interactive white-boards, the 21st Century Bahamian student will perform more effectively. These interactive whiteboards allow for exchange between students and their teachers, making their learning environment both cooperative and dynamic.
Today, the slate simply serves to remind us of the significant progress we have made in sixty short years!