The Development of a Modern Bahamian Education
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.