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Bahamas: A ‘National Disaster’ For Jobs And Growth

The 2018 decline in already-troubling education standards “is a national disaster” for Bahamian economic growth and employment prospects, governance reformers warned yesterday.

Robert Myers, the Organisation for Responsible Governance’s (ORG) principal, told Tribune Business that The Bahamas can no longer afford to “sugar coat” and “band aid” poor educational achievement that has resulted in 70 percent of high school leavers graduating with poor to non-existent literacy and numeracy skills.

He said 2018 BGCSE results, which revealed a marginally worse performance than the prior year, provided another reminder of how poor workforce productivity continued to prevent the Bahamian economy from fulfilling its true potential.

Mr Myers, in particular, focused on the number of graduates obtaining a “C” grade or better in each of English Language, Mathematics and a science as the best indicator of how strong high school leavers are in the “core skills” – literacy and numeracy.

This number fell from 588 in 2014 to 570 the following year, before registering a slight increase to 574 in 2016. The latter year, however, seems to have proven a blip as the number of graduates obtaining a “C” in each of those three subjects fell further to 521 in 2017 before dropping again to 490 this year.

The ORG principal said this represented a near-17 percent, or almost 100-strong, decline over the five-year period, and suggested that an “already significant problem” with the education system’s output was becoming worse.

“It’s the wrong way. It’s not going in the right direction,” he told Tribune Business. “These are core subjects, and on these three we’re seeing significant slippage. It’s already a significant problem, and we’ve identified it as a major growth problem for GDP.

“GDP can only be improved by higher productivity and a more productive workforce, increased foreign direct investment (FDI) or mechanisation, automation and technology. A more productive workforce comes from a more educated workforce.

“If 70 percent of graduating students have a ‘D-‘ or lower it makes it harder for the private sector to train that workforce. You’re struggling with low literacy and numeracy skills. It’s hard to get upward mobility; it’s harder for the private sector to grow their business and get upward mobility out of their workforce.”

Bahamian GDP growth has averaged less than one percent for the past decade, but is forecast to receive a boost from Baha Mar’s completion and opening that will take this year’s expansion beyond two percent.

That, though, was before the 12 percent VAT hike and other budget-related tax increases, and Mr Myers urged the Ministry of Education to provide more detail on the BGCSE and BJC exam performance to enable better understanding of whether the Bahamas is making progress in fixing its educational woes.

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