By Arinthia S. Komolafe:
The Bahamas like many other nations around the world in this 21st century is plagued with socio-economic challenges that seem to stifle the progress of our nation towards the path that leads to the desired level of peace, prosperity and security for our people. The economy is certainly uppermost in the minds of our people as we tread through these turbulent times with many looking to the government for solutions to our economic woes. However, there is a growing concern over the increased level of social degradation that we are experiencing as evidenced by the myriad social issues that we are confronted with daily. Unfortunately, it appears that our young people continue to be the major casualties of this degradation. This impact on our youth raises the fundamental question: Are we failing our youth and will we continue to lose successive generations of Bahamians to issues such as poor economic policies, inadequate education and social ills?
The current circumstance
At the government level, it appears that little progress has been made in improving both our economy and the educational system in our nation. The inability of the government to diversify our economy to provide more job opportunities for its people is accelerating the increase in our poverty levels. The recent global economic downturn has highlighted the inefficiencies of our economic model that is based primarily on the service industry with dependence on financial services and tourism. It also stresses the regressive nature of our tax code and inefficient methods of collecting government revenue. Most importantly, it reinforces the harsh reality of our gross dependency on the prosperity of the American and European economies. The more we witness events unfold in The Bahamas, one can’t help but wonder whether we are regressing rather than progressing.
Over the last five years alone, our national debt has risen to an astounding $4.5 billion, our debt-to-GDP ratio has increased from some 30 percent to approximately 60 percent. Our deficit currently stands at more than eight percent and the unemployment rate has doubled during the last few years, contributing to the tremendous amount of foreclosures in our nation. The government has justified its borrowing as the only alternative course of action to prevent a collapse in the Bahamian economy. However, one wonders whether this was in fact the only option available and if agreed, if the borrowed funds were invested in a manner that benefitted a wide cross-section of Bahamians or just a select few. The aforementioned statistics suggest that the funds were arguably mismanaged and invested heavily in infrastructural projects that benefitted a small percentage of contractors and companies while the country witnessed and continues to witness increased social degradation.
Being in a position where it was strapped for cash and with revenues down, the government has made minimal investment in social programs comparative to its investment in infrastructural projects and has significantly increased the tax burden on its people in addition to raising the national debt. It is common knowledge that investment in key social programs is important for the sustenance of our nation and will help minimize the rising social issues that plague our nation. Focusing on education, it is a given that an educated Bahamas will position itself to play a more vital role on the global stage. The general consensus still exists that education in various forms including academic, athletic, social and culture among others, provides an individual with an opportunity to pursue a better way of life. In The Bahamas, it appears that there are classes of Bahamian children who are being denied adequate education, particularly in the public school system.
The need for a better education system
The Department of Statistics’ labor force report reveals that two percent of our labor force has had no schooling and six percent has stopped short of a primary education while nine percent of our total work force has not completed secondary education. The aforesaid percentages suggest that approximately 20 percent of our working population is inadequately equipped academically to compete on a national level, let alone a global level. There is further evidence that shows that approximately 20 percent of our work force receives a university level education while 10 percent attend some other form of tertiary education. As a result, 53 percent of our work force attain at the most an education at the secondary level.
Combined with the aforementioned startling statistics is the fact that the national grade average based upon national examination results in 2011 sits at a discontented D average. Even more disturbing is the fact that the D average includes the private schooling system, which if removed, will probably significantly decrease the national average. It is reported that the recent examination results evidence that approximately 34 percent of 5,000 plus students sitting the English examination received C or above while some 24 percent who took math received a C or above. Consequently, 65 percent of our children received an English grade of D or lower while some 75 percent of our children received a grade of D or lower. The lack of sufficient teachers to teach key subjects such as math, physics, chemistry and other technical courses, has been blamed for these unimpressive statistics. It is important to ascertain whether sufficient measures are being put in place to encourage more Bahamians to become educators.
In the absence of an aggressive recruitment process, are we exhausting all avenues to engage qualified teachers that will produce the desired results? Further, what measures are being taken to reduce the overcrowding in our public system to provide for more favorable teacher-student ratios? If we are serious about preparing the next generation for the future, greater emphasis must be placed upon adequate and quality education of our children. We must see to it that more of the 53 percent mentioned above have the opportunity to receive tertiary level education and greater opportunities to obtain the same locally. Of particular note is the long overdue upgrade of The College of The Bahamas to university status.
Investment in infrastructure is absolutely necessary to any society, but a lack of investment in a nation’s citizens and, more importantly, the education of its youth will minimize or eradicate any lasting effect of infrastructural development due to a lack of qualified citizens in society with a propensity to increase social ills. In this regard, it is welcomed news to hear that the Progressive Liberal Party has committed to doubling the budget allocation to education if it wins the next general election; however, such allotment must be dispensed in an effective manner that will produce favorable results in education.
Many believe that our leaders are bankrupt of ideas to address our failing education system. The curriculum itself is widely believed to be deficient and outdated. The lack of adequate education among our youth will inevitably lead to a further increase in social issues and will inevitably increase youth engagement in illegal activities such as the drug trade, guns and arms trafficking and anti-social behavior such as gang violence.
A lie has been sold to our children that the perceived rewards of these activities afford them a lifestyle that may otherwise be unattainable by securing an honest job and obtaining a better way of life through conventional norms. The level of violence among our youth had increased to such an alarming rate that a school-based policing program was initiated by the Christie administration of 2002-2007. It is worth noting that the current administration canceled the program in 2007. However, their subsequent realization of the wisdom of the program in the midst of escalating levels of violence in our schools prompted the re-implementation of the program in 2011. In today’s Bahamas, our young people should not be faced with the challenge of having a fear of attending school due to violence among their peers; neither should teachers be afraid to carry out their functions as nation builders in fear of a potential violent backlash.
I believe that what is lacking in our society is an ‘all hands on deck’ approach in our society by our parents, religious leaders, politicians and civic organizations. However, we must invest appropriately in the education of our children to acquire the requisite skill-set, diversifying our economy to provide opportunities for both educated and technical Bahamians, taking the necessary steps to reduce our national debt and deficit as well as implementing a progressive tax system in order to move our country forward.
Failure to implement the necessary policies looking at the current environment in which we live begs the questions: Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Should we hope again? Will the Bahamian dream be preserved for future generations? Where do we go from here?
•Arinthia S.Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments can be directed to: arinthia.komolafe@Komolafelaw.com
Feb 02, 2012
Where do we go from here? Pt. 2