BY: Keyron Smith (CEO and President of the One Eleuthera Foundation)

This week, Ministry of Education officials released concerning news about the continued decline in the Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) national examination results. Only 544 students or 10.9 percent of those sitting the exam passed with a C grade or above in five or more subjects.

Earlier in June, the Bahamas National Statistics Institute also revealed that only 55 percent of the labor force in The Bahamas completed secondary school, 4 percent received primary-level education or had no education, and 26 percent finished university.

“These declining numbers signal to the nation that we must reassess our approach to education and create an intervention for those being left behind.”

While many are not surprised, the downward trend in BGCSE results over the years is an indicator that our students are not excelling in the classroom and for various reasons. While the causes can be debated, we can agree that they are multi-layered and exacerbated by long-term deficiencies at home and in the education system.

Alternative Routes are the Key to for those That Fall Between the Cracks

These declining numbers signal to the nation that we must reassess our approach to education and create an intervention for those being left behind. We must strengthen vocational and technical training within our schools and consider ways nonprofits in education and other partners can help students achieve a greater chance at success as they leave school and enter the real world.

The country’s traditional academic routes have been held as the gold standard in education. Still, these educational pathways do not accommodate the diverse needs and talents of the student body. As a result, we are not tapping into our students’ full potential, leaving a large percentage disengaged and disconnected in the classroom.

Strengthening the vocational and technical trades in the schools and creating more nontraditional pathways can help to meet the diversified learning needs of students and provide an opportunity to meet the needs of growing job markets in The Bahamas.

Eleuthera is Evolving

Eleuthera is an example of an evolving landscape where many new developments are taking place. However, our students and young adults on the island must be prepared to meet the expectations of the job market. With the increase in developments, there will be more job opportunities in the construction, hospitality and tourism sectors.

However, these opportunities will require a skilled workforce to move these sectors forward and fill gaps. Closing skills gaps through training enhances the employability of individuals and the expansion of local businesses contributing to economic growth and job creation and leading to higher standards of living and wellbeing.

This is the value that vocational and technical trades bring and why it makes sense to prepare our young people with the skills needed to take advantage of these economic opportunities throughout The Bahamas. We can bridge the gap between academic and industry needs by putting greater focus on providing technical and vocational training for our young people.

The US is also Focusing on Technical Education

Pursuing vocational and technical education has also become a trend in the United States (US), where many young people are seeking trade schools over traditional four-year degree programs. Shorter completion times, more affordable tuition costs and clear job paths make this route more practical and attractive.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse, there has been an enrollment increase of 11.5 percent from spring 2021 to 2022 in mechanical and trade courses. It was also noted that there were increases in construction trades courses, which saw an increased enrollment of 19.3 percent, while culinary program enrollment increased by 12.7

percent. The National Student Clearinghouse also revealed decreases in enrollment at public two-year colleges by 7.8 percent and a drop in enrollment at public four-year institutions by 3.4 percent.

Nonprofits that support education also have a role to play in reforming the educational landscape and supporting student success. Nonprofits are primarily focused on the social betterment of communities. Their missions and bottom line are rooted in social impact, which makes them great partners in providing diverse and accessible educational opportunities.

Education Centered Non-profits can Help

Education-centered nonprofits can identify gaps to improve training courses and tailor programs to the needs of specific student groups. They can collaborate with schools and vocational institutions to provide resources, mentorship programs, scholarships and internships, thereby enhancing the educational experience for students who would not ordinarily have access to such opportunities.

Furthermore, nonprofits can also connect industries and educational institutions, facilitating partnerships that lead to revised training programs to meet industry needs. As industries rapidly change and adapt, nonprofits can provide on-the-ground information that ensures programs remain relevant and aligned with the skills needed in the workforce.

This collaboration can improve the quality of education and foster a sense of purpose and direction among students, motivating them to excel on their chosen paths.

Through my work with the Centre for Training and Innovation (CTI) in Eleuthera, I have seen first-hand how vocational and technical training can transform outcomes for students who are not academically inclined but good with their hands. As part of a dual enrollment program between CTI and the Ministry of Education, we have been able to train high school students in various trades, including Carpentry, Basic Culinary and Construction.

The CTI Trade School

By the end of the course, students are equipped with the skills needed to enter their selected field and have a National Accreditation Equivalency Council of the Bahamas (NAECOB) approved certification to validate their training.

Students completing our CTI trade programs demonstrate a high success rate and typically gain employment in their field of study. As of 2022, 75 percent of CTI’s graduates in South Eleuthera were employed and 64 percent in a field related to their course of study. In North Eleuthera and Harbour Island, 95 percent of alums were employed and 85 percent in a related field.

While we need to emphasize strengthening vocational and technical training in The Bahamas, it is not a clarion call to replace academic pathways in education but to supplement these pathways so that we can meet the diversified learning needs of students in the country.

Expansion is Necessary

We must expand our approach and pedagogies to allow people to reach their full potential and aspirations. By taking a more holistic approach, we will not only create trained, skilled professionals but also better citizens who can make meaningful contributions to the local economy and their communities.

The decline in national examinations should continue to be a wake-up call to the nation that we must reshape the country’s educational system. By strengthening vocational and technical education in the country, we can make transformative leaps to prepare our students to be productive and competitive in today’s evolving economic environment.

We should also recognize the value nonprofit organizations can bring to fill educational gaps, drive change, and empower the next generation, giving them the skills and confidence to succeed in alternative career paths.

About One Eleuthera Foundation

Founded in 2012, One Eleuthera Foundation is a community-based non-profit organization dedicated to transforming our local island communities into thriving, self-sufficient ecosystems. We do this by focusing on five key areas: economic ownership, meaningful educational advancement, pathways to wellness, and environmentally sustainable communities centered around our island’s unique cultural identity. We run a number of social enterprises, including CTI, our vocational school; the Retreat Hotel, a training hotel for hospitality students; and our farm and Cooling House, which trains future farmers in the best sustainability and food production practices. Through OEF’s consistent dedicated efforts, the tenacity and resourcefulness of our legacy community, and the support of donors and partners, we are creating change in Eleuthera.