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Education Partners With Industry, Prepares Students For Future
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Posted by:Aug 26th 2008, 11:38:29 am
Fig Tree News TeamBy THEA RUTHERFORD, Guardian National Correspondent,

When Tamika Rahming returns to her Hospitality class at Preston H. Albury High School in south Eleuthera, she will be sharing with them what she considers one of the biggest lessons she learned during her three days as a hotel worker: Housekeeping is hard and noble work.

"I think I appreciate housekeeping most of all; that's the foundation of the hotel," she said during the closing ceremony of the 2008 Summer Industry Internship for Educators. "Everything depends on housekeeping ... and they work hard," she said, eyes widened. "I didn't realize how hard they work."

There are a few other lessons Rahming, 35, who is also a Home Economics teacher, is excited to take back to her classes, one of the most important being that there are 1,000 diverse career opportunities available in today's hotel industry in The Bahamas.

Part of a group of about 150 to 200 teachers to participate in the joint Bahamas Hotel Association (BHA) and Ministry of Education and Ministry of Tourism and Aviation industry shadowing program last week, Rahming is not only thrilled about taking her real life examples of work in the industry to her students, but will be returning to the program next year with more of her colleagues. "It's an excellent program for every teacher because tourism touches every aspect of our lives, and everyone can teach a portion of hospitality in their classes," she said.

Rahming's response is a contagious one, and one that has excited education officials like Sharon Ferguson, the education officer in charge of Family and Consumer Sciences, Hospitality and Tourism Studies, Home Economics and Cosmetology in the Department of Education. Involving industry and the private sector in curriculum planning and increased exposure for teachers and students has been a goal of the ministry's for at least the past 10 years, she pointed out.

The Summer Industry Internship, which was open to public and private school teachers from all grade levels and ministry personnel, is one of a number of programs that provide a level of exposure for teachers and students. Ferguson's section coordinates the Young Chef Competition with industry partners Riviana and Multifoods, two Texas-based companies whose local distributor is Asa H. Pritchard and P & S Advertising. The section also organizes an annual course by the food-processing lab of the Ministry of Agriculture that trains teachers to turn produce into products.

"We need to be more proactive as a people to find out what professions are available in the country, where are the shortfalls," said Ferguson. "Teachers need to know it as well so that they can better plan, direct and teach the children to understand ... that everyone can't be a lawyer and a doctor, but can go into another profession and make the same money and be content and happy. If you have a skill and you perfect that skill, whether it be academic or technical, once you have a skill you always have a job."

Last week's internship was sponsored for the fifth year by the BHA, largely to highlight the increasing diversity of career options in an industry that will ultimately employ one in every three Bahamians. Officials agreed that it was important to nurture the partnership with the education system to get the word out.

"All too often when you ask people about what they want to do when they get out of school, tourism seems to be something that they fall back on, and we need to get the word out and the message that tourism has so much more to offer today than it did 50 years ago," said BHA president Russell Miller. "The typical jobs of housekeeping, waiter/ waitress jobs, those are no longer what the hotel business is all about. We offer careers for attorneys, human resources, information technology -there's a tremendous future there, sales and marketing. It's a diverse range of opportunities that exists."

"Whether we like it or not, [hospitality] will be the number one industry for at least the next 30 years," said Beverly Saunders, BHA chairperson for workforce development and vice president of training and organizational development for Atlantis, the country's largest private employer. "Bearing that in mind, students go away to college and get degrees in accounting, business, tourism, nursing, there more than likely is a career option available for you in hospitality. They just don't know that, so we try to educate them."

Since their partnership with education, the BHA has seen results. Miller said that the industry has experienced an increase in applications across the board and Frank Comito, the executive vice president of the BHA, noted that the Anglican Diocese, after participation in the program and additional advice, will launch a hospitality program in its schools.

"We've seen the Junior Hotelier program being launched to provide primary school students with greater exposure," Comito added. "We're expanding on it this coming school year. We've seen some strengthening of our Adopt- a- School partnership program, which has been around for many years."

A member of the Coalition for Education Reform, a group of mainly hotel industry employers and unions who banded together to investigate and provide solutions for the shortcomings of the education system in 2004, the BHA and other coalition members have pushed for improvements in the system and private sector involvement for some time.

The coalition uncovered a list of challenges to the education system, along with 14 strategies for ameliorating the system in its 2005 document "Bahamian Youth: The Untapped Resource." The document used the 2004 BGCSE exam results, punctuated by Ds and Es, to examine the system and reported three "learning gaps." There was a "High School Performance Gap," where private schools outperformed public schools, bolstering the National Average; a "Male Achievement Gap," in which more females wrote BGCSEs than males and scored higher and a "College Preparation Gap," where of the 5,741 students who took the exams in 2004, only 718 earned at least a C in five exams, the formal minimum requirement for college entrance.

In 2007, the coalition returned with a reiteration of the first report. "We put money into [producing the report] in respect of trying to produce a report that was highly credible, and as far as we're concerned, unchallengeable" said coalition chairman J. Barrie Farrington. "We persisted and I think that in the end we brought about a kind of awareness."

The report was to "stimulate thought to try to bring a presence to the fact that education was not what it should be," he said.

The coalition issued an official response to the release of the 2008 BJC and BGCSE National Average earlier this month, which recorded a rise to a C- from a D+ for the BJC and a D+ from a D for the BGCSE. It called on the government to produce a more detailed report of the results and called the release an "understatement," adding that it "did not reveal the severity of the problem." In the press statement, the coalition announced intentions to further examine the scores and indicators.

For industry leaders looking for qualified applicants to fill a variety of posts, there is still much more work to be done.

"The challenge I think is we've got to do a better job of preparing our young folks, not only in the hotel business, but any industry out there, because we're finding more and more when we have a position available that we have to interview at minimum of 10 people to find one qualified person," said BHA president Miller. "That's not a good statement."

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