It probably came as no surprise to business owners that the results of a recent standardised literacy test given to government school students here showed alarmingly poor results, according to Education Minister Alden McLaughlin.
High school graduates entering the workforce have increasingly shown a lack of basic language skills, making it difficult for young Caymanians to compete on a level playing field with expatriate workers or Caymanians with private school educations.
There is perhaps no more important skill learned in a child’s school years than the ability to read and write well. The fact that this is not happening here in Cayman — with all its wealth and modernity — for a significant portion of the indigenous population, is nothing short of travesty.
Mr. McLaughlin pointed out the social implications of such education inadequacies and how resentment is brewing among Caymanians because they are being precluded from some jobs in favour of expatriate workers.
Most employers just want employees who can effectively do the job for which they were hired, and would gladly hire qualified Caymanians. Most are even willing to train Caymanians in any specialised skill necessary to do the job.
However, employers are not willing, and should not be required, to teach young Caymanians basic knowledge like reading and writing that should have been learned in school.
Mr. McLaughlin realises what’s at stake, which is why, to his credit, he intends to let everyone know just how bad the literacy problem really is here. The first step in correcting any problem is to acknowledge the extent of the problem.
Another thing Mr. McLaughlin realises is the importance of language skills, and that without those skills, it is difficult to really do anything very well no matter how intelligent a child is.
It is important to note that by acknowledging that Cayman’s youth can’t read or write well, no one is saying they are not intelligent; what is being said is that the education system has failed these children.
By not ensuring these children were imparted with the necessary basic knowledge to enter the workforce or go on to higher education, the country has not given them a fair chance to succeed.
This must change, Mr. McLaughlin said, or else everything else the government tries to do to better Cayman will be for naught.
While some might find it embarrassing that our school children have such poor language skills, we believe Mr. McLaughlin is right to let everyone know the extent of the problem.
Perhaps now there will be an impetus – from the whole country including parents – to see those skills improve.