Education changes touted

September’s monthly Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Wharf restaurant featured a presentation by Education Minster Alden McLaughlin and senior staff members on the Ministry’ progress over the past two years, including a repositioning on the touchy issue of social promotion.

The Chamber of Commerce has selected education as one of its main areas of focus this year.

Chamber President Angelyn Hernandez outlined the urgent need for educational reform Cayman’s business community has been seeking for years.

‘There is only so much training that an employer can provide,’ she said.

‘Our students must enter the workforce with a command of basic skills, or else companies will have no choice but to look outside the local population for employees.’

Mr. McLaughlin outlined the profile of the model educated Caymanian,

‘Our students must be more than capable, sociable and qualified, they must crucially be problem-solvers and critical thinkers, equipped to thrive and prosper in a world where the only constant is the certainty of ever-more rapid change,’ he said.

‘The time when land and capital were our key strategic resources is gone. Knowledge is now our key strategic resource and learning our key strategic skill.’

The capacity lunchtime audience heard about the many changes taking place, including the creation of a new Department of Student Services, the restructuring of the education model which places students, rather than process, at its centre, the national curriculum review, a renewed focus on physical education and special needs, and the construction of the three new high schools.

‘It will have become apparent to you that we are affecting a paradigm shift in thinking about education, not just tinkering around the edges,’ said Mr. McLaughlin.

Concerned about the quality of graduates emerging from government schools, a well-known local businessman asked whether the new plans included a mechanism to correct social promotion.

Statistics show that in 2006 only 30 per cent of the 241 John Gray year 12 students writing external examinations reached the internationally-recognised standard of five top-level marks, which was an increase of six per cent over 2005 numbers.

This past January, Mr. McLaughlin admitted the connection between Cayman’s failed education system and wasted futures.

‘The system that we currently have, while it has considerable strengths, has increasingly failed those who do not succeed in a standard classroom environment,’ he said then.

At the time, new teaching styles to deal with underachievers were urged.

At the Chamber luncheon, the Minister reiterated new ways of dealing with underperforming students will be worked into the new curriculum through a focus on individual learning, but said it was unlikely students would begin to be held back.

‘This is a very difficult issue: there is a convincing school of thought out there that holding students back does damage to their self-esteem, and if they haven’t learned something the first time, it’s unlikely they will learn it a second time using the same teaching methods,’ he said.

He said failing students will be dealt with through early intervention and by individualised attention to determine their barriers to learning, including learning styles and other issues in their lives outside of school.

He said the Ministry recognises that students have multiple intelligences and research has proven that recognizing that students learn in different ways leads to success.

Another comment made by the Minister that sparked interest was the idea of a transition year for students not planning on going on to A-levels.

Commenting that while academically inclined students have little difficulty finding jobs in Cayman, the problem lies with school leavers not destined for fields like banking, accountancy and law.

Rather, challenges lie in inducing young people to enter a technical and vocational track.

‘People shouldn’t just leave high school and enter the workforce,’ he said.

‘If you don’t go on to college you should have an extra year of vocational training, so that you know at least something when you go to work.’

The Minister refuted the detractors of the massive project now under way to construct three new high schools in Grand Cayman, as well as the general overhaul of the education system.

He contended the change Cayman needs, if it is to continue to prosper, is a costly one, not only in dollars and cents but in the demands it places on Caymanians to embrace new modes of thinking and working and the process of change itself.

‘To the detractors of these changes I say ‘if you think the cost of education is too high, then consider the cost of ignorance’. The cost of failing to make the change is the price of our future as a country,’ he said.

He warned that failing to embrace this challenge by failing to develop and implement the necessary change to ensure Cayman has a world-class education system means the nation will be left behind in a rapidly changing, globalised, technologically-driven, knowledge-based world.

‘But there is another cost if we fail; a cost we may feel even more keenly,’ he said

‘That cost is the loss we experience every time a child fails to learn the skills needed to prosper in the 21st Century, every time a business cannot find a qualified worker, every time parents experience the anguish of having their dreams for their child’s future crushed.’

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