The Cayman Islands government will consider extending the age through which students must attend some form of educational institution to at least 17 and possibly even 18.
Right now, that age is 16. The change could come as early as next year.
Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said the issue is one that has been under consideration for some time in the academic community. However, he said it’s not as easy as simply deciding to change the high school graduation age.
‘That comes with significant cost implications, it comes with significant logistical issues,’ Mr. McLaughlin said. ‘If we insist that secondary education is necessary to age 17 or 18, we need to find accommodation for those students.’
The minister’s comments came following a private member’s motion made by George Town MLA Lucille Seymour which urged government to extend the ‘level of opportunity at post secondary education.’
‘Uneducated youth presents ideal fodder for drug dealers and pimps,’ Ms Seymour told the Legislative Assembly during the debate of her motion. ‘If we do not prepare our students between 16 and 18, the people who benefit from the knowledge-based economy will not be from here.’
Ms Seymour said keeping kids in school longer will allow them to mature further as well as spend more time in classes. She added that some students who are late-bloomers might be passed over if their education ends too early.
Her colleague, Bodden Town MLA Osbourne Bodden said he was one of those late-bloomers.
‘It wasn’t until I hit 17 years old that I started to take school seriously,’ Mr. Bodden said while speaking in support of Ms Seymour’s motion.
Ms Seymour, Mr. Bodden and others argued that some teens haven’t developed emotionally at age 16 to either enter the workforce, or take classes at university.
Mr. McLaughlin said his ministry fully supports Ms Seymour’s motion. However, he noted the Cayman Islands’ two public high schools already have as many students as they can handle, and adding another year to the curriculum could overburden those facilities.
The minister said it’s one of the reasons the government has proposed the construction of new high schools in George Town, West Bay and Frank Sound.
‘We haven’t increased the resources to accommodate the growth,’ he said. ‘What we’ve done is to squeeze onto the existing sites until we almost had chaos at George Hicks until we split that into four smaller areas.’
Mr. McLaughlin said once the schools are completed, the new George Town campus should be able to take 1,000 students, the West bay campus 500, and the Frank Sound campus 750; effectively reducing the load on the existing campuses.
The ministry has also proposed closure of the George Hicks middle school section by September 2009 to allow additional access to facilities there.
Specifics of changes to the graduation age are expected to be laid out in the newly revamped Education Law which is planned to come before the Legislative Assembly at its February meeting.
While supporting the motion, some members of the Opposition cautioned that keeping students in high school longer wouldn’t necessarily make it easier for them to find employment.
West Bay MLA Rolston Anglin used the example of a 20-something year-old foreign worker who is experienced in construction applying for a job to operate a backhoe, versus a teenage Caymanian just out of high school or trade school applying for the same job.
‘If you give employers that choice, they are more likely going to choose the more experienced person,’ Mr. Anglin said. ‘We need to ensure young people are given the opportunity to get their foot in the door.’