Minister responds to Youth Assembly

Minister for Education, Alden McLaughlin, recently addressed the concerns raised by the Cayman Islands Youth Assembly in the Legislative Assembly.

The concerns of CIYA were originally highlighted at a Youth Forum held on 3 October at the Family Life Centre.

During the forum, various CIYA members outlined two action papers. One was titled Overdevelopment and its impact on the Cayman Environment; the other was titled Education and Youth Employment.

The papers provided actions that CIYA recommended to address perceived problems in Cayman’s education and environmental practices.

Mr. McLaughlin responded in the Legislative Assembly by describing various government initiatives that are already in place to improve areas of weakness in both fields.

Education

In their action paper on education and youth employment, the members of CIYA highlighted several factors that prevented students from realising their full academic potential.

Those were: a lack of parental involvement, low academic expectations, a lack of student motivation, inadequate pre-employment experience, a lack of vocational training facilities and the erosion of social values.

To combat these negative factors, CIYA proposed several solutions, which include job fairs to stimulate interest in vocational training, increased promotion of where and how students may access scholarships and funding, programmes to award students for staying in school, programmes to emphasise the importance of the family’s role in youth education, and increased monitoring and assessment in schools to ensure high academic levels.

Mr. McLaughlin said he supported many of the recommendations that the young people made.

He outlined the government initiatives that addressed each of CIYA’s noted areas of concern.

The first point Mr. McLaughlin addressed was the perceived lack of promotion concerning scholarships.

He said 738 scholarships have been awarded to Caymanian students this year. He also noted that the Chamber of Commerce produces a booklet containing information on scholarships provided by private institutions.

Mr. McLaughlin addressed CIYA’s concern that students were not being motivated to stay in school.

A new initiative, titled Better Pathways, Brighter Futures, is set to commence next year, he said. This project should enable students to select a path’ based on their individual skills, interests and career aspirations.

‘The aim of this initiative is to provide students with the opportunity to build a useful portfolio of qualifications in their chosen areas,’ Mr. McLaughlin said.

‘I continually urge and encourage parents to get involved with their children’s education, but… I cannot force or legislate parental involvement.’

However programmes that facilitate easier parental involvement are being put in place, he said. An example is a new piece of software that has been introduced to help track the progress of every child throughout its academic career.

‘The system highlights the child’s strengths as well as weaknesses, and allows parents to make more informed decisions,’ Mr. McLaughlin said.

The minister pointed out the role that the Education Standards and Assessment Unit plays in ensuring that high standards are maintained in every school.

He next addressed the issue of inadequate pre-employment experience.

‘I agree that it is vitally important that young people are as prepared as possible when they are about to enter the job market,’ the minister said.

He acknowledged, however, that there are programmes in place that encourage young people to intern.

He pointed to Leading Edge High School’s Learning Through Internship Programme, which targets young teenagers for employment experience.

Mr. McLaughlin mentioned the Department of Employment Relations’ Summer Employment Programme, which enables students between ages 14-22 to gain work experience.

Finally, the minister acknowledged the efforts of the University College Cayman Islands to develop relations with employers through its Partner in Education Programme.

The minister concluded by saying: ‘This list is by no means exhaustive, but gives some idea of the pre-employment training apprenticeship opportunities which already exist in Cayman for young people.’

Environment

The second paper produced by CIYA focused on the effects of development on the environment.

Members of CIYA recommended implementing car pool policies, promoting conservation practices, developing green disposal methods, encouraging the use of renewable energy sources, implementing guidelines on which cars may be imported, encouraging more environmentally friendly transportation, and developing a more efficient public transport system.

The minister responded first by emphasising the need for alternative energy.

‘Here are some realities,’ Mr. McLaughlin said, ‘the use of diesel to supply electricity will continue to increase until an alternative fuel supply is found.’

He noted, however, that the Department of Environmental Health and the Ministry for Communications, Works and Infrastructure, have been developing a plan that should tackle the problem of alternative fuels and reduce the proportions of the landfill.

The minister said that a waste-to-energy facility is being developed that would incinerate all burnable waste and convert the process into energy.

Mr. McLaughlin said, ‘the energy produced could be equal to 8 or 10 per cent of the islands’ power requirements.’

The reduction of the landfill would take a considerable amount of effort and time, the minister warned.

‘This will take 15-20 years… depending on the volume of incoming wastes,’ he said.

The minister took the suggestions to encourage vehicles that use alternative forms of energy seriously, stating that the Traffic Law is being reviewed for amendment to allow for such vehicles.

Mr. McLaughlin also addressed concerns about the extensive removal of vegetation.

The minister said that, ‘no formal plan yet exists for the management of forests and other biological resources under a climate change mitigation framework.’

He noted however, that ‘the passage if the National Conservation Bill… would create a legislative base for a system of protected areas and associated management plans.’

Mr. McLaughlin concluded his response by assuring the members of CIYA that his responses should not be taken as counterstatements.

‘I make these comments in response to the various action papers, not to rebut the suggestions and recommendations which have been put forward,’ the minister said, ‘but to note publicly that it is clear the Cayman Islands Youth Assembly has done a significant amount of work… and in many instances their observations are spot on.’

Mr. McLaughlin assured the members of CIYA that the government is equally concerned about the issues the young people raised in the papers and he commended their obvious efforts.

‘In these days when so much negativity surrounds the activities of young people, it does the heart and soul good to note the interest of this outstanding group of young people and this tremendous achievement of theirs in producing these papers.’

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