Education conference calls for higher expectations

Cayman’s National Education Conference, now an annual event, took place on 24 February, focusing on the theme of ‘Making a Difference: High Expectations, Higher Achievement.’

The event, attended by teachers at Cayman’s government schools on Grand Cayman, provided an opportunity to hear from government leaders and guest speakers, along with three sessions of workshops that covered new developments in Cayman education, ICT and sharing good practice.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts opened the conference with a talk focused on the recent developments in Cayman’s education infrastructure.

‘But without teachers, principals, teachers’ aides and the other education professions, all of our efforts would be fruitless,’ he said.

‘An investment into your development signifies an investment into the schools’ most valuable asset.’

He noted the government’s intention to enhance recruitment practices ‘to ensure that you are working side by side with the very best people as your colleagues.

‘It also includes development initiatives for all teaching professionals in order to help you to enhance your classroom techniques and inspire your students,’ he said.

Other speakers included Chief Education Officer Shirley Wahler, who, among other things, noted the success of the IB for Primary Schools programmes, and Education Minister Alden McLaughlin, who discussed the plans for the new high schools and announced that all students sitting the GCSE and CXC exams were expected to pass this year.

Minister McLaughlin also warned of the consequences of not following through on the Ministry’s plans for the education system, which includes the tabling of the Education Modernisation Bill 2009.

‘Another road my lead back to inefficiency and inconsistency,’ he said.

‘Together we must press on this course for your children and mine,’ he said, adding that anything else would be doing them a big disservice.

The morning’s keynote speaker, Didacus Jules, Registrar and Chief Executive of the Caribbean Examinations Council, continued on the theme of higher achievement.

Setting out fellow presenter, recent Young Caymanian Leadership Award recipient and Lighthouse school teacher Elroy Bryan, as a prime example of a great teacher, Mr. Jules advocated a simple message.

‘The fundamental duty of teachers is to love,’ he said. ‘Teaching is neither for the faint of heart or deficient of imagination.’

Providing an overview of education in the Caribbean, Mr. Jules noted that major gaps exist and that children from lower income groups are at an even greater disadvantage, also demonstrating the dramatic increases in income as education levels rise.

Regionally, he advocated improving education governance, enhancing accountability, improving the quality of education and nurturing life skills.

‘In the region we suffer from a culture of blame, either by putting the guilt elsewhere or playing the victim,’ he argued.

‘We get on the defensive, and ministries blame poor teaching; parents blame poor teaching.’

The audience audibly voiced its approval when he described how on one hand teachers organisations make demands while failing to protest the presence of unfit teachers in the classroom.

Mr. Jules said a consensus on the achievement of children needs to be placed front and centre.

He remarked that rethinking teaching would mean acknowledging that three types of teachers exist. The first group merely wants a job; the second has chosen it as a career; while the third considers teaching a vocation.

‘Supporting scaffolding is required for each category, and appropriate policy is required for this,’ he said.

Mr. Jules also called for a system that would standardize credentials and requirements across the region, which would facilitate mobility for teachers, and advocated re-licensing every five years.

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