Sidebar: Improving the Education System
Educators are unanimous that everyone is in this together: Parents/ children, teachers/ students, employers/ employees, the young, the old and the in-between must prepare for a collective future.
The challenge, particularly in this small society, is working for a common interest, developing the talent to serve it. Creating a better-educated, more-professional workforce seems to be key to that collective and better future, but it’s a long road and everyone needs to participate.
Future of Cayman – Develop Talent Driver
The Chamber of Commerce’s “Future of Cayman” project – started in 2010 as a joint effort with not only the Ministry of Education, but the entire civil service and the elected government – has sought to identify the salient needs for the future of the Cayman Islands.
The public-private coalition named five primary drivers believed to be fundamental to the Islands in the next decades.
Of the five – building a “smarter” infrastructure, long-term development of local talent, promotion of a business-friendly environment, seeking economic diversification and boosting the quality of life – the initial two formed the subject of a daylong forum, hosted in November by The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
One of the initiative’s key objectives to promote talent is to ensure successful educational performance at every level. This means developing an industry strategy in conjunction with Government for private sector contributions to the development of a quality early childhood care and education system.
“Developing Talent is a priority that cuts across both Government and the private sector,” said Mary Rodrigues, chief officer with the Ministry of Education, Training and Employment and driver co-chair.
“It is critical for the social and economic development of the Cayman Islands and we need both sectors to collaborate to achieve success. The establishment of a central portal for scholarship information is one such key development.
“Our group’s action plans focus on areas where a private sector collaboration can complement and/or supplement the considerable efforts being undertaken by government. One such idea includes an adopt-a-school campaign for early childhood care and education centres, where organisations can support these private centres to meet critical needs. Our plans also encourage partnerships to support upcoming education-centred initiatives such as Month of the Young Child national campaigns to promote education and the further development of the CI Further Education Centre. Samantha and I look forward to advancing these and other initiatives this year, with greater private sector participation and a re-invigorated Driver group.”
Members of the panels comprised the presidents of both Cayman’s tertiary schools, the University College of the Cayman Islands and the International College of the Cayman Islands, Ministry of Education officials and private employers, describing both the needs and the challenges they anticipate.
Roy Bodden, author, former education minister and head of UCCI, offers an almost contrarian view of the problem, decrying the divisive and limited – if prevailing – view of education as a short-term academic endeavour indulged as a ticket to a lucrative career and a self-satisfied sense of success.
“I have long been concerned with how we develop the education and training of our people for the future,” he told the Chamber magazine.
“Traditionally, people have said that you must go into law, business or accounting because that is the ‘ideal’, the measure of success. How we develop our talent pool now is rather ad hoc, and while it’s been getting us through, there is nothing special, efficient or effective about it. We have to alter our focus a little bit. What we really need is some kind of national needs assessment survey.”
Mr. Bodden described efforts to pursue what he called a “STEM” programme at the University College – science, technology, engineering and math – as the keys to the next decades.
“It’s going to be important in the 21st Century; it’s going to need that kind of invention and vision. I look at lifelong learning, and I want a powerful nation of cross-vocational, cross-worklines people. The average person will change careers eight times in a lifetime and I want to propose a way that people can make those transitions easily, giving them the expertise through sound knowledge and a broad education.”
His cross-town counterpart at ICCI, Tasha Ebanks Garcia, said educators and employers need to figure out how they can help each other, creating a sort of continuum to serve everyone’s purposes. “Educational institutions need to be partnering with the private and public sector to determine the needs and expectations of these entities,” she said.
“We cannot educate in a vacuum with the hope that what we are doing is going to fill a need in the workforce, and make assumptions that we are adequately preparing our students for the workforce.”
Part of the difficulty of realising the vision, however, is that responsibility for making social changes is diffuse, lying with both everyone and, in a sense, no one in particular.
Ms Ebanks Garcia says the college needs to assure students that administrators are looking beyond year-end commencement exercises, tailoring their efforts to the demands school-leavers are likely to face.
“We have a responsibility to our students to ensure that we are building relationships with the private and public sector and that as part of that relationship, we are seeking out the information needed to ensure that our programmes, courses and curriculum are meeting the needs of employers and employing organisations.”
Over in the private sector, Samantha Nehra, vice president of people and development at dms Organisation, and a panel moderator at the Chamber’s November forum, said lifelong learning was “a joint responsibility between the individuals and the community”, and that, properly executed, the two could gain the kind of future outlined by the Chamber. Students, on the one hand, “must continue to consider their learning plans, and not rely on the employer to push that agenda.”
For their part, she said, employers “should have good lifelong learning opportunities – not just training programmes – but opportunities to learn and grow, such as mentoring, e-learning, social learning groups as well as the more traditional job-based learning opportunities.”
Margaret Jackson, head of Career Services at the Ministry of Education’s Further Education Centre, acknowledges “the workplace is changing world-wide. “We need more career education in schools,” she says. “We need to expand career services and to expose people to the opportunities and the challenges out there.”
Ms Ebanks Garcia echoes Ms Jackson’s sentiment that the days are long passed “when you could walk out of school and into a job”. She says “primary and secondary educational institutions need to have a focus on preparing students for higher education.
They should be engaging students in a process whereby they will discover ideas related to their career interests and then connecting those interests with an educational path,” she said, calling for collaboration between the primary/secondary levels and the tertiary schools. Gone are the days that we can secure gainful employment and grow within an organisation without formal education beyond high school,” the ICCI chief says.
Mr. Bodden agrees, but steps back even further, suggesting “a gargantuan mistake” was made by authorities when they segregated local students from expatriate students in government schools, closing off any exchange of ideas, cultures and experience.
“When we set up an exclusionary education system for expatriates, it meant there were no benchmark mechanisms, no socialisation, no cross-fertilisation and no friendships that could grow into business partnerships and larger community efforts. And so there are certain things we have to unlearn,” he said.
“Schools want to go forward, yes, but they are not correcting the mistakes of the past.
“We need a guiding philosophy that employment is not solely about making money, but about development of goals. What is important is that you are happy and that an artist, a surgeon and someone licking stamps in the post office are all building a better Cayman society; that we see ourselves as one community.
Lifelong learning is that we all have the right and are given the opportunity to make contributions and feel good about it,” Mr. Bodden said.
“What this country needs,” Ms Ebanks Garcia finishes, are “initiatives such as Future of Cayman and the National Strategic Plan for Education, which both have a foundation in collaborative work and are focused on long-term gains.”
The stakeholders in this most-vital undertaking, she says, are, simply enough, us.
“The country needs to buy into these two initiatives and others like them in order for systemic change to place. The timeline will be directly impacted by the reaction of the stakeholders. In the case of education the stakeholders are all of us. The question that really needs to be asked is: How do we get our country to value education and to focus on the needs of our students?”
And the answer, she suggests, like Mr. Bodden, is lifelong learning: Lifelong learning is a philosophy that values education and views the acquisition of knowledge as a lifetime endeavor.
“To hold such a philosophy or belief is advantageous because it positions us to be engaged continuously in the process of self-analysis for the practical purpose of ensuring that that we are able to meet the changing demands of the workforce and for the higher purpose of seeking self-actualisation.”