Barlow: ‘Education’ versus ‘Protection’

Gordon Barlow

It’s the duty of communities all over the world to give their children an education to a standard that enables them to become full members of their home communities. It takes a village, as they say.

By that measure, Cayman’s government has failed, and continues to fail. Some of our Islands’ children succeed, but most don’t. Our government-school system caters to clever children, but not to the general mass of children. Rich parents can bypass the state’s schools and send their kids to private schools where the discipline is tighter and the standards are higher. Some parents – not so rich – are themselves clever enough to appreciate the advantages of a good academic record. Their homes are full of books, and the positive environment helps their children succeed even at the government schools.
But the state system has failed the rest of the Islands’ children. Too many of them leave school semi-illiterate, semi-innumerate, and semi-trained in manners and attitude, unqualified to take their place in the workforce except as fill-ins. The tens of millions of dollars of public revenue spent on those children every year, has been wasted. Government would have been better off leaving the money in the bank.

Why does this happen? Why do large numbers of born-and-bred Caymanians leave our government schools unable to support themselves without the intervention of our politicians? After 44 years of affirmative action (since the passing of the Caymanian Protection Law in 1971), those large numbers are still not full members of their community, in the sense of being able to stand on their own two feet.

Most sadly, they can’t even support their own children. Without Give-a-Kid-Breakfast and Feed-Our-Future and the NCVO and Rotary and all their donors, this second generation would go hungry or go sick, and be excluded from full membership of their community in their turn. Where will it end? How can our politicians be so irresponsible, or so inept, as to allow this situation to continue?

In December 2010, in my brand-new blog, I posted a piece called “Everybody’s Cheating,” which criticized the labor-control policies of successive governments. Here is a brief extract.

Our rulers apply public-sector (socialist) principles to private-sector practices through the Immigration Law. It requires private employers to hire Caymanians with minimal regard for their education, aptitude or attitude; and to promote them with minimal regard for their productivity or contribution towards profits. That requirement amounts to a social contract between government and each private employer. Government allows the employer to trade in Cayman, in exchange for hiring and promoting people whom he otherwise would not employ. It’s a contract that both parties cheat on.

Nothing has changed since then, has it? What slow learners our political representatives are!

Forty-four years of protectionism and coddling has generated a climate of entitlement in those who left school without an adequate education – without being fully literate or numerate, or fully aware of the outside world. Worse than that, even, is the failure of a great many school-leavers to appreciate the work ethic expected by employers in the private sector. (The public sector’s expectations are much more modest.)

Look. It’s not the fault of the teachers, or even of the parents. Most of the teachers struggle to apply their professional skill under the dead hand of departmental bureaucracy. And many of the parents are handicapped by their own poor educational experience and their trust in the Caymanian entitlement process. Communication between teachers and parents is poor, because they are speaking different languages. Communication between bureaucrats and teachers, the same.

In the private sector – where businessmen try to make honest profits in spite of the entitlement baggage – ill-equipped school-leavers struggle to be accepted for jobs they’re not prepared for.

Those less-educated school-leavers turn to their MLAs and politically appointed committees and commissars for sympathy, and for help to gloss over their educational handicaps. They are readily assured that a Caymanian bloodline is way, way more important than academic aptitude, or attitude. Today’s version of the old Protection Board is generally on the side of the employee.

The solution to the problem of unemployable and unpromotable Caymanians is simple. Place education above bloodline entitlement. For the past four decades education has played second fiddle. For as long as that continues, the tens of millions spent every year on government schooling will continue to be wasted. If our MLAs care enough to recognize that, they will reorder their priorities, starting tomorrow.

Gordon Barlow has lived in Cayman since 1978. He was the first full-time manager of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce (1986-1988). He has publicly commented on social and political issues since 1990, and in 1998 served as the secretary of two committees of the “Vision 2008” exercise. His blog, “Barlow’s Cayman,” is located at