The state of Cayman’s public education system took center stage in a debate among three of the four general election candidates for North Side district, in one of the few community issues that appeared to divide the political hopefuls.
The fourth candidate, Johany “Jay” Ebanks, did not participate in Tuesday night’s candidate forum since his campaign launch party was scheduled on the same night.
Both Progressives party candidate Ed Chisholm and independent Justin Ebanks appeared to oppose social promotion in schools, with Mr. Ebanks arguing for more aptitude testing to catch students who are falling behind and Mr. Chisholm seeking some emphasis on trade schools and diversified options for students.
“It is no longer acceptable to say that it’s OK, you’ve gone through the years of school and you can graduate,” Mr. Chisholm said. “We need to make sure those students are fully equipped to face the world. Not everyone is going to be a banker, not everyone is going to wear a tie. A plumber can be extremely successful.”
Mr. Ebanks said the secondary school curriculum, in particular, had fallen “a bit behind its time” and that Cayman needs to prepare its students to compete on a global scale – not just in North Side or Grand Cayman.
“Over the years, children are passed through the education system not quite grasping what is needed. This is what’s holding them back when they get to secondary level,” Mr. Ebanks said.
Mr. Miller, the two-term incumbent in North Side, sharply disagreed with both challengers on the subject. Mr. Miller said he viewed the most important issue in the country as Caymanian ownership, not education.
“Everybody talks about education because it is a convenient whipping horse, but the educated Caymanians are not getting opportunities in their own country,” Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Miller said it is far more difficult in modern-day Cayman to start a business than it was in the days when he returned to the islands from college. Also, he said, there are few Caymanian “heroes” running businesses for the younger generation to look up to.
“[Younger Caymanians] have no hope, they see no opportunity,” Mr. Miller said. “Their education is not recognized. All we hear in the media and other places is the education system is so bad. Our education system is not that bad. We have some very, very good students coming out of that education system.
“We need to get back to where Caymanians feel they have first choice in employment in their country.”
Mr. Ebanks argued that the focus of local education should move with the ever-evolving job market.
“The financial industry is no longer the big world economic power; technology is now exceeding that … and healthcare may soon exceed technology,” he said. “Our young Caymanians need to be looking for careers, not jobs.”
Mr. Chisholm said immediate interventions are needed in situations where Caymanian children are struggling in the earlier grades. He said particular attention needs to be given to report cards.
“If the children in your school are not passing, then I think we need to be looking at that system,” Mr. Chisholm said. “We need to hold teachers accountable.”
Tuesday’s forum was the second of an anticipated 19 district candidate forums to be hosted by the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce in the run-up to the May 24 general election. The candidate forum for political hopefuls in Bodden Town East was held Wednesday night.
The next forum, for Prospect candidates, will be held at Prospect Primary School Hall on Wednesday, April 19, at 7:15 p.m., with independents Austin Harris and Matthew Leslie, and Lucille Seymour of the Progressives party.