Cayman students got the chance to take over parliament for a day on Monday.
The annual Youth Parliament brought 19 students to the floor of the seat of government, where they debated, often heatedly, two mock legislative proposals. Like real politicians, they pounded away at points that justified their positions and occasionally threw insults at their opponents.
It was hard to know at times if their complaints were directed at their school-aged peers, or were roundabout shots at the actual politicians looking on.
While arguing against a proposal for including an additional year and A-level exams in the public schools, Asia Bush, acting as the Youth Parliament’s elected member for Newlands, proposed broadening technical training by adding a trade school to the public education offerings.
“With a first-class trade school,” she said, “we would have fewer students slipping through the cracks.”
She drew murmurs from the gallery when she suggested that if a more comprehensive educational system were in place, “a lot of the government officials wouldn’t be sitting where they are right now.”
In his opening remarks, before the Youth Parliament got under way, Speaker of the House McKeeva Bush said he hoped the event would inspire more young people to pursue careers in the public sector.
“The more young people we can get interested in public life, the better all that is for the future of our islands,” Mr. Bush said. “We want to encourage them to take up the highest offices in the country.” Premier Alden McLaughlin said he appreciated the work the students put into the event.
“I’m always impressed by the performance of the young people who come, who work so hard,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
The students tackled two proposals. The first involved a requirement to add a 12th year to public school education and to mandate A-level exams for all students. The second was a requirement that political candidates live in the districts they are running to represent.
Arguments for extending the school program dealt with improving the local economy, raising the standard of living, lowering youth unemployment, deterring crime and providing more opportunities to students who want to pursue a university education.
Alejandro Whitaker, the Youth Parliament’s elected member for George Town South, said students pursuing higher education would be on better footing with an additional year of high school.
“Students would be in a more robust position for being accepted to colleges and universities,” he said.
Those in opposition feared such a move would reduce the number of options available to students by forcing some students into further study they might not want. They also argued that such a move could hurt individuals financially, and the economy as a whole, by delaying their entry into the workforce. Those who had presented the proposal, they said, showed a lack of knowledge of how the current system works.
Reon Porter, the Youth Parliament’s leader of the opposition, said students should continue to enjoy more autonomy.
“Students should be able to choose options to meet their own educational goals,” he said, “not the goals of this government.”
The students had help in preparing for their day in the legislature. Their trainers included Leader of the Opposition Ezzard Miller, MLA and former minister Arden McLean, and Youth Parliament Committee members MLAs Kenneth Bryan, David Wight and chairperson Barbara Conolly.