EDITORIAL – Celebrating our academic champions

Our children’s future success will depend on their ability to compete in a global workforce which is highly skilled, technically proficient and based on continuous learning and improvement. The Japanese actually have a word for this concept. It’s called “Kaizen” and means “continuous improvement.”

What better way to prepare our young people than through a bit of friendly competition here at home?

The 7th annual KPMG Brain Bowl academic tournament, held today, provides an excellent example. The Jeopardy-like competition tests teams’ knowledge of high school academic subjects such as mathematics, English, science, Caribbean history and current events.

The goal is to unite schools in the spirit of collegial academic competition through an event that promotes teamwork, academic growth and critical thinking skills. Last year marked the first time teams from all 12 of Cayman’s high schools competed, including students who flew in from Cayman Brac.

Cayman has a long-standing tradition of supporting school and club athletics – which are a healthy outlet for young people and teach valuable skills, including physical health, perseverance, goal-setting teamwork and sportsmanship. That said, the odds of even the most skilled athlete making a career of their athletic abilities are so low as to be nearly zero.

Take a country as large as the United States. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, only 480,000 of the nearly eight million students who compete in high school sports make the cut for teams at NCAA schools. Of those elite college-level athletes, only a handful – around 1 percent of college soccer and basketball players, for example – will go on to compete at the professional or Olympic level.

On the other hand, every student must be prepared to succeed in the workplace, manage a household and participate as responsible members of the community – all vital roles that rely on brainpower over “brawnpower.” Despite this, opportunities for academic competition and public celebration of scholarly achievement have been in too short supply on our islands.

Perhaps that is changing. Last Saturday at the George Town Library, budding literati were able to meet local authors and celebrate the literary arts at the Cayman Islands Book Fair. Also last week, approximately 800 students attended the STEM Carib 2018 conference at the University College of Cayman Islands, where they experienced firsthand exciting real-world applications of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills, from virtual reality to biology to the physics of superheroes.

Let us not forget the Dart Group’s diverse offerings through the Minds Inspired Education Programme, which are designed to nurture students’ academic excellence in STEM.

STEM-related careers, specifically, are a fast-growing component of employment in our digital age, but they require rigorous training and study – as do academic pursuits in every field. Efforts to celebrate and promote academic excellence are important tools to spark students’ interest and prevent their enthusiasms from flagging. As role models and future leaders, our academically gifted students should be both applauded and given every opportunity to sharpen their skills.

Like a nimble body, a nimble brain requires inspiration, training, conditioning and healthful nutrition (i.e., a steady intellectual diet of facts, figures, logical argument and ideas).

And, as athletes know, it never hurts when your fans are cheering in the stands.