Lord Michael Hastings spent part of Wednesday morning telling a group of Year 1 students at Red Bay Primary School about the Gruffalo.
Mr. Hastings was reading the children’s book of the same name as part of a visit to promote KPMG’s Family for Literacy program, which is being consolidated, along with the local Literacy is for Everyone program, under KPMG’s global program for literacy.
Lord Hastings heads up KPMG International’s Corporate Citizenship, a charity outreach program that promotes education in more than 100 countries. Cayman is one of 14 nations where Family for Literacy is active.
“Have you seen a Gruffalo?” Mr. Hastings asked the youngsters, showing them a page in the children’s book with a picture of a monstrous beast with horns and tusks. “Have you seen anything that looks like that?”
“My neighbor does,” one of the children said.
After a laugh, Mr. Hastings said the story had an important message of tolerance.
“It’s easy for us to think that people who look a bit strange are not nice,” he said. “We need to accept them.”
A former teacher, government adviser and television correspondent, Mr. Hastings has been with KPMG for 13 years, and started Family for Literacy in 2008. The program launched in Cayman six years ago. One year later, it partnered with LIFE. The coalition provides books and one-on-one tutors for Year 3 students who have trouble reading.
Marilyn Conolly, executive director of LIFE, said more than 100 students across the government primary schools are currently being served by the program. More than 18,000 books have been donated through LIFE in the past two years, Ms. Conolly said.
Worldwide, Family for Literacy has provided 4.5 million books to children over the past eight years, Mr. Hastings said. It is important to reach children early, he emphasized.
“If you haven’t got it by 7,” he said, “it’s a struggle.”
Making sure students can read, he said, allows them to pursue other avenues of education. Literacy is the key to adaptive thinking and to eventual success in the working world.
“What we’re doing is making a 50-year investment,” Mr. Hastings said.
He said KPMG also has programs for older students, including the mathematics-oriented Junior Achievement and Enactus, a university-level program that teaches business practices. Of these, only Family for Literacy is active in Cayman.
Benette Moolman, a senior manager at KPMG’s Cayman offices, is the coordinator for the company’s involvement with Red Bay School, which is currently the only school the company’s employees volunteer at. Each Wednesday, nearly 50 volunteers spend an hour with Year 3 students who need help. Children meet with the same volunteer with whom they are paired every week.
“It’s doing something every week that’s making an impact,” said Ms. Moolman.
Most of the students, she said, advance between five and 10 reading levels during the year.
Yosha Alphonse, literacy specialist for the Ministry of Education, said LIFE and its partnership with Family for Literacy helps supplement other literacy efforts in the schools.
“The gaps are always there,” Ms. Alphonse said. “LIFE steps in to fill that gap. We cherish LIFE as a partner.”
Mr. Hastings will be attending the Cayman Alternative Investment Summit during his visit to the Cayman Islands, where he will host a talk on Friday with Mark Foster from IBM Global Business Services.