Poverty and its consequences have been a neglected problem in Cayman for too long, according to former government at-risk youth officer Michael Myles.
The founder of Inspire Cayman Training trade school, Myles believes hundreds of children are being disadvantaged in school because of their backgrounds.
Issues range from parents addicted to drugs or in prison, at the extreme end, to those who are simply too busy or lack the skills themselves to help their children learn to read and write.
“There is a lot of poverty in Cayman. That is plain and clear. You can’t consistently give the Needs Assessment Unit millions of dollars and say we don’t have a poverty issue,” he said.
“It is a huge problem and it is bigger now because you have many more parents who are now jobless because of the collapse of tourism.”
Myles said many parents in lower-income brackets were working shifts in low-skill jobs and didn’t have the time or the aptitude to help their children progress in school.
“There are a lot of people out there hustling, they don’t have training or a skill, they are out working 11-7 here, 3-11 there, just taking shifts on a checkout because that is what they know how to do,” he said.
“When their kids come off school at 3pm they are going to an empty house.”
In many cases, he believes these parents are disengaged from school and unlikely to be able to help their kids with homework or be inclined to attend parent-teacher meetings.
“They want their kids to do well; they just don’t know how,” he said.
While many children from less-privileged backgrounds can and do excel in school, Myles believes there needs to be a greater focus on trades for those that are less academically inclined.
“They are still capable, they are still smart. They need an alternative to the academic track.”
He advocates for full plumbing, electrical and mechanic programmes as elective options in high school.
“Not everyone is going to be an accountant, but we should be able to ensure everyone graduates with a qualification that can get them a decent career.
“Currently we do not have an education system that matches the economy,” he said.
Myles, who is running as an independent candidate in the next election, believes there needs to be more cooperation between the various government agencies, non-profits and private-sector companies trying to make a difference in this area.
He says training and education can be the route out of poverty, but he questions, given price tags well in excess of $100 million for the new Clifton Hunter and John Gray high schools, if money is being spent in the right areas.
“We need to be talking about programmes, not bricks and mortar. If you have the right programmes you can get a good education sitting under a tree.”