21 people in 2021: Juliet Austin

Literacy Is For Everyone's Juliet Austin, right, with a bit of holiday cheer.

While the Cayman 2.0 series has thus far been looking at the ideas and strategies that could make the country a better place, we’re changing things up for December. This month, we’re highlighting 21 people who could turn some of those ideas into reality – or at least get the ball rolling – over the next calendar year.

Cayman 2.0 section for 18 Dec.

It’s no secret there are students in Cayman who struggle to read and write at an appropriate level. 

Recent data from the Education Ministry shows nearly a third of Key Stage 4 exam takers did not meet the expected standard in reading during the last school year. Half did not meet the standard in writing. 

Literacy is for Everyone Executive Director Juliet Austin said the key to changing those statistics is getting children interested in reading at an earlier age. 

“One very exciting thing we’re doing is we’re adding a new early childhood programme,” said Austin, who added the charitable organisation plans on starting the new programme in March and rolling it out in a more comprehensive way in September. “We’re working with preschool children, zero to five. And if you look at all of the research, if you can have that impact there, then the knock-on effect into primary school, secondary school and adulthood is absolutely enormous.”

LIFE was founded in 2012 by a group of Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Grand Cayman Sunrise, with the mission to significantly increase literacy levels across the Cayman Islands.

21 people in 2021

James Whittaker
• Rachel Smyth
• Andre Gooden
• Adam Sax
• Marc Langevin
• Louisa Sax
• Dr. Marc Lockhart
• Lauren Nelson
• Jordan Stubblefield
• Brandon Caruana
• Josephine Horwitz

A 2012 study produced through a partnership between the University of Melbourne and the Victoria Department of Education and Early Childhood Development found that reading to children three to five days per week compared to two or fewer has the same effect on the child’s reading skills at age four or five as being six months older. Reading to them six to seven days per week has the same effect on the child’s reading skills as if they were 12 months older. 

The study also found differences in reading and cognitive skills are not related to the child’s family background or home environment, but Austin understands it can be tough for parents to find time to read to their children if they’re working long hours, multiple jobs or don’t have access to technology. 

“We can’t let economics allow children to succeed or fail by age three,” Austin said. “That, to me, is morally unacceptable and wrong.” 

LIFE traditionally has focussed its efforts on primary and secondary school students. This new programme is aimed at getting children reading at the preschool level and it’s starting with a pilot programme at Precious Gems Preschool. It won’t be concentrating so much on phonics and the process of learning to read, but rather just developing of love of reading. 

Austin says getting buy-in from parents is crucial.

“We teach parents how to encourage lifelong readers and lifelong learners,” Austin said. “That’s a huge part.” 

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