On Education: Chris Saunders, Bodden Town West

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The following is the education platform submitted by Bodden Town West candidate Chris Saunders (and a Current transcript of the video):

Dear friends and neighbors, in my last video I reminded you that the purpose of education wasn’t to make you employable; the purpose of education was to make you trainable. Being trainable is what makes you employable.

I also reminded you that it was that trainability that was possessed by our foreparents that built the Cayman Islands that we have today. I was therefore pleased to have joined many others last Sunday the 24th of January to honor our Caymanian seafaring heroes at the National Heroes Day ceremony at Pedro Castle.

As some of you may be aware, my dad, the late Roy Saunders, typical of men of his generation, was a merchant seaman. These men attended the best school, they had the best teacher, they had the best classroom. These men were students at the university of life.

In their university they knew what hands-on experience truly meant. The subjects were hard, homework was harder, and learning from failure was the hardest. Many of them graduated with distinction, and on their diploma it read, ‘He hath founded it upon the sea’.

Along the way the type of knowledge and technical skills they acquired and excelled at could never be taught in a single degree subject. You could say they were ahead of the curve in recognizing success in a job market would increasingly become more about what you can do than what you knew. In short they knew the difference between the classroom and the real world. They knew the difference between theory and practical. They knew the difference between knowledge and applied knowledge.

These seafaring men are living proof that education is not a one-size-fit-all model and that a university degree is not the only path to employment and not the only path to success.

This was a backdrop to ‘policy initiative number two’, which I unveiled last week: Creating a pathway for lifelong learning.

I would also like to use this opportunity to thank the many parents, students and recent graduates who called to thank me for being candid and straightforward about my educational journey and challenges along the way.

Chris Saunders

Likewise many were supportive of the policy and the conversation to come, but I’m going to tell you right now that of all the policies that we in the Cayman Alliance will be championing, this one will require us to have an uncomfortable conversation.

The reason this conversation will be uncomfortable is because it requires us to acknowledge three things:

One, our current learning model is wrong. It is built on a premise that a higher degree equates to a higher income and creates a social divide where people without degrees are being perceived as being second class. You don’t have to take my word for it that the model is wrong. The proof is before our very eyes. Our forefathers, as I said at the start of this video, were seafaring men. They traveled the world and could see what worked and what didn’t work in other countries.

They brought back ideas and policies and put their own unique Caymanian touch on it, and using applied knowledge turned our Cayman Islands into a global player in the financial services today. Imagine that.

The second reason why this conversation is uncomfortable is that we need our teachers to be the educators that they are. This means entrusting them and empowering them to do their jobs. The same way we would not dare tell our doctor how to do their job, there is no need to micromanage our teachers and tell them how to do their jobs. It is what they were trained to do. It is what they are qualified to do.

Simply put, we need less government in our education system. The government’s role in education should be restricted to making the required investment and checking for standards — nothing else.

And while we’re at it we also need less businesses in our educational system, dictating the skills that they need to operate their businesses. The purpose of education is not to create a workforce but to create thinkers. You don’t have to take my word for it. Again, look at how some employees who dare speak their minds are treated in the workplace. They are victimized.

The third reason why this conversation is uncomfortable is that while we need less government and less businesses in our education system, we need more parents involved in our education system. Some parents need to step up and do a better job. Albert Einstein was a high school dropout, but with supportive parents and a second chance given to him by his local community college, he went on to become a Nobel Peace Prize winner and one of the most influential physicists of the 20th century.

So parents, we need to take ownership of our children’s learning. It means showing up at PTA meetings and events and working with teachers. It means recognizing that some lessons must be taught at home. As a parent I can tell you that while we have a responsibility to protect our children, we also have the responsibility to prepare them for the real world. We cannot leave everything to the teachers.

For the wider community it means embracing a concept that it takes a village to raise a child. Many of us grew up in a time when the teachers would come to your home to speak to your appearance, and our neighbors would report our behavior — and in my case misbehaviour — to my parents. I’m a better person today because the village did their job yesterday.

The other point I want to address is that too many of our people are coming back from university and can’t find a job, or if they do they’re told that they’re overqualified. This was not the case when I was much younger, when there were sufficient opportunities for everyone.

Back then those opportunities weren’t limited to your area of study. There were people with degrees in biology and literature working in senior positions in the financial services industry. Why? Because they were trainable. Don’t matter where you went to school, Don’t matter what your degree was in, wherever you went to work someone had to still train you to do that job.

We have all heard stories of people training other people, for them to turn around and take their job or in some cases get promoted over them. Again this goes back to the issue of trainability and why many global firms are moving away from using a university degree as a sole requirement for entry or promotion.

For us to do this, we will need to make our learning facilities accessible to all, regardless of age. We need to remove the age limit for scholarships so that all Caymanians can go back to school when time permits, and this is why the next government must make UCCI free and available to all Caymanians regardless of their age.

And if a Caymanian wants to go back and complete their high school studies, there’s no reason why we can’t have night classes at high school facilities to facilitate that. I know that there are many Caymanians that are willing and able to teach these classes even on a volunteer basis, and I’ll be the first in line to play my part and give back. We can even adjust the PR point system to give more points to residents who choose to give back this way.

My friends, the only true natural resource we have is our people. Let us see education as an investment and not an expense. Let us see learning as something to bring us together, to debate, to challenge our limits.

Growing up there was nothing better than listening to old people argue, as it was not only entertaining but also educational. I was reminded of that last Sunday when I spoke to some of our men who went to sea and listened to some of them argue amongst each other.

This is why more than ever we need to develop thinkers. We need people that can challenge the status quo. It was that mindset of challenging what was acceptable that led to the Industrial Revolution, that led to the Space Race, that led to the technologies that we have today. We need people that not only think outside the box but people who can imagine that there is no box.

For us to move Cayman to the next level, a more prosperous level, a level with more opportunities, better opportunities, we will need people who can challenge the way we see health care, people who can challenge the way we see pensions, people who can challenge the way we address the cost of living, people who can challenge the way we see our environment.

But all of this starts with challenging the way we learn, challenging the way we think. It starts with us challenging our educational system to a point where we can all paraphrase George Bernard Shaw to say, “Some people look at the Cayman we have today, and say ‘Why?’ We dream of a Cayman we can have tomorrow, and say, ‘Why not?’

God bless.

Click here to visit Saunders’ campaign website (www.forwardtogether.ky).

***Editor’s Note: We are inviting all candidates to submit their education platforms for publication in the Cayman Current. Email pbrendel@caymancurrent.org.***

Calling all candidates: Share your education platform

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