One of the other things we need to think about going forward is human capital. This includes education, our approach to education, and our need to retrain and retool our people so that they have options to enter different industries. This needs to happen now, not when we reopen.
That’s why a plan is so important. You have to prepare the people for the transition. You don’t wait until the circumstances are happening and then you react to it. The retooling and retraining of our people has to be done now.
Now, the training of our people can only be done in an education system which has methods that are effective on learning and which keeps up with changing technology. I have to admit, I was initially influenced, all of my conversation was influenced initially by the Auditor General’s report, the school inspectors, reports, but they tended to be very negative towards teachers, and some teachers brought that to my attention.
One of the issues is that due to the mental health issues that are in households and that children are exposed to, and due to the fact there’s probably not enough funding and resources for the mental health of children, a lot of things go unaddressed. And so when the inspector visits the school, they only see what happens on that day of their inspection, and so they judge the entire school year and judge a teacher’s performance based on activity they saw just sitting in the class, for 1 or 2 days. When I thought about that, I said, you know this judgement of teachers is sort of unfair.
So I started to look at a view of an educator and a trainer. His concept is every year of input for a child should equal 1 year progress for a child. Successive policymakers have not focussed on this point. They have to focus on the effectiveness of learning or the effectiveness on learning.
Instead, they focus on what the educator described as ‘the politics of distraction’. So they say, we need to change the curriculum. We need to build a $100 million building in Frank Sound. We need to do a $160 million expansion at John Gray. But what they don’t realise is that the building alone, the curriculum alone does not impact greatly the effectiveness on learning.
We must move away from these political distractions. We have to consult all the stakeholders in the education system. The stakeholders are our school leaders, the principal, the teachers, other adults in the school system, the students — you have to talk to the students to figure out if what you’re teaching to them is actually effective, if your method of your teaching actually works on them.
Policymakers are also involved in the process, so I want to get out of the blame game and get into the working together game. I think we need to create an open non-threatening environment for teachers. I mentioned this because my friend says an expat teacher spoke to him, she was afraid to say what her opinion was about what works and what doesn’t work because of repercussions that she could face.
I think the school leaders need to create an open environment where a teacher can just say this is what works for my class, this is what doesn’t work. That’s how it should be because the ultimate goal is to do something which is effective on learning for the student.
No teacher should be in an environment where they feel afraid or they feel there are going to be repercussions for what they say.
Next I think we need to focus on recruiting the best teachers, and doing this recruitment far in advance of the school year. We also need to treat teachers like they’re actually professionals, like doctors and lawyers, and then we need to reward teachers based on their expertise. What the government has done is to recently give teachers a salary of $5,000. That was not based on their professional expertise. So what I’m saying is a person that has 30 years’ experience, their salary is $5,000, and 5 years’ experience gets the same. That makes no sense. We have to pay teachers, we have to treat teachers like professionals and pay them based on their expertise.
Lastly we have to have the proper funding and resources to support all of this. One of the things that we do is we look at these grades that children get. Grade A, B, C. But I want you to look at what that grade is, what it actually means. We’ve taught these students to memorise 1 idea, memorise multiple ideas and they get an A for being able to spit that back out on a piece of paper. Whatever they memorise they spit it back out on the paper and that’s what they get an A for.
We really need to move beyond that and start thinking about making sure our children can relate those ideas, not just memorise them, relate the ideas and then go deeper, think deeper. That’s what we want to come out of the high school, you know, critical thinkers.
One of the other things that I think we can improve is matching all those scholarships to the actual demands in each industry. Also, you can’t give all the scholarships to financial services. What about the needs to be in construction and plumbing and electricians?
Part of our education scholarship should go to vocational courses as well. I personally believe that we need to have 2 different high school diplomas, 1 which is focussed on this traditional banker, lawyer accountant; and the other which is focused on vocational skills. Kids are just good at different things.
So I think that vocational track will allow Caymanians to get a high school diploma which will focus on their special trade skills and help them to prepare for careers as plumbers, electricians, and construction workers. That will mean that the amount of skills/tradespersons that we produce can be directly linked to what we actually need in those industries. This can then reduce the number of work permits that are issued in these sectors, creating a permanent base of local persons with highly technical and mobile skills.
I touched on this earlier, the mental and physical well-being of our workers and our children is very important. The attitude of our government toward healthcare can be demonstrated by how much they’ve allocated to public spending; public spending on public healthcare including mental health and the well-being of our people.
I’ll share this story that during the lockdown, there were some people, seniors, some of whom are here tonight, who went through the lockdown without insurance. This includes cancer patients.
What is happening here is you are reassessed by the Needs Assessment Unit, so let’s say you’re a senior and you’re sick. The Unit would reassess you. So they know you have this sickness but they make you go through the process again, so you have to submit all the documents again, and then they lose them. Then you have to — you know it’s a true story — you resubmit the documents and then someone goes on vacation. So, we need to address the mental well-being and healthcare of our most vulnerable.
How this is connected to education is, I was talking to a mother recently who had a daughter who was having trouble with bullying in the school. And the way the education system works, where the public education system works here, is if you are a parent and you wanted a grant; up to a few years ago if you wanted a grant so that your child can get out of the public system and into a school that could help that child, you have to do what they call ‘exhaust the resources in the public education system first’.
So this mother had to wait, it was over a year, to try to get this grant, and luckily what happened is Clever Fish actually got a licence to be a high school, and her daughter was able to go to Clever Fish.
The issue here is it’s the child that is suffering all that time, so that whole year the child is suffering, the mental well-being of that child is suffering, which then impacts their education, so I think seeing those types of experiences, I think parents need that support especially when they have low income. They need that support for their child to support their mental well-being which impacts their education.
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