Decentralised school governance, STEM education, vocational training and parental involvement were all topics raised during the North Side candidates forum on Tuesday.
Incumbent Ezzard Miller and challengers Debra ‘Debbie’ Broderick, Johany ‘Jay’ Ebanks, and Justin Ebanks participated in the second forum hosted by the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce.
Justin Ebanks said, “Working on education in this country is going to be the way to steer us forward. Education is going to have to be revisited many times over because education wil never be sufficient in its current form, because the world is always progressing and changing.”
He said, “How can you be successful if you’re not given the right tools? Government should have education free from Kindergarten to college. Barbados has a high literacy rate: It’s 93% because they give free education from Kindergarten to college. This is how you empower your people.”
Miller praised the district’s Edna M. Moyle Primary School and its management, faculty and parents, saying he thought it “is probably the best primary school in the whole island at this time”.
He criticised the inclination to compare public schools disfavourably to private schools, saying that unlike private schools, the public schools cannot pick and choose who they admit.
“We always seem to believe that the public schools are for some reason always worse than the private schools. Well I got to tell you that the private schools have their problems, too, you know,” Miller said.
He said, “In the public education system we have to cater to everybody, so it’s much more complex and complicated.”
He said the greatest need for public education is greater parental involvement, and argued for the creation of school boards.
“I proposed 8 years ago that we set up a local community board to manage the primary schools and the high schools. The primary schools in North Side would be managed by a local board from North Side. The Clifton Hunter School could be managed by local board people appointed from within the catchment area, which is Bodden Town, East End and North Side,” Miller said.
Jay Ebanks reiterated his proposal to devolve power from the Minister of Education to an education professional.
“I think we need to come out and take that out of the Minister’s hand for education, and I think we need to appoint somebody directly to be more suitable for that, similar to like how we had Mr. Roy [Bodden] in charge of the college [UCCI]. Because every 4 years we go in and somebody tries to roll over the ball in education,” he said.
Citing education as a top issue facing the country, Broderick said public schools should have higher expectations for their students, and said the public school system should have technology set up to allow parents to track their children’s homework.
“It is a dire need for parents to get involved with their kids. Help them read. Help them with homework. Go to PTA meetings. Be there for them, no matter what it takes,” she said.
Broderick said she supports the creation of a trade school, an recurring idea Jay Ebanks said he had seen promised in a campaign manifesto from 25 years ago.
Justin Ebanks said, “A trade school is only going to be good if we teach the right trades. Let’s talk about plumbing. Let’s talk about engineering/mechanical. What about x-ray technicians and therapists? These are also technical things that can be taught at technical levels in a technical school, but they must have the foundation to start. If you can’t read and write, and you can’t add, then you cannot function.”
Justin Ebanks said the chief issues facing the country all boil down to education.
He dedicated much of his time in the forum speaking on a variety of topics related to education, including STEM courses, social promotion and the effects of segregation on public schools (where 90% of students are Caymanian).
He said when he went to school, they were taught to prepare to participate in financial services and tourism, two industries he says are now dwindling or have become stagnant.
He said STEM education is the way for students to compete in the future economy. “Technology and healthcare are going to be the new emerging markets in this country, and I’m passionate about getting our young people upskilled, trained and qualified to compete nationally.”
Justin Ebanks said, “The hindrance of the education system in the Cayman Islands is the system. We have kids who are not passing math at 9th grade and are pushed into 10th grade, then 11th grade, then 12th grade. They never got math at 9th grade. They cannot go into the world and work unless they’re educated.”
He said, “We separated private schools and public schools in the ‘80s, late ‘70s; we took some of the good out of the schools. We have private school kids competing with public school kids. They are all competing with work permits. The better equipped our young people are, the more they can take on the challenges of today’s world.”
He said that when a country doesn’t educate its children, “they become the government’s problem”.
He said, “We have young people who can’t get jobs. They end up at NAU. We have people who make bad decisions. They go into the correctional system. They become government’s problem. We have elderly who weren’t taught how to properly budget and save, and they’re not able to produce it themselves. They become dependent on government.”
“Through education I want to wean people off the need for having politicians involved in everything. This would help alleviate some of the corruption. This would help alleviate some of the problems we have dragging our feet and pandering to people,” Justin Ebanks said.
The third candidates forum hosted by the Chamber takes place Wednesday, 10 March, and features candidates from Prospect. The debates are posted on various media, including the Chamber’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.