West Bay South: Ebanks, Nicholson-Coe discuss integration, technical professions

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Both candidates for the open seat in West Bay South supported the idea of reintegrating the Cayman Islands public school system (which today is about 90% Caymanian).

Andre Ebanks said the main obstacle to integration is limited capacity in public schools; while Raul Nicholson-Coe accepted that was an issue, he said integration should begin where it is possible and go from there.

Ebanks and Nicholson-Coe appeared on the Cayman Crosstalk radio show on Wednesday.

(Watch the show here.)

“We have to reintegrate the schools. We have to put the schools back to how they were 25 years ago, when we had kids from all over the world operating and studying together because that raised the bar and the level of Caymanian kids, so they could compete effectively in the real world,” Nicholson-Coe said.

“Desegregation of the schools, I think, is important. At the same time, that’s not going to happen overnight because there’s a capacity issue. So that’s maybe a longer-term initiative,” Ebanks said.

Nicholson-Coe said, “While I understand there may be implementation issues with reintegrating schools, we have to start someplace. So let’s start with one of the smaller schools and let’s get that done and then we can move forward.”

Ebanks said he agreed that government has to find those “interim solutions”.

(Read our recent analysis of school crowding, including the available student capacity of each public school in Cayman.)

In the meantime, Ebanks said students need to start getting involved in alternative industries such as technology and green energy.

“We can now start to train up Caymanians in those jobs and start matching them with professionals, so if there are tech companies that want to be established here, have them incorporate Caymanians,” he said. “We can start from really young. When I was in [the Ministry of Community Affairs] we worked to create a nonprofit called Code Cayman, where they start to take children from about the age of 11 to 12 and start teaching them coding from now.”

Ebanks said when he was in the Cayman Islands government’s London Office, Caymanian students in the UK would tell him they would love to come back home, but their fields of study or expertise didn’t match with existing industries in Cayman.

“We need to be able to kick-start those industries because otherwise you can end up with a brain drain. You can have Caymanians who will say, ‘Why would I come back home? I have a UK passport. I don’t need a work permit. The cost of living is cheaper here, and what I studied for is not available to me’,” Ebanks said. “We’ve got to provide that environment to make sure we don’t lose [out to] brain drain, and we attract that talent back to Cayman.”

Nicholson-Coe said, starting from the primary level, “There are lots of fundamental issues in terms of numeracy and literacy that we need to address.”

He said, “We have to be able to get people trained up, upskilled, to be able to take advantage of the new economy. All of the new, the largest companies on earth now are tech companies. They need people that have technical skills to be able to take advantage of those.”

While some students may not be suited to become programmers, they may have the skills required to become a plumber, electrician or other tradesperson, said Nicholson-Coe (who is the former CEO of Digicel and current owner of a mechanical, electrical and plumbing company).

This is something I know personally because of the company I own. These guys make really good money, but we need to … demystify those jobs,” he said.

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