Chamber Forum: West Bay South candidates argue for dramatic education reform

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Both candidates for the open seat in West Bay South proposed significant reforms to the Cayman Islands education system. Raul Nicholson-Coe focussed on immediate reintegration of public schools, while Andre Ebanks argued for creating an independent statutory authority to govern education.

Both candidates participated in the 14th candidates forum hosted by the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce on Thursday night.

Nicolson-Coe said when he was in high school, public schools were integrated in terms of having students of all nationalities, but teachers from around the world as well.

He said, “I think we have done ourselves a disservice by segregating our schools,” and putting Caymanians students at a disadvantage by depriving them of different viewpoints and knowledge bases.

Nicholson-Coe called the segregation policy “an economic decision that became a social disaster”.

He said, “I would reintegrate the schools immediately, from primary schools to high schools.”

As he did in their earlier debate on Cayman Crosstalk radio, Ebanks said he also supports reintegration but it must be done more gradually.

“We do not have the capacity at this moment to flick a switch and do reintegration ‘full stop’ because it’s not physically possible,” Ebanks said. “What we can do is set out a system based on public-private partnerships to create small schools. We don’t need grand, huge schools. We just need to get started.”

[Editor’s Note: Read our recent analysis of school crowding, including the available student capacity of each public school in Cayman.]

When asked how he would improve public and private schools, Ebanks said, “I did a little bit of research to go back to prior Chamber forums. The question arose in 2017. The question arose in 2013. The question arose before that. And here we are again.”

He said, “It’s fair to say now we need a material departure from the existing system, or guess what? In 2025 we’re going to be asking this question again.”

Ebanks said, “We now need to move to a system that takes education out of the political cycle and create an authority, which gives the educators a framework that they can operate in, independent of the political process, where they can hire and fire as needed based on performance metrics and hard data, where they are given the resources.”

He said the segregated school system is a symptom of the “2 Caymans” that exist in parallel.

“It’s not only an educational problem. It’s a sociological problem, and it’s also a financial problem. You have persons who are working well beyond their means because they are deathly afraid of the public school system. That means they don’t have disposable income for extracurricular activities, for extra resources. We now need to build a fit-for-purpose education system,” Ebanks said.

On the topic of STEM education, Nicholson-Coe said schools should have STEM programmes starting from kindergarten through high school.

He also called for the merger of UCCI and ICCI into one “University of the Cayman Islands” that would offer academic degrees as well as trade programmes.

Saying that skilled Caymanian trade workers built the Seven Mile Beach corridor in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Nicholson-Coe said well-paying technical vocations need to be destigmatised.

Similarly, he said the hospitality industry needs to be promoted by incorporating the hospitality training school into all new developments.

The 15th candidates forum hosted by the Chamber takes place Friday, 25 March, and features candidates from George Town North. The debates are posted on various media, including the Chamber’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.

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