Chamber forum: Conolly pledges to continue government’s efforts on education; Lindsay criticises ‘politics of distraction’

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George Town South incumbent Barbara Conolly touted the Progressives-led government’s initiatives on education, including the new John Gray High School project, updated curriculum and pilot project on school boards. Her opponent Alric Lindsay said the government must get away from the “politics of distraction” and focus instead on teacher recruitment, mental health support and vocational training.

Both candidates participated in the 17th candidate forum hosted by the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday night.

“I will continue to advocate for further improvements in standards of education with greater emphasis on the reform of early years education, with the rollout of the updated curriculum, and the completion of the new John Gray High School complex, the plans to give more authority to schools and parents, and developing a new strategy for children under 5,” Conolly said.

Lindsay said one of his favourite thinkers on the topic of education is John Hattie, who discusses a concept he calls the “politics of distraction”.

“Distractions are things that are not effective on learning, but which politicians pursue to their death. This includes building more buildings, bigger buildings, constantly changing the curriculum,” Lindsay said. “It’s proven that bigger buildings don’t have that great an impact on learning itself — as we can see from the $100 million building built in Frank Sound and now $160 million being spent on John Gray, with the continuing failures in the public education system.”

He said those are distractions Cayman can’t afford to continue to pay attention to.

“The things that we have to focus on are the recruitment of the best teachers,” he said.

Lindsay said more input is needed from stakeholders such as educators, parents, students and policymakers.

He also said, “We need to provide more mental health support for the social and mental well-being of parents and teachers in order for that child to have a chance and in order for him to have success in his learning.”

Conolly proposed giving more support to students by having smaller class sizes and organising more after-school opportunities to students to assist them with their schoolwork.

She also talked about the pilot project to establish school boards that Premier Alden McLaughlin discussed at a Chamber forum a couple of weeks ago.

Conolly said, “As a member of the Education Council, we have been working on the establishment of new governing bodies for public schools, and at the direction of the Minister [of Education Juliana O’Connor-Connolly], the Education Council has developed plans for a pilot and subsequent rollout of governing bodies, but Covid has delayed this implementation.”

She said if re-elected she would continue this work so that “all schools will eventually have their own governing body that works with the Ministry of Education and the Department of Education [Services]”.

Lindsay also discussed his proposal to offer a vocational diploma at the high school level, saying it was a mistake for the country to focus solely on financial services to the detriment of technical trades.

“We need to have the vocational diploma where, when that child graduates from high school, he has a skill or a trade he’s graduating with, and then he can move on to an advanced trade school.”

The 18th candidates forum hosted by the Chamber takes place Wednesday, 31 March, and features candidates from George Town West. The debates are posted on various media, including the Chamber’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.

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