George Town West candidates gave their views on why the Cayman Islands education system is underperforming, discussing factors inside the home as well as at school.
Pearlina McGaw-Lumsden, Ellio Solomon and Kenrick Webster participated in the 18th candidate forum hosted by the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday night.
Incumbent David Charles Wight declined to attend, just as he declined to attend an earlier debate on the Cayman Crosstalk radio show. (Only Solomon attended that debate.)
Saying Cayman has an “educational crisis”, McGaw-Lumsden said children who have dysfunction at home, or who go to school hungry, are unable to learn.
“When I attended school and I was hungry, I couldn’t learn. It is as simple as that,” she said. “I come from a broken home where my father was abusive, my father was alcoholic. Am I supposed to then lend my attention to education? It’s not a priority for me.”
She said there needs to be social programmes within the schools to assist students from dysfunctional homes, who are hungry or who are dealing with mental illness.
Additionally, she said government should focus on improving the quality of teachers that are recruited.
Solomon said a primary reason for dysfunction at home is financial pressures.
“You need to address the whole issue of cost of living and diversifying the economy to create the proper environment for those students, those children, to really go to school and to be able to learn properly,” he said.
As he did in the earlier forum, Solomon said public education needs to be re-integrated.
“When we separated the schools we created a major problem,” he said.
In addition to learning about different cultures, having Caymanians and non-Caymanians in school together created bonds that carried over into professional opportunities.
Solomon also said there should be more mentorship in schools.
“Going to school, learning and not being able to transition into a job is a complete waste of time. If we can get more mentorship going on, we can make that transition a lot easier when it comes to education,” Solomon said.
Webster said children with physical or learning challenges need to be identified at an early age to give them proper support throughout their time in the education system.
“The system … is failing because they’re not tested in the early stages,” he said.
Webster also said there is a lack of career guidance in the schools, along with a stigma against certain types of jobs.
“We have a Careers Day but we do not have career guidance to channel them in the right direction,” he said.
The 19th and final candidates forum hosted by the Chamber takes place Tuesday, 6 April, and features candidates from George Town East. The debates are posted on various media, including the Chamber’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.