REMARKS BY MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND CULTURE
HONOURABLE MYRON V. WALWYN
AT THE OFFICIAL MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND CULTURE BRIEFING
MONDAY, JANUARY 11, 2016
Let me first take this time to wish one and all a very happy new year. My prayer for you in 2016 is that the Lord continues to bless your lives, and for all of us in this Territory to work collectively to advance, what I believe is the greatest place to call home, the Virgin Islands.
I am certain that many of you, when you were notified by our Permanent Secretary or Acting Chief Education Officer about this meeting, you probably asked yourselves, “What does Myron want now?”
We have been on a journey together to create a culture of excellence in our education system, over the last four years. I have learned a lot from your diligent guidance and expert knowledge, and together, I believe we have done a substantial amount of work that will forever change the trajectory of the Virgin Islands.
When I returned home to the Virgin Islands in the early 1990s, the streets of Road Town seemed lined with opportunities for any abled body. I was proud that unlike many other Caribbean islands, Virgin Islanders owned the vast majority of real estate and businesses. To some extent, we were also shielded from the world and enjoyed a relatively cohesive and quaint society.
But that was a time that was significantly different. 9/11 didn’t happen yet, our neighbours in the north were basking in a sound economy, China still seemed like a distant land, and throughout Road Town, Cable and Wireless phone booths dotted our streets.
A lot has changed since then. The world has experienced a modern economic crisis, China is part of our every day conversation, and instead of Cable and Wireless phone booths, cell phones instantly connect us to our favourite people and things, transcending time and geography.
And the young people of the Virgin Islands, trying to find their opportunity for success like you and I did decades ago, they are not having such an easy time. The property owners and business owners have names that were once uncommon to the ears of Virgin Islanders. More and more of our young people are having real hardship finding jobs and opportunities as they are now competing in an open and modern society.
But despite all of these changes, our education system did not evolve as much as it should have to truly prepare our residents for success in their own home. Within the Ministry, we are challenged with a responsibility to the Territory, to continuously innovate our offerings to ensure that unlike those Cable and Wireless phone-booths, the Virgin Islands remains relevant in this global sphere. And the only way we can do this is by developing our human capital, our students, our citizens and residents. And guess what, the Ministry of Education, is the Ministry, tasked with this responsibility.
In today’s society, our Governments cannot write laws and implement policies to completely protect our local population like we did years ago. There are many occasions where we wish we could do more to protect opportunities for our people, but the world doesn’t work that way anymore. The world that we are in today is more complex, filled with conflict and tension, and our people must learn how to adapt to this and positively respond for their success and for our continued success.
Ladies and gentlemen in this room, this is our load to bear. It is what this Government signed up for, it is what I’ve signed up for as Minister for Education and Culture, and it is what you’ve signed up for when you chose your line of work or agreed to support the vision and mission of this Ministry by becoming a member of one of our boards or supporting organisations.
You have heard from our Premier, Hon Dr D. Orlando Smith, OBE, Madame Deputy Governor, Mrs V. Inez Archibald and Mr Colin O’Neal, a prominent businessman and seasoned layer in this community. We invited them here this morning, because we want to put into context, the challenge that is before us, but also the opportunity that we have to ensure that our young people and our citizens are better prepared for life in a modern and open Virgin Islands society.
So now I am at the point where I’m really getting to tell you what I want. This morning I want to impress upon you the urgency by which we must continue to do our work to engineer a society that will never again see us playing catch up to the world around us.
Now is the time that we must truly make education the foundation by which our country will develop and thrive, provide cultural and recreational opportunities for the maintenance of a cohesive society, and importantly, develop our young people to have an audacious spirit, prepared and ready to lead us into the future.
We have covered a lot of ground over the past four years. However, as we look ahead to the work we must do, we must use the opportunity that this new year brings, to make further investments in developing a robust and innovative education system that can serve the needs of our young people and residents, as well as serve the needs of this Territory.
Though we have covered significant ground, there is a lot more to do. The work at times might seem daunting, but we must persistently tackle our challenges, step by step to realize progress. And here is how we will do it.
We intend to continue work at the Early Childhood level and establish a policy and strategic plan, as we believe that we must invest more in the foundation years in order to ensure that our students are on the right path. As we work with the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College in reviewing and revamping the teacher Education programme, we will also be looking to them to institute a certification programme for teachers at the Early Childhood Education level to have them better prepared to provide the necessary foundation for our youngest students.
We will also build on the Key Stage Assessment, developing a framework that gives us reports on the progress of our children from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Assessments will start at Kindergarten to garner the readiness of students coming into formal education and so at each stage of assessment, allow us to better plan to reach each child in his or her development going forward. We realize that a plan must be put in place to improve reading – this is foundational to everything and so as we work on the Early Childhood level, we will continue to have remediation for those who are already in the system.
As a part of this Assessment, we intend to introduce the CXC Caribbean Primary Exit Assessment (CPEA) and the Caribbean Certificate of Secondary Level Competence Assessment as the Key Stage Assessment for Grades 6 and 9 respectively. These two assessments will give us a regional bar by which to gauge our students’ readiness locally and regionally.
We are also diligently working on a credit system to be applied at the secondary level as we remove the School Leaving examination and develop full requirements for graduation which will include the National Citizenship Programme, proficiency testing in Mathematics and English Language and the completion of required credits in subjects completed at secondary level.
The National Citizenship Programme has also now been implemented at the Primary Level. We have gotten remarkable results from our secondary school students, and I’m urging the principals and teachers at the Primary Level to take this initiative seriously.
This programme teaches our young people the importance of being active participants in the world around them. This is our opportunity to teach the instant access generation, that the world is much bigger than their needs, and that there is joy and many life lessons to be found in the service of your fellow citizens.
We’ve implemented a flag raising ceremony at most schools around the Territory, and will complete this at all schools by the end of the year. It is designed to teach our students, by their participation in the raising and lowering of our flags, a greater level of respect for this Territory and all that it stands for.
However, as I drive around our islands to some of these schools, Principals, the lesson is lost if we simply have a ceremony one day, and leave the flag, a symbol of our identity as Virgin Islanders up all night, to be beaten and tattered by mother nature. I am asking you again to assign students to daily raise and lower our flags.
By doing this we teach them responsibility and respect. We teach them that the Virgin Islands is part of a larger world and as citizens, young or old, we have a commitment to ensuring that our country is represented well, even in the raising and the lowering of this national symbol.
We will continue monitoring and improving the teaching of Financial Services, Virgin Islands History, Tourism and Civics. We will also implement the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) for those students in Grade 12 who were able to complete their CSEC Examinations in Grade 11 and they will complete Level 2 of CAPE at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College. Training for our teachers will commence later this school year.
This academic year at the secondary level, with the introduction of the additional year in our system, we will have no secondary school leaving ceremonies in 2016. With this we are very cognizant of the fact that several critical changes will have to take place on the campuses of Elmore Stoutt High School and Bregado Flax Secondary Division.
Already some measures have been put in place to create a junior and senior school such as the change in the uniform and class scheduling. On Thursday I will be presenting schematic plans for the development of the Junior and Senior schools at Elmore Stoutt High and I intend to present these plans to the PTA at their next meeting.
Education: Professional Development and Training for Educators
In March, we expect to complete the training and licensure of our first cohort of principals. I have heard nothing but positive comments thus far on the training and I look forward to great improvement in the leadership and management of our schools.
Principals, I am calling on you to help us raise teaching standards at our schools. I do not want Principals that run schools from their offices. I want Principals that will go into classrooms, sit at the back, listen to the lessons being taught and give constructive feedback. We have to ensure the quality of instruction students are receiving are at the level it should be. We do not want any experiments being done on our students. This type of engagement should become the norm on all of our campuses.
Based on advise of principals that have undertaken the NCEL programme, we intend to provide a similar professional training and development programme for our Education Officers. As we increase the capacity of our senior educators and principals, it is important that we also upgrade the proficiency of Education Officers to better assist with the management needs of our schools.
We will be working to enhance the knowledge and skills of our educators to integrate the use of ICT in the education process. Our teachers for years have complained about the need for them to be online while teaching students.
Describing scientific theories and mathematical equations suddenly becomes much more interesting when our teachers can go to YouTube and have students view an animation. We must find ways to make learning interesting and fun. So that instead of being frustrated, we inspire the imagination and open the minds of our students and integrating technology in lessons is the most practical way of doing so.
On Thursday, we will be signing an MOU with one or more of the Territory’s telecommunications providers to provide unfettered and dedicated Internet access to our schools at a speed of 100 mega bytes. This opportunity is a significant step in upgrading the teaching and learning process.
Not only will it make teaching ICT in schools easier, with our classrooms connected, we can fully utilize Promethean boards, provide a modern learning experience for students, have better access for teachers to utilize applications such as Power School and significantly, give students the opportunity to complete lessons and assignments, as well conduct research much faster while at school. I know many of the teachers have been asking for access to YouTube and other such applications. These will be made available to you as well.
I want to say a special thank you to the Department of Information and Technology and Telephone Services Management Unit, whose management and staffs quickly stepped in to assist and are ensuring that schools are properly prepared to get online.
Education: Special Needs
We will continue to support our differently-abled students as we strengthen the initiative of inclusive education. Teachers will continue to be trained to recognize children with special needs and plan accordingly to meet those needs. We will continue to build our relationship with the Vanguard School in Florida as we work on providing the necessary support locally as far as possible.
Annually the Ministry will be committing to providing two scholarships for different abled students to study at this partner institution. I have had a chance to see for myself the progress our present students have made and I can report, it is well worth the investment.
We have recently hired a dedicated Special Needs Education Officer, Ms Cherese Thomas. Ms Thomas has already submitted a report and work plan to help us address some of the needs and concerns for students that are differently abled. I intend to make good on Government’s commitment of providing an equitable educational experience to our population of differently abled students.
Education: Technical Education
As we continue to provide our young people with opportunities to gain knowledge and skills in the fields of technical and vocational education, the Virgin Islands School of Technical Studies (VISTS), has had a remarkable first year and we are seeking to build on the interest in the school to provide opportunities for students.
I’ve been in discussions with some of the owners of auto mechanic shops, beauty salons, construction companies, restaurants and hotels over the course of 2015. In a few weeks, we will be signing MOUs with a number of businesses to afford students of VISTS the opportunity for practical training and complete internships, beginning next school semester at those businesses.
The leveraging of these types of relationships with the business community, not only helps us as a Government to save money, but it also allows our students to work closely with the persons who drive various industries in our community. Out of such partnerships, our students will not only have practical working experience, but also a foot in the door to job opportunities.
Seeing the benefits of the Culinary Programme at VISTS, I am calling on Government departments and other businesses to utilize the services of this programme for your coffee breaks at small functions and the Ministry of Education and Culture will lead by example. This helps the school raise funds to add to their programmes and gives students the practical experience to go along with the theoretical aspect of their training.
Education: Scholarship Trust Fund Board
I want to recognise Mr Deon Vanterpool, Chairman of the Scholarship Trust Fund Board and his team for the outstanding work that they have done over the past years. Over the past few years, we have been able to distribute $4.2M to 130 students for student loans. This is a significant increase from previous years. The funds were made available through the Caribbean Development Bank and have proven vital to the process of helping students through their tertiary education.
I have already asked our Premier and Minister of Finance to do all that he can, to secure an additional $5M so that more residents can take hold of the opportunity to attain certifications and degrees and to add to the human capital of the Virgin Islands.
Education: H. Lavity Stoutt Community College
I commend the Board of Governors and Staff of H. Lavity Stoutt Community College for the hard work that was necessary to drive the successful accreditation of the institution. This accreditation will open more doors for our students and more opportunities for the college to further establish itself as a sought after institution for higher learning.
In addition to the revamping of the teacher education programme which I am insisting must include the teaching of Reading, we are looking forward to HLSCC developing even more partnerships with other colleges and universities to offer more undergraduate and post degrees locally. This provides greater access to higher education for residents, as well as opportunities to market programmes to the rest of the region.
Government has made a commitment to provide free tertiary education at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College for its citizens. However, we must place a greater value on the opportunity that students are being given. I am calling upon the college by the start of the next college year, to implement higher entry requirements for students coming directly from secondary education into the college. Sometimes when things come too easy, we take them from granted. If we raise the standards for admittance to the college, I believe students will recognize the value of the opportunity for a free tertiary education.
I am asking the college to go out into the business community and see what are the immediate needs of business owners and their staff so that we can develop short courses to fit those needs. This will give more residents the chance to retool and sharpen their skills, adding more value to their jobs and providing them with greater access to opportunities for advancement.
H. Lavity Stoutt Community College has the most PhDs and Masters degrees holders than any other organisation in this Territory. In my mind, this sounds like a business opportunity to leverage the human capital at the institution, while helping to solve some of our challenges in this Territory and even outside of the Virgin Islands through consultancies and services offered to Governments and the business community. I put it to the college, that aside from the Government’s subvention, within your present core of faculty, lies a great opportunity to add to the college’s revenue and I challenge you within the remainder of this academic year, to devise a business plan to offer such services to our community and to our region.
Education: Library Services
In 2016 we have the Internet, but there is much still to discover in the pages of encyclopedias and in the rooms of our public libraries. Our challenge today is to evolve the notion of what a library was when we were school aged to what it needs to be for children, young adults, every day residents and even visitors in the 21st century.
While we seek a new location for the main public library in Road Town, later this year we look forward to opening a new library and resource centre in North Sound, Virgin Gorda. For two years we have been planning for the development of that library, and we look forward to completing this project for that community.
Culture and Heritage are an integral part of our development as a society. For years we have talked about our culture and for many this has become synonymous with things such as the goose irons, cooking on three stones, riding the mule or donkey over paths to get from one village to the next and the like.
While it is important for our young people, new residents, and the society in general to remember and know these things about our way of life at a particular time in history, there are wider and more important lessons to learn. We have to use our culture and history to build a bridge for our young people to the future they aspire to have, using the tenacity, innovation, resourcefulness and pride demonstrated by our forefathers in the past.
The second message to learn is that culture is not static, but is always evolving. As we evolve as a people, we must find new ways within the parameters of today's’ world to build on those ideas to continue building our Territory. It is along this line that the Department of Culture will be moving to educate our public of our culture and heritage – our heritage, the legacies of our forefathers and our culture as it evolved from then to now, and as it continues to do so.
As we continue to work on building national pride amongst our youth and the population in general, we will be launching a competition for a Territorial Pledge as we did with the Territorial Song and Territorial Wear. The Ministry proper is handling this. The criteria will be published shortly after the Committee meets to make necessary preparations. A woman that has committed her life to bringing out the best of Virgin Islands culture in business and the arts, Hon Delores Christopher, has willingly agreed to chair that Committee and I’m very grateful to her.
We completed a Culture Policy two and a half years ago and I will be depending on the Department of Culture to utilize that document in creating their work plan for 2016 and moving swiftly in helping to make our culture an active part of our every lives.
With the restructuring of the Department of Youth Affairs and Sports, we expect even more to be done for the development of the young people of this Territory. As mentioned before the Youth Parliament is up and running. During this year, we expect that the Youth Council and Youth Commission will be put in place as we get the necessary legal framework completed. We intend to provide greater opportunities for our youth to participate in the overall development of the Virgin Islands as outlined in our National Youth Policy. That document will also serve as a guide for the Department’s 2016 work plan.
During the first quarter the Department of Youth Affairs will be launching its first Youth Centre, at their office in Road Town. The space will be designed for young persons, with daily programmes on topics of interest to young persons. The Centre is expected to have extended hours during the week and on the weekends, to provide a safe and productive space for young persons seeking to socialize, find resources or attend aside workshops and seminars. We anticipate that over the next three years, we will be able to identify new spaces and staff Youth Centres for young persons on our Sister Islands.
Youth Employment Services and the Apprenticeship Work Programme will be under the supervision of the Department of Youth Affairs and Sports. There is no doubt that these two initiatives have had a significant impact on the reeducation of youth unemployment and we look forward to these programmes continually serving our young people.
I have given directions to the Chief Education Officer to have our Physical Education teachers to be transferred from the Ministry proper to the Department of Youth Affairs and Sports. This will make for better sports development plans and better use of our resources.
At Her Majesty’s Prison, we will continue to work on strengthening the rehabilitation programme where we are preparing inmates to become successful citizens on their return to society and decrease recidivism. We have begun discussions and this year we will be implementing a comprehensive education programme for inmates. We have a social responsibility to our prisoners and to society to ensure that they are prepared with the necessary skills to become productive citizens upon release and we must find ways to do so.
The Ministry along with the Ministry of Health and Social Development will continue its collaboration to strengthen the “Waiting at the Gates” programme as we assist inmates upon release to find necessary housing, mentoring, and opportunities for employment. I want to once more thank the Minister of Health and Social Development for agreeing to work along with me on this initiative.
Sports and Recreation
Sports and recreation has been an opportunity where collectively, as a community we come together, to support our young people and rally for Virgin Islands pride, and now it is time to do even more to develop our recreational spaces and opportunities for leisure and competitive sport. This year I look forward to the completion of work that has already been started in establishing a National Sport for the Territory.
We also expect to institute and have the legal framework drafted to put in place the National Sports Council as outlined in the National Sports Policy. This council will be responsible for coordinating all sports within the Territory and hence work with all sporting organizations.
We will also be working closely with the Recreation Trust as we work out a comprehensive plan for the improvement of sports and recreational facilities in the Territory. I know that the maintenance of our facilities require more attention, and I will be lobbying very hard during this upcoming budget process for more funds. But I want to say to the staff of the Recreation Trust, that I still believe that more can be done to maintain our facilities with what we presently have. In the meantime I ask that you continue to work hard and be resourceful in executing the mission of the Trust.
So to answer the question, “What does Myron want now?” As a Ministry I want us to work together in the execution of our duties and realise that there is a bigger picture that our work fits into.
I want us to be more professional in the execution of our work to the public. Respecting our clients even more and diligently setting about implementing our plans. I want us to ensure the longevity of the Virgin Islands, by building the capacity of our residents to become innovative, adaptive and civic minded individuals that will take care of this Territory so that in turn, this Territory can take care of the next generation.
The text Rethinking Education, produced by UNESCO expressively reminds us of what our task is as professionals connected to education and to the development of young people, and by extension, a society.
Sustaining and enhancing the dignity, capacity and welfare of the human person in relation to others, and to nature, should be the fundamental purpose of education in the twenty-first century.
That is our task, in this complex and ever changing world that we live in today, we are charged with ensuring that Virgin Islanders and the people who call these islands home have every opportunity to succeed and we must see it as part of our job on a daily basis.
Thank you all for the work that you have done thus far. I look forward to your continued support in 2016 as we fulfill our mission and do our part, to advance this Territory. Thank you all, and may God continue to bless the Virgin Islands.