STATEMENT BY MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, CULTURE, YOUTH AFFAIRS, FISHERIES AND AGRICULTURE
DR. THE HONOURABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
AT THE OPENING CEREMONY FOR EDUCATION WEEK 2020
SUNDAY, MARCH 8, 2020
CONTINUE TO ENCOURAGE, ENGAGE, EMPOWER AND EDUCATE
Good afternoon everyone.
I adopt the protocol which has already been established, but allow me to acknowledge the Premier and other members of cabinet, the members of the House of Assembly, permanent secretary in my ministry, the Chief Education Officer, and other education officials, principals, teachers, parents, students.
Allow me also to wish all the strong women in the Virgin Islands a Happy International Woman’s Day. The Virgin Islands has many powerful women, and I recognize the three women of power in the House of Assembly, Honourable Alvera Maduro-Caines, Honourable Shereen Flax-Charles, and Honourable Sharie Decastro. I also salute the women in the public service. In my ministry, the leadership team is almost exclusively women. These days you see so many women lawyers and doctors, women judges and media professionals, business women, and even women maintenance officers, engineers and project managers. When you look at the churches, we can all think about the women who are strong pillars, holding that institution up. Women also dominate one of the most important activities our society has—raising our children. It is clear to see that in our government, in our community, and in our homes, women are an invaluable and essential componen, and we cannot live without you all. I celebrate you with my whole heart.
It is appropriate that this day coincides with Education Week because the Education System has so many strong women. I grew up around strong women educators. My grandfather, Gad Malone had 8 daughters, and three of them became teachers, including my mother. Two or my four sisters are educators. I have a real appreciation for the women in our education system. Thank you for the work you do.
It is my honour and privilege to be here with you for my second education week as Minister of Education. I have learned a lot about our education system since I gave my speech in 2019, shortly after the general election, and I understand very clearly what must be done to improve our education system, and I have the determination to do what has to be done.
The theme for Education Week 2020, “Engage, Encourage, Empower—Educate” is an appropriate one and fits well into our educational reform agenda. It is important that I take this opportunity to, firstly, encourage principals, teachers, parents, and students because we need encouragement. Many times, principals and teachers do not get the credit they deserve for the hard work they do. In fact, up to recently, it seems as though there is an upsurgence of criticism of principals and teachers in our society. While principals and teachers are not perfect, I want to encourage you to keep pressing ahead in delivering for our students. I know it is hard to find motivation when you are unappreciated; I know it is difficult given the less than ideal working conditions; I know you can never be paid for what you do, but I encourage you to press on.
Last night, I attended the introduction night for the VI school of Technical Studies Class of 2020. And it reaffirmed to me the impact that principals and teachers have on students. Many of these students were fighting to hold back tears in describing the love they have for their principals and teachers. The effort we make leave indelible impressions on the hearts of young people. Decades later, these young people will remember that special teacher that helped them achieve their hopes and aspirations.
I also want to encourage parents, especially, those single parents who are struggling to make ends meet, those parents who have to balance multiple jobs to put food on the table, especially those who have students with special educational needs or who are struggling to keep their children on a trouble free path. Don’t give up on your children. Keep fighting for them. Keep pushing them towards their God given destiny. An investment in children is one of the greatest investments we can make, and the return on that investment is a better Virgin Islands for us all.
I certainly want to encourage our students. I want to affirm to you that hard work pays off. I want you to know that you should always strive for excellence, and if you are not getting the results you want, there are individuals in the system who are working hard to help you. The most important factor in your success is your will and desire for learning, for improvement. I encourage you to develop a true hunger for learning and model yourselves after successful people in our community. Follow the tried and tested formulas for success, acknowledging that there are multiple paths to a particular goal, and you will achieve greatness.
Secondly, it is my intention to engage with various stakeholders with the aim of reforming the system, helping principals, teachers, parents, and students meet their objectives. I am about to activate the Education Advisory Board, which the most recent Education Act made allowances for, though it was never formed. It will have representation from the Parent Teacher Association, the Teachers Union, principals, the business community, NGO’s, education experts, among other groups. The Education Act also gives me the power to form special committees, and, therefore, before the month is out, I will form a special committee on Special Education, bringing together a number of stakeholders in this vital area to provide recommendations in regard to diagnosis, the formation and execution of individualized educational plans, resources to assist special needs students, such as additional TA’s in the classroom, providing access to various specialists, and the list goes on. I am glad the Minister of Finance, a former Education Minister, is here because when we implement these new revenue measures, I will be making a strong appeal for more special education officer posts and more TA’s. I thank you in advance great leader.
I have also engaged international partners. In January I went on a tour of special needs schools in the UK, visiting a special needs primary school, a main stream school with services for students with mild learning disabilities, and a massive special needs primary and high school, called Glenwood, for students with mild to severe learning disabilities. I was toured around the school by the Principal and architect, who is the consultant hired by the architectural firm, redesigning Eslyn Henley Richez Learning Center. I should mention as well that I am excited about a land swap between the Magistrates court and Eslyn Henley’s current location, facilitated by the Minister of Lands as well as Cabinet. This swap will place Eslyn Henley closer to Althea Scatliffe and allow them to share resources, such as the school playground.
We are also engaging our regional partners, Caricom, who will be helping us with the implementation of recently agreed teaching standards for the region, and the OECS, who is supporting the implementation of the OECS Education Sector Strategy.
I have also had preliminary discusssions with the Teachers Task Force, under UNESCO, for a comprehensive Education Review, which will further guide our ambitious educational reforms.
One glaring omission in our stakeholder engagement is targeting our young people, who the education system should be serving. I will take this opportunity to announce that, for the very first time, we will be having a Junior Minister of Education, a student who will engage on educational issues, providing much needed perspective from our student population. This is an idea that I credit to Jordan Dawson, who recently made a proposal on this matter. More details on this initiative will be forthcoming.
I will end my remarks today, focusing on our efforts to empower. In September we hope to relaunch our teacher education programme at HL Stoutt community college, as a means of empowering those who would like to pursue teaching as a career. I also hope to relaunch a Bachelor’s degree programme and, even, launch Master’s degree programmes, which will be facilitated through relationships with regional and international universities.
Let there be no confusion on this, our education system has several areas that need improvement, but I recognize the persons in the system fighting hard every day to equip our young people with the skills necessary for their success. Know that I am a committed partner in this process. Know that there will be no stone that will be unturned in pursuit of our ambition towards excellence. Know that I will, indeed, encourage, engage, and empower, for, as the Territorial Song says, “educating our people is the golden key to maintain the success of this Territory.” I am grateful for your kind attention. God bless you and God bless our education system. I officially declare Education Week open. Please participate and enjoy the activities! I thank you!