Remarks by Minister for Education and Culture
Honourable Myron V. Walwyn
Professional Development Day for Educators
Monday, August 22, 2016
“From the earliest years of our lives and the lives of our children, educators guide us, encourage us, and inspire us to be the best we can be.”
Greetings Virgin Islands educators and school administrators. Let me offer you all a hearty welcome back from your vacations and wish you in advance, an exciting and successful 2016/2017 school year. It is once again a time for new dreams and aspirations, the opportunity to reflect and make new plans for the success of our students, and another chance to impact the lives of the young people whose education has been entrusted to us.
I thank you for being an integral part of the commitment to give our young people the opportunity to be the best that they can be. I want to reiterate the word “commitment” because that is what teaching is all about – if you are not committed, not willing to be committed then you are in the wrong profession. Teaching in my book is a sacred calling and so the theme for the new academic year is very apt – Care for Me; Teach Me; I will Learn!
American Geophysicist Paula J. Fox said, “Teachers inspire the smallest heart to grow big enough to change the world.” When we consider the people who had the most impact on our lives, teachers are always among the first to leap to mind. From the earliest years of our lives and the lives of our children, educators guide us, encourage us, and inspire us to be the best we can be.
Teachers, you dedicate your lives to providing a positive example for the children in your care. You are not only educators: you are role models, social workers, disciplinarians, cheerleaders—the list goes on and on. But in our community, and communities around the world, you provide support and stability for our children, some have no other support outside of your encouraging words and safe classrooms. You help students build self-esteem, discover and pursue their passions, and conquer adversity. You teach them to learn from their mistakes and to keep striving to improve themselves —no matter what! From your time with our children, the trajectory of a life is established, and our society is shaped.
Today, I encourage all of you to take a moment to reflect on the difference you can make in the life of the students entrusted to you, and I hope in that moment, you also find a renewed commitment to ensuring our students are even more successful this year and that the Virgin Islands is provided with knowledgeable and well rounded young people, ready to add to the greatness of this Territory.
Research around the world has over and over again shown that the two constants in improving learning outcomes in schools are strong and effective school leadership and quality teachers. While countries around the world face varying issues from internal civil wars, political instability, economic woes to environmental issues and natural disasters, the world recognises that students who are in caring and nurturing school environments show positive improvements in their learning and their lives. And where there are positive learning outcomes, young people have a better chance of overcoming all these ills and becoming part of the solutions needed in our world today.
Like the rest of the world, the Virgin Islands as a member of UNESCO has signed on to the 2030 Education Agenda as we strive to ensure that our young people are prepared to face the uncertain future, are citizens who embrace and respect diversity, imbue Territorial pride and understand the importance of protecting the environment.
Education in general; but I daresay right here in the Virgin Islands require fundamental rethinking. Change is the only answer which we must all accept. As we assess and analyse our education system with the passing of each year there are problems that we discover, many questions to be faced, and many decisions to be made.
Education is the key to generating growth, adding value and variety to what we produce as a country but it also serves to strengthen our country because it encourages a civic culture and coexistence in diversity. Education is and must continue to be the cornerstone of building a more economically prosperous society and a more equitable community.
It is against this backdrop that we have launched numerous initiatives over the past few years and there is still much more to be done. Each of us has a role to play from the administration in the Ministry, to the Chief Education Officer and all the Education Officers, Principals and teachers, truancy officers, administrative staff, janitors, and maintenance workers. Every single person employed in the education system is vital to the turning of the wheel – if one person in the link stops then it creates havoc - it causes a domino effect which at some point affects the outcomes and this inevitably means we affect the education and future of the children entrusted to us.
As educators you must be ready to face the tough decisions which we need to make to have our education system see the improvements that are now required in order to see our students become competitive in the world market, to see attitudes change among our young people, and to see our society become an even better place.
After being thoroughly briefed by senior education professionals in our Ministry, it was in early 2012 that I announced that I would be championing several changes in our education system to create a culture of excellence in our schools and in the lives of our students. These were not easy decisions, and today I even more so believe, that those decisions were all necessary. I know that there have been mixed emotions on some of our decisions, but I can stand here and tell you today, that every decision made from my office, was made with the best interest of our students at all times.
Some of our decisions, from the introduction of Tourism and Financial Services in the curriculum, the development of our remedial programme in secondary schools, the abolishing of the Primary 5 Examinations and the establishing of Key Stage Testing, to the heightened prominence of CXC CSEC and CAPE examinations, to the development of our technical and vocational high school, and our licensure of principals, were all necessary and important initiatives that I know will pay tremendous dividends to the education system and to the quality of students that we release into the world. None of these are isolated and are all part of our move to achieve of our goals of a stronger and a 21st Century ready education system.
As we move into the new School year and in a few months into the new calendar /financial year, we look forward to strengthening the Grade 12 programme and having our students move on to the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) as well as being dually enrolled at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College as they complete their high school requirements and develop the maturity and strong foundation needed for success at university or in the world of work. I am very excited about the CAPE subjects to be pursued especially those which are referred to as the New Generation subjects such as Entrepreneurship, Financial Services and Tourism with others to be added later.
In the near future the Caribbean Primary Exit Assessment will be used as the Key Stage testing for Grade 6. This will allow us to have a transparent review of where our Grade 6 students stand in comparison to their counterparts throughout the region. As we make further decisions about our education system, it is going to be important for us to have unbiased data to inform our decisions on changes needed in our primary education system.
In addition to the CSEC and CAPE examinations we look forward to being a part of the programme to be rolled out in the region through the Caribbean Examinations Council as plans are finalised in 2017 where our students can be a part of the TIMSS (the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and PIRLS (the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) assessment of student achievement in order to get a comparative picture of where we stand in the world with the education of our children. It is only through such benchmarks that we will get a true picture of where our children are and be able to make the necessary adjustments to ensure they get the best possible education for the future.
I would like at this moment to thank and congratulate all of our teachers for the performance of our students in the recent CSEC examinations. These examinations provide us with an indication of our educational standings in the region and provides very useful data for us to see the strengths and areas of opportunity for improvements in our system where necessary.
Despite the challenges that we are facing, the Government of the Virgin Islands remain dedicated to investing in training and development of our educators. We see opportunities such as this week and other initiatives as a serious investment in our teachers, but also in our students and the development of the long term human capital that is required even now to support the advancement of the Virgin Islands.
We will continue the training of Principals and senior teachers in the NCEL leadership programme. We recently licensed our first group of Principals in June. We are the first country in the Caribbean to do so with others following fast on our heels. By June 2017 we hope to have completed the second cohort in this training and so would have developed a cohort of persons ready to take up principal positions as they become available. This is our move to ensure succession planning in the system. We will also be training our Education Officers as this is important as they take on their supervisory roles. I daresay that there is no other department in the Government of the Virgin Islands that has a better leadership succession plan than the Ministry of Education.
In this vein we will be working with H. Lavity Stoutt Community College to revamp the teacher education unit and establish a Teacher Education Institute which will be responsible for training and licensing of teachers from Early Childhood to Secondary and also responsible for professional development programmes. We expect that upon leaving the institute teachers will be adequately prepared for today’s classroom and further have an institution to which they can go to refresh themselves and gain further professional development to keep on the cutting edge of their trade. In the future, in lieu of this week’s training, teachers will be required to complete a set number of professional development hours to maintain their teaching license.
As we continue on this journey towards excellence, we will equip the Student Support Service Unit to better assist those students who need special help at whatever end of the spectrum they fall. We will be adding a member of staff to assist that unit to work along with teachers in the preparation and implementation of IEPs for those students who need this help. We will strengthen our remediation programme in the primary schools and in the secondary schools to ensure that none of our students are left on the fringes. An inclusive education system is the only way to go if we all agree that every child must succeed.
As we move forward we must continue to address the area of technology in schools. During the 2014/2015 school year, we piloted an ICT programme to integrate the use of technology in the learning process of our Grade 5 students in eight primary schools. I am pleased to announce, that starting this September, this programme will be expanded to all primary schools in the Territory. An additional 248 laptops have already been purchased, and are already in the hands of our ICT instructors. This has allowed us to now have 350 laptops for our students in Grade 5. We are already planning for the further expansion of this programme to our Grade 6 students for the 2017/2018 school year.
We have put in place this school year, an itinerant IT unit to work with all schools and we will be working along with the telecommunications businesses – Digicel and Flow along with the Department of Information and Technology – to ensure that we have the wireless infrastructure and the bandwidth needed for the teaching and learning process. Our ICT programme is not a computer course in isolation, but it is designed for students to use these computers across all subjects, connecting the use of today’s technology in their learning. In the same vein, we will be working on improving the classrooms for the lower secondary classes as we replace the traditional blackboards with Promethium Boards. It is our intention to replace all traditional blackboards with Promethium Boards in our secondary schools over the next three years.
I am also pleased to announce, that we already have in hand, 20 Promethium Boards that will be rolled out to Grade 7 in our secondary schools starting this September. Members of our itinerant IT unit have already received training from Promethium on the proper use and integration of these boards in the teaching and learning process. As part of this Summer Institute Programme, Mrs. Monica Cills-Hodge, and Ms Lauren Welch will be giving Promethium Board training to Grade 7 teachers. I ask all educators to fully embrace these initiatives, as we strive to create a modern learning and teaching environment to ensure that you our educators, have access to the wealth of information that is online, as well as be equipped with a more modern way to capture the imagination of our students and engage them across all subjects.
Ensuring that our students have access to quality education is our overarching goal. We are committed to ensuring that this happens across the Territory, from Anegada to Jost Van Dyke. It is with this in mind that we had discussions with the community of Jost Van Dyke and will be discontinuing the secondary division for Grades 7 through 9 on that Sister Island. We will be returning those students to the Elmore Stoutt High School as it is agreed that this is the best avenue for them.
As we seek to develop well rounded students, our culture and the artistic expression of the same are important in maintaining key aspects of our heritage. We have made tremendous strides in building national pride with the implementation of our Territorial Song, our Territorial Dress, Territorial signs and symbols and other important tenants of the Virgin Islander. We recently passed in the House of Assembly, our Territorial Pledge, which we expect to be recited every morning by our students, whether it be at general or class assembly. Teachers, these things may sound simple, but they are all part of our goal to develop good and responsible students, and our education system has the most important part to play in achieving this.
The education system has an important role to play as well in keeping our culture alive. I must commend past Education Minister, Honourable Eileene Parsons for her deep interest and efforts in introducing cultural dance in our schools. Somewhere along the line, this important element of our culture was allowed to fade away and it is time for it to be re-instituted. While we do have some schools such as the Enis Adams Primary School with a vibrant dance group, we want to ensure we have such cultural representations in all of our primary schools. To achieve this, at the Ministry we intend to hire a Cultural Instructor to assist in the implementation of cultural dance classes and other opportunities to inform and inspire interest in preserving our heritage from our students. Principals and teachers, I am giving you a year’s notice, with the support of this Cultural Instructor, I expect to see coming down Waterfront Drive and in East End for our August Festival parades, troupes from all of our primary schools.
We will continue to do our best to ensure that all our schools are as adequately resourced as we can to allow for their smooth running and for the creation of the best environment possible. We know that it is not possible to have everything on the wish list but very often the claims of no resources are unfounded as the resources are there, but someone in the system dropped the ball and the poor Minister and the Government gets blamed. I ask you to recall that earlier on I mentioned that each of us in our education system has an important role to play and if one link in the chain gets weak, the integrity of the entire chain is compromised. I am not in the habit of throwing persons who work under my charge under the bus, so in the spirit of a new school year, I am asking all persons who know that they have specific responsibilities, to carry out those responsibilities and carry them out well.
In conclusion, I remind all of us that at the core of all we do, we must continue to equip the next generation with the best gift we can give them, as teachers and parents, and as a country and a people: the gift of education and thinking – education in values and character, education in knowledge, critical thinking and problem solving. As Virgin Islanders we are recognised as a friendly, hard-working disciplined, and upright people. These values are our national identity and our spirit. We must continue to build on this core, and avoid the development of an entitlement mentality and the acceptance of mediocrity and resist the temptation to be intolerant, non-compliant and indifferent to the opportunities which previous generations and now us, work so hard to provide the Territory’s youth.
We are all stewards of future generations. As educators, you carry a great responsibility. What you do today, will shape the character, values and successes of our people and the society we live in tomorrow. As you reflect on the upcoming year, if nothing else I want you to reflect on the awesome responsibility that you have – are you up to it? Ask yourselves the tough questions and seek honest answers. I also implore you to make the best of all the sessions planned throughout the week as every session touches on important areas of our system. As you all encourage your students to do in the classroom, this week please be engaged, ask questions, get excited and have these sessions and our facilitators help you add value to your time with our students.
As we forge ahead towards another school year, I wish you the clarity of mind and the firmness of purpose. I can only say again a simple thank you as you start another year of your mission and commitment to develop and care for our next generation. May God’s blessings be abound in your lives this school year, and in turn, may you continue to bless this Territory with your service. Thank you.