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Statement by Minister for Education and Culture, Honourable Myron V. Walwyn

“A Quality Education Remains Our Primary Opportunity”

Address for the Start of the 2016-2017 Academic Year Monday, September 5, 2016
“A Quality Education Remains Our Primary Opportunity”

ROAD TOWN, Tortola (BVIGIS) -- I am Myron V. Walwyn, Minister of Education and Culture, and it is with pleasure that I take this opportunity to address educators, parents, students and the general community at the start of the 2016 – 2017 school year.

Each school year brings with it an exciting opportunity to learn new things, to reach closer to the goal of finishing a particular stage of education and watching our young people mature.  It means more than a new school uniform, new books and meeting new friends.  For our youth, a quality education remains our primary opportunity to have the young people of these islands realize their wildest ambitions, and in those ambitions lies the opportunity for the advancement of our great Territory.  

Over the past five years our public education system has gone through significant improvements. From the introduction of economically and culturally significant subjects such as Financial Services, Tourism, Civics and the like, to the requirement of all students to sit the Caribbean Examination Council CSEC assessments, the introduction of CAPE at Grade 12, the discontinuance of the Primary School Leaving Exams, to the change in nomenclature from class and forms to grades.  

These improvements have not been easy for the Ministry to make, but we recognised after surveying what was happening in the rest of the world, looking at the availability of opportunities for our young people right here at home, their experiences on the job and at universities abroad, as well as the desperate need to better prepare our people to be stakeholders in the development of the Virgin Islands, we maintain that those improvements are necessary.

With the shift in the world's economy in seeking more competence based professionals, it is necessary to ensure that our students are competitive beyond the shores of the Virgin Islands.  It is through their knowledge and skills that we as a Territory will find new industries, chart new courses for our development and remain competitive in our global economy.  So as we continue our overall journey to create within our education system and in the lives of our students, a culture of excellence, this academic year, we will be guided by the theme, Care for Me, Teach Me, I will Learn as we endeavour to provide our young people an improved level of education, that is comparable with any modernised economy.  

As with anything new, we understand that there will be teething pains, but we remain committed to open dialogue with our community, our educators, our parents and our students so that together we can realise the best educational environment and opportunities for our young people on all of our islands.

We are seeking to further enhance our educators and education administrators across the Virgin Islands.  We see them as the architects of our society.  It is in their classrooms that our students develop ideas and discover their marks of identity. So we will continue to invest in the development of our leaders and ensure that our students meet a positive and productive environment in every classroom and in every school in the Virgin Islands.

Professional development sessions are held every term for all teachers and principals where they are exposed to the current trends in education.  We have just completed another Summer professional development programme where our teachers were exposed to sessions which included Planning for students who are different, Writing Individual Education Plans; Writing Valid Assessment Instruments; Using Assessment Data to provide effective feedback; Developing critical thinking in students; Teaching for Mastery learning; Leadership skills for initiating and sustaining change in education, school safety and Healthy schools among others.

Teachers for the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations, commonly known as CAPE subjects also went through training organized by the Caribbean Examinations Council.  It was a rich experience from all accounts and as we make this investment in our educators I know we will see positive changes in our system.

We will continue to enhance the knowledge and skills of our educators to integrate the use of technology in the education process. Our teachers for years have yearned for the opportunity to be online while teaching students. An MOU signed with two of the Territory’s telecommunications providers will provide unfettered and dedicated Internet access to our schools at a significantly increased speed of 100 megabytes. This opportunity is a significant step in upgrading the teaching and learning process.

Not only will it make the teaching and learning process in schools more exciting, 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 as conduct research much faster while at school.

We continue to work at the Early Childhood level to 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.

We are currently in the infancy stage of our plans to develop a Teacher Education Institute at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, which will be responsible for training and providing professional development to all educators, including a certificate programme for our Early Childhood Instructors.  We believe that once better trained, we will see students entering into the primary education system much better prepared and will have a stronger foundation on which to build, for their secondary and tertiary education.

In addition, we are working on improving our early intervention programme in all schools.  With the restructuring of the ministry, the student support unit will have additional teachers assigned in this upcoming school year to serve as remedial teachers.  An Intervention specialist has also been added to the Student Support Unit who will coordinate individual education plans for students. Our policy of inclusive education is one of priority as we believe that every child can succeed.

Key stage assessments were held in June for Grades Four and Six students. 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 Assessments 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. I caution however, this is not a reintroduction of a common entrance examination, it is an assessment to determine where our students are in their development to help both teachers and parents understand how they need to continue working with the children to enable their success.

We have implemented 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. As stated earlier, training for our teachers took place during our summer training last week.

Those students who complete the requisite number of CAPE modules to qualify for higher education will have the opportunity to obtain a scholarship and move ahead to university without completing an Associate Degree at HLSCC.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is important that we encourage our children and work with them to become successful at the CXC Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) as this is our benchmark to ensure that our young people are ready and able to compete with their peers not only in the region but worldwide. CXC is an internationally accepted examining body. Five CSEC subjects inclusive of Mathematics and English can get your child in the door of a university. Add the requisite CAPE subjects and they can get advanced placement. A foundation at the CSEC level goes a long way in ensuring better passes at HLSCC or any other college for an Associate Degree and thus a better chance of getting into university to complete a Bachelors Degree. We must hold our students to the highest standards so that they can be in a position to do well as they hone their careers through higher education.

As we get ready to implement Grade 12, I want to assure all that the Ministry has been working diligently to ensure the smooth transition of the Grade 12 students who will be finishing their high school tenure at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College campuses both for Elmore Stoutt High and the Bregado Flax Educational Centre. Students will be transported to and from the campuses on a daily basis as well as at the times when there are blocks for technical subjects which must be done at their regular school campus.  Teachers along with Administrative staff are in place on the HLSCC campuses to ensure the smooth running of the timetable and that students are where they should be.

Students with the opportunity to be dually enrolled will be involved in college classes and the College is prepared for them. The Chief Education Officer and HLSCC faculty as well as the Principals have been meeting to ensure that everything is in place for the start of classes. We look forward to the cooperation of all as we work together to make this a success and to give our students the opportunity to excel.

I want to thank the College’s Administration and the Chief Education Officer and her team for making sure that all areas are covered for the smooth transition until we have the necessary classrooms on the high school campuses up and ready.

We were happy that we were able to carry out remedial works during the summer break at 95 percent of our schools in the Territory and we expect more works to be carried out during this first term. I take this opportunity to thank the Maintenance Manager, Mr Glenn Smith and his team and Ms Lorna Stevens who have been spearheading the work of school projects for their hard work.

The Virgin Islands School of Technical Studies (VISTS) has had another remarkable year and we are seeking to build on the interest in the school to provide opportunities for students. We will continue to work towards providing our students with opportunities to gain knowledge and skills in the fields of technical and vocational education as these skills are important in our community.

We have been in discussions with some of the owners of auto mechanic shops, beauty salons, construction companies, restaurants and hotels to afford students of VISTS the opportunity for practical training and to complete internships.  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, their potential employers.  Out of such partnerships, our students will not only have practical working experience, but also a foot in the door for job opportunities. I am calling on our community to be a part of this venture and help our students become the best they can be in their areas of specialization and thus build a cadre of persons who are critical to the development of the Virgin Islands.

We are also preparing the school to offer the Caribbean Vocational Qualifications (CVQs) to ensure that our technical students have various pathways to qualify themselves for further education and or join the world of work.

As a result, our teachers at the Virgin Islands School of Technical Studies also received further training through the HEART Trust National Training Agency of Jamaica as well as having the school assessed for the offering of CVQs.

We at the Ministry have taken a major decision after consultation with the Principal and parents of the Jost Van Dyke community to end the continuation of Grades 7-8 and revert to having these students return to the Elmore Stoutt High School. To continue with Grades 7-8 in the primary school is to short-change those students as they did not have the opportunity to be taught by teachers with specialist training in each of the subject areas to be covered. These students will be attending the Elmore Stoutt High School starting this September.

As I welcome our educators back to the start of a new school year, I say thank you for your continued commitment to the task of preparing our young people. Your profession is a noble one. Principals and Teachers become our children’s parents away from home, their counselors, nurses, friends, encouragers and so you have an awesome task. It is not one to be taken lightly and I encourage you that even amidst the stresses, you are the beacon and much is expected of you. I thank you and ask you to stand strong amidst the storm as our young people and country depend on you.

Parents, I wish to thank you for being an active part of our education system, for taking the time to be with your children and ensuring their success. While this is true of the majority of our parents there are always a few who are not as diligent. I am appealing to all our parents to get even more involved in their children’s school life. I ask you to instill in your child the virtues of manners and respect. Discipline starts at your home and it is very difficult, or impossible for teachers during school hours while delivering academic instructions to do what some of you fail to do at home.

As school is made up of students who come from the community, that school will be a reflection of the community and not necessarily the performance of the teachers. So as parents it is our responsibility to ensure that our children are on time for school, that they are properly dressed in their uniforms, that they bring their books and other necessary learning material, and that they complete their assignments.  There is a role for all stakeholders to play in this journey towards excellence in our education system, part of our job as parents, is to hold our children to account.

I also want to take this opportunity to remind all parents as well, that you have a legal responsibility to ensure their children are in school. It is an offence if a parent neglects or refuses to place their child in a school. According to the Education Act, legal proceedings can be taken against a parent or parents that do not ensure that their children are in school. Now parents I understand the hard work that you must put in to provide for your household but we cannot neglect this important responsibility to educate our children.  Without a proper education our children are being set up for a life of poverty and they will not be adequately equipped to make a meaningful contribution to the development of this country and live independent lives. It is the responsibility of parents to ensure that your children are in school.  When I say parents, I mean both mother and father.

Our Truancy Officers have been doing a sterling job of getting our children into school or assisting where they have been involved in deviant behaviour. The Officers have been involved in patrolling, and observation, assessments, investigation, student counseling and parent counseling. However, they cannot do it alone and we need the parents to become more involved. It has become obvious that those students who have been involved in truancy from their primary years are carrying it over to their secondary years. I will be giving instructions to our Chief Education Officer, beginning this school year, to formally notify the Department of Pubic Prosecution of those parents that continually allow their child or children to be absent from school without valuable cause.

As we go into the year with our theme ‘Care for Me, Teach Me, I will Learn’ I am comforted that every principal, teacher, education officer, parent, guardian and all others in the system will do everything in their power to ensure that our children receive the best education we can provide. Let us all work together to build a culture of excellence in our education system and in the lives of our students that will see the Virgin Islands thrive in the 21st century.  Thank you all, and may God continue to bless these Virgin Islands.