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Sister Islands grab educational opportunities

Published on Wednesday, May 13, 2009 Email To Friend    Print Version

Students and teachers enjoy an interactive learning environment, such as the Statistics class taught by Edna Platt.

By Kristel Galimba

In today’s global village, the only way for the youth to compete with the rest of the world is through proper education, Moses Kirkconnell said to the opening ceremony of the University College of the Cayman Islands’ (UCCI) Brac Campus last year.

Mr Kirkconnell was at the time speaking in his capacity as the second elected member of the Legislative Assembly for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman – popularly known as the Sister Islands to Grand Cayman.

“This is a great day for the Cayman Brac community. The opening of a tertiary institution in the Sister Islands is a critical milestone in the development of our community. We understand the importance of providing college level courses for our school leavers and the significance of providing ongoing training for all the rest of us. This is not about building a school, this is about building our people,” he said.

“Given the opportunity, the people of Cayman Brac always rise to the occasion. And I know this will be no different. This opportunity to advance their skills and expand their horizons through education is one that I’m sure will be heavily embraced.”

Cayman Net News found out that it only takes a casual walk through the classrooms to see the latest technology in use and students of all ages improving their skills and knowledge. Residents, both young and old, have indeed embraced this opportunity, with school records showing an amazing student age range from 17-70.

“The best thing about it is the fact that it’s finally here. Do you know how long we’ve waited for this to happen?” said Kathryn Ebanks, a 21-year-old student studying for an Associate’s degree in Social Studies.

“It is so wonderful to know that we do not have to leave home to further our education.”

Before this, local residents had to leave their homes and travel to attend classes in Grand Cayman – the most developed of the three islands making up the Cayman Islands. The lack of a local university was an additional barrier they all had to overcome to improve, they said.

Members of Mr Kirkconnell’s committee remember their discussions four years ago of prioritising the establishment of a university campus in the Brac. They acknowledged it as a critical part of the overall infrastructure they wanted to build to support a knowledge economy. Now they, along with Mr Kirkconnell, are proud to have been part of that vision and the team that made it a reality.

Ms Ebanks, who is also working as a receptionist at the Brac offices of Bodden & Bodden Attorneys-at-Law, was pleased with the flexibility of the classes.

“As a young mother, I am happy that I do not have to sacrifice my day job nor time with my son to be able to go to school. Besides, if something comes up and you cannot make one class, there is always the alternative of taking the video link session,” she said.

With the advancement of technology, some courses are offered via video link, so that the Brac students are able to virtually attend lecture sessions given at the UCCI’s Grand Cayman campus. At both locations, students are able to interact with their instructor and their classmates; thus the classroom learning experience is not diminished in any way.

Campus Director Martin Keeley said: “UCCI provides two forms of class presentation: live teachers who live in the Brac or visit here, and the Polycom video link which gives real-time, inter-active coverage of classes broadcast live from the Grand Cayman campus.”

The live courses on offer provide the basic year one level of classes that students would take anywhere in the first year of school. These cover basic Math, English, Spanish, Computer Science and Environmental Science. The video link classes cover everything from Accounting to Social Studies and Psychology. These courses are specifically required for all first year entry-level students.

Another avenue for learning is the newly-established Civil Service College (CSC) whose popular classes involve computer science and accounting. Continuing education is very popular on all levels, so officials have added new classes to cover everything from art to housing construction technology and learning English as a second language. Students wishing to retake their GCSE Math and English as well as SATs can do so, and they can also learn everything from running a construction design AutoCAD programme to swimming.

Ms Ebanks said that opportunities like these serve as a springboard to a bigger dream. “My Social Sciences degree will pave the way for when I take up Child Psychology and Youth Development in England,” she said.

“I recognise that there is a need to do something for the young people of Cayman Brac and I wish to be certified so that I can provide counseling services and organise productive activities especially for teenagers. We always complain that there’s nothing to do, and I believe it is time the youth created something for ourselves.”

Like her, school-leavers Robert Tatum and Brianna Jackson have also taken advantage of the courses at the UCCI. The two characterised the Brac campus as a very nurturing environment.

“At least half of the faculty members at UCCI also teach at the Cayman Brac High School. And because they already know us, they know what our strengths and weaknesses are, they know how to drive us to achieve more,” said Mr Tatum.

“I have taken basic courses to prepare for the Tourism Programme offered at the Grand Cayman campus and I believe that doing so has given me the tools and the confidence to succeed there,” Ms Jackson said.

Residents say the most unique thing about the Brac campus is the fact that it has attracted quite a number of students who are well into their 30s and 40s – both public and private sector employees.

“When we were planning the way forward, we conducted a survey to determine the tertiary education needs of residents and businesses in the Sister Islands and we found that the needs range from basic adult literacy to technical and vocational courses, as well as college level studies,” Mr Kirkconnell said.

For this reason, tertiary education, as well as vocational courses, are offered. Mr Keeley explained: “The college provides a three-tier educational service. Students wishing to take their two-year Associate’s degree can do so at the beginning of this year. There were some 48 students enrolled in
this programme.”

“We also provide educational opportunities through the CSC, which runs concurrently. We had some two dozen students enrolled in September 2008. On the other hand, our Continuing Education Programme which this year provides 11 courses, had a total initial enrollment of about 90 students.

“Since Hurricane Paloma, our numbers have dropped, and we now have some 30 students in the UCCI classes, 20 in the Civil Service College, and about 40 in Continuing Education.”

UCCI anticipates further growth in the coming school year, the Campus Director said.

“With the new intake of students from Cayman Brac High School, we will continue with the first year entry level courses as well as the video link classes. We will also be adding more for our second year students. We are hoping to add a second Polycom unit to enable us to cover these second year programmes,” he said.

“In addition, we expect to be adding more vocational programmes as the year progresses. These will again fill a need for students who want to enter the trades. I anticipate that we will easily reach and exceed the student numbers as we did last September, especially when considering the number of graduating students from the high school.

“We will also be adding more vocational courses, as well as increasing our Continuing Education offerings. We are also looking at running “total immersion” computer training classes here for adult students from North America.”

The dream for a tertiary level institution was realised through the strong support of Government, the UCCI official said.

“The Brac campus had wholehearted support from Cabinet. There were at least two Brac workshops held to ascertain the real need for a campus here, both of them the brainchild of MLA Moses Kirkconnell. Once the need had been clearly established and defined, support of Education Minister Alden McLaughlin and the rest of his colleagues -- especially the financial backing -- enabled UCCI to put the pieces together and open the campus last year. It would be true to say that Mr Kirkconnell has been key to the continued operation of the campus, as well as helping to solve any problems that have arisen during a somewhat tumultuous first year,” Mr Keeley added.

Mr Kirkconnell, who is seeking reelection during the 20 May general elections, says he is dedicated to providing residents with the opportunity to succeed and will push toward improving and expanding vocational training at the Brac campus.

“We are focusing on programmes to build strong families and a thriving community and UCCI as a community learning centre is at the heart of that mission.”

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