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Keeping our focus on the Big Issues as the School Year Begins

By now, all the students are getting ready for school, whether from Kindergarten, which means ‘garden for the children’, to University. Moreover, educators, at whatever level, are getting into the rhythm and familiar activities of their profession.

This semester, as all the others, has come with its familiar challenges, but even as educators take these on, we must keep our eyes on the big issues as to why we are all in the business of education and, in particular, the role of the education sector in the Cayman Islands.

As we teach our classes or administer in our various settings, let us not lose focus of the fact that our every activity, however seemingly unimportant, must be toward the educational project, the creation of well-trained minds and persons of sound characters.

After all, as the World Bank report 2008 says, highly educated people are needed to achieve sustained good governance, strong institutions and a developed infrastructure. Therefore, education is the single most important factor affecting a country’s development and the most sustainable approach to poverty alleviation.

Frederick H. Harbison goes even further when he writes that human resources are the ultimate basis of the wealth of nations and that a country’s pursuit of wealth is synonymous with achieving the maximum possible utilization of human beings in productive activity and the fullest possible development of the skills, knowledge and capacities of the labour force.

It is human resources- ‘the energies, skills, talent, and knowledge of people which are, or which potentially can or should be applied to the production of goods or the rendering of useful services for the social, political, cultural and economic development of nations” says Harbison. So all of us who are involved in education, are engaged in the most important project on the island and are therefore part of that engine of social and economic progress and development.

However, even as we emphasize an education that prepares our students to think critically, to innovate and to adapt, we must also teach values. As important as Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) are, and the Arts and the Socials Sciences, education must build character. Core ethical values such as caring, honesty, fairness, compassion, trustworthiness, self-discipline, a strong work ethic, responsibility and respect for others must be built into the curriculum and into our lessons. Thomas Lickona’s outline of the ‘Eleven Principles of Effective Character Education’ in the Journal of Moral Education is a good start. Character Education is the term used for efforts to implement programmes in moral values, ethics and citizenship education.

He says further that ‘In an effective character education program, character is broadly conceived to encompass the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral aspects of the moral life. Good character consists of understanding, caring about, and acting upon core ethical values. The task of character education therefore is to help students and all other members of the learning community know "the good," value it, and act upon it.’

If not, we would have missed the point of true education, which at its heart must develop whole persons as fundamentally good human beings, considerate of self, others, and the broader human community.

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