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Commentary: Technical education - myth or reality? The case of the Turks and Caicos
Published on December 7, 2016 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Carlton Mills

Over the years, there has been ongoing talk about the provision of Technical Education in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). Some have argued that this is an urgent need. Others share a more cautious and optimistic view. Still others feel that with the ongoing development that the country is currently experiencing, there is the need for more Turks and Caicos Islanders to be trained in the technical and vocational areas.

Dr Carlton Mills received his early education in South Caicos. He pursued studies at Excelsior Community College, University of the West Indies, University of London, University of Bristol and his doctorate in Education at the University of Sheffield.
Dr Mills taught in the school system in the Turks and Caicos Islands for a number of years. He was also Principal of three high schools on the islands and Vice Principal of the Turks and Caicos Islands Community College from September 1997 – February 2007. He was appointed Minister of Education from 2007 – 2009. He is the main editor of The History of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
This argument is generally made because of the high numbers of persons who are currently in the country on work permits and who are holders of such jobs. The feeling is that if Turks and Caicos Islanders had such training, they would have been better able to replace these work permit holders, thus helping to significantly reduce the current unemployment rate.

Despite the arguments about technical vocational education, there is little debate as to what is entailed if we as a country decide to go that route. Many are of the view that, if the TCI is to grow and develop and its people are to be empowered, technical vocational education is a must. The question then is why, after 40 years of ministerial government, we haven’t yet set up such an institution?

We generally feel that when we speak about such education, it requires a set of designated buildings in a particular location with labels identifying the various areas of study. After 40 years, where are the buildings? In the TCI, we talk far more then we act.

The construction of a technical vocational institution is an expensive venture. This seems to be the excuse that is used to cover for the failure of not attempting to do what is needed. One can also argue as in this case, that there are numerous buildings that are available that can be used to aid this initiative.

One may ask, what do I mean? This country is blessed with several tourism related developments. These establishments can be used to assist with the training and development of people in tourism and hospitality related areas. Our hotels can be the training ground for professions such as hotel managers, chefs, strata management, accounting, waiters and waitresses, engineers and many more.

Our resorts are classified as five star resorts; hence they can deliver five star training for our people. Additionally, there are several other companies and businesses in these islands that can provide the necessary training.

The next question then is how this training will work. The government, I am sure, has formal agreements with these establishments. Training and development of our people should form an integral part of these agreements.

One way of doing this is to set up a programme in our high school in collaboration with businesses. Students can be assigned to a business in which they have expressed interest, for example, if a male student wants to be a mechanic, he can be attached to one of the many mechanic shops on the island.

We should provide the theoretical part of the programme in our schools where he does two or three days, then he goes in the workplace for two days where he can apply the theory to the practice. The mechanics will guide him through the processes. He will also learn life skills such as work ethics, communications and time management which will groom him for his future career.

This process can be applied to other areas as well. We must move away from the full-time classroom base learning. This approach will also help to strengthen the relationship between the school and industry. It will go beyond this. Students will likely find employment with these establishments after completing their studies or if they wish, set up their own businesses.

This kind of arrangement will go together with the government’s small business enterprise arrangement. It will also give employers an idea of the skills and talents that are available and reduce the pressure on the government of having to find employment for the high number of graduates leaving our high schools annually.

Such an arrangement can also be implemented with students at the TCI Community College. This has worked successfully in the past. Instructors can be sourced from industry to give lectures and talks to students, providing them with a better understanding of what is required and what the expectations of industry are for potential employees. As a result of such arrangements, our students will be better equipped to enter industry.

The TCI seems not to be seriously contemplating the construction of a technical vocational school. The ministry of education has recently announced their intention of introducing the Caribbean Vocational Qualifications (CVQ) administered by the Caribbean Examinations Council. The CVQ in my opinion is designed for the more industrialized Caribbean countries compared to the TCI, which has a more service oriented economy.

The question then is are we ready for a ‘home grown’ approach; which the current minister of education seems to oppose or are we going to continue down the road of the CVQs. Which of these initiatives better suits the needs of the Turks and Caicos Islands? Whose prerogative, is it? Is it the minister’s decision or should the public decide what is best for our country?

The aforementioned suggestions, if implemented, can help to provide the skill sets that are necessary to help reduce the number of unemployed Turks and Caicos Islanders, reduce the need for foreign workers, stimulate the growth of small businesses which is essential for the growth and development of the country. The longer we wait, the more challenges our country will face. We must act now!
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