Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Politics in Education (in Cayman)

It’s disappointing what low priority our MLAs grant to educating Cayman’s children. It should be at the top of the list, but it’s not. Political control of the private-sector workforce has always been their top priority. Cayman Governments’ labour policy ever since the 1973 Protection Law has been to keep wages low for unskilled workers. That goal was inherited from the merchant-politicians of old, and has never been abandoned.

The goal is achieved by means of the indentured-labour system, which the British Colonial Office first introduced into the Caribbean sugar-plantations to replace slavery in the 1830s. It was discontinued eighty years later on humanitarian grounds, on the initiative of the Government of India. Yet today unskilled migrant workers are assigned to Caymanian employers who are permitted to set wages and conditions with no guidance beyond their own consciences. The only government monitors are the ruthlessly pro-employer Immigration bureaucracy and crony-Boards.

By the natural law of economics, low wages for unskilled foreigners result in low wages for unskilled Caymanians. It is no accident that so many true-born ethnic-Caymanian workers are frustrated with their lot in life. The state schooling system was never designed to educate them beyond a token level. The standard of the system’s graduates is so poor that without the birthright-entitlement written into the Immigration Law, many of them might never be employed- at least in the offshore sector.

Why do Caymanian MLAs allow this situation to continue, year after year? Don’t they care? Apparently not. Politicians, everywhere, work hardest at minimising the risk of being kicked out at the next general election. For ours, it’s much easier to play the birthright-entitlement card every few years than to even try to change the state’s schooling. The voters must be free to hire domestic servants on the cheap; and if that means low wages for unskilled Caymanians too - well, too bad.

Like politicians everywhere, ours enjoy the power. Who wouldn’t? Cayman is only a small society, but it is awash with money; and power attracts money. Controlling the entire private-sector workforce is an exciting objective and an intoxicating achievement. Nothing could give quite the same rush.

Then there are the portfolios. Being Chairman of the Board of an airline, or a seaport, or a tourism agency, a community health-service, a road-building program, a waste-management conglomerate - all those jobs are a thrill for people who are actually qualified to do them. Imagine their effect on excitable small-town politicians who owe their appointments to a mere thousand or so voters. Man! You talk about a rush?

Chairman of the Board of Directors of a school is a responsible position. Learning all the ins and outs is a challenge to even clever individuals. Being in charge of an entire community’s schooling system and strategy is so far beyond the competence of our Ministers of Education, it’s no wonder they freeze at the thought of changing it. Easier to throw money into vanity projects, and leave reforms for some other sucker.

Recent postings on the CNS website have expressed a lack of confidence in the MLAs of both political parties. Some have gone so far as to suggest that long-term immigrants could do a better job in some areas of governance. The Education Portfolio might be a good place to start.