Appearing as a guest on the Monday, September 13, 2021, edition of the Umoja show with host Cromwell Smith aka 'Edju En Ka', Hon Wheatley said the lack of technical teaching has resulted in the need for the territory to import skillsets in technical areas like carpentry, masonry, and mechanics.
“We have a model of our economy for the last 30-40 years and because of the rapid expansion of the financial services and the Virgin Islanders who went into certain jobs, a lot went into government administration,” he said.
Hon Wheatley said before the widescale importation of skilled workers, Virgin Islanders would build everything themselves, including houses and boats.
“When persons said Virgin Islanders don’t know how to build anything, we used to build everything for ourselves!” he said.
However, the minister noted that with the emergence of financial services, the education systems started to prioritise training for persons to get administrative jobs.
“We don’t want our children doing that anymore [technical jobs], we want them to wear suits and ties and sit down in air conditioning, so we still coping with that today.”
Dr Wheatley said young students have had to fail regular classes in order to take technical skills training classes, since students with good grades were not allowed to do the more technical courses.
He said there have also been stigmas associated with technical learning; however, things have started to turn around regarding perceptions. He added that programmes will now be developed for students who are struggling academically.
“So we have students who might be repeating a grade and you just keep them repeating. When you see a student is struggling that way, you have to put something in place,” he said.
Hon Wheatley said the Education Ministry is working to have a vocational programme, which was developed at the VI School of Technical Studies, to be extended to the other high schools. He said this would be implemented at least from 7th grade, once they see students struggling academically.