Letters & Opinion

Education from Nursery to University!


Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

POLITICIANS seeking national office easily promise undelivered ‘Free Education’, including ‘From Cradle to Grave’.

But the Caribbean’s flagship tourism and hospitality entity is doing it differently: providing its over-10,000 Caribbean staff – and their families – with Education and Development training opportunities, from Nursery to University.

Sandals Resorts International (SRI) managers already have access to Sandals Corporate University (SCU), established by Founding Chairman Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart in 2012, to provide professional development for SRI employees across the region, through reputable education and training programmes.

SCU was formally launched (in Jamaica) on March 21, 2023 – with Adam Stewart at SRI’s helm – offering academic programmes, including Masters and/or Doctoral degrees, in cooperation with The University of The West Indies (The UWI) and Florida International University (FIU).

One year later, SRI has taken yet-another pioneering step towards Education and Development for its regional staff, this time through Sandals Early Childhood Learning & Development Centres, the first of which was launched in Saint Lucia on February 13, 2024.

The first Sandals Early Child Development (ECD) centre – due to formally open in March (coinciding with the first anniversary of the SCU’s formal launch) caters for 65 employees’ children, aged between three and five.

The concept was sparked by a casual exchange between SRI’s Eastern Caribbean Managing Director Winston Anderson and a hardworking local employee.

He’d congratulated the single-parent mother for always being punctual for the pre-dawn start of her job.

She humbly smiled in acknowledgement, in the process saying: “I (have to) leave my six-year-old boy to take care of his three-year-old sister every morning, until school-time…”

Jolted by this shocking early-morning pre-coffee revelation and realizing many other staff quietly share and bear similar worries, the MD set-out to (try to) end their daily nightmare, once-and-for-all.

To solve “this terrible dilemma” across the SRI chain, he took what he originally described as “a crazy idea” to SRI’s Executive Chairman Adam Stewart.

Stewart – who launched SCU alongside his late father and SRI Founding Chairman, Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, in 2012 and presided over its cooperation with The UWI and FIU (his Alma Mater) two years after his dad’s 2021 passing – immediately blessed Anderson’s ‘crazy’ idea.

And the rest is more Sandals history…

SRI’s Regional Public Relations Manager Sunil Ramdeen explained at the launching ceremony that the chain’s philanthropic arm, The Sandals Foundation and a Project Management Team, had “worked with managers, staff, parents and the Ministry of Education’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) Unit,” to convert a bitter experience into a sweet dream.

Anderson rooted the idea in a quote from Virgin Atlantic chair, Sir Richard Branson, who said: ‘Employers of Choice should train people well-enough so they can leave, but treat them well-enough so they don’t want to…’

He said: “SRI decided the only way we could become an ‘Employer of Choice’ is by creating loving families and fulfilling lives for the people who work with us…

“We invest a tremendous amount of money, time and effort into ensuring that we create the best levels of training for our team members – training them so-well that people will want them and treating them so-well that they won’t want to go anywhere else…”

Sandals’ ECD centres, he added, will provide child students “easy transition into the regular education system, with a solid foundation that will allow them to excel and make their parents proud.”

But the buck doesn’t stop in Saint Lucia, as that nightmare converted into a sweet dream and given life, will also unfold beyond the island’s shores.

Anderson revealed: “While this facility is the first of its kind in our entire Sandals chain, it will not be the last.”

He promised ““This is just the start, because what we have started here will spread to every island – and I am so proud that Saint Lucia is where we were able to pioneer this very important project.”

Assuring there’s more-to-come by way of similar projects touching SRI staff and their families, the MD said: “We have so-much more we would like to achieve, at the centre of which is that all we do is for the welfare and well-being of our team-members.

“Indeed, it all drives our company’s purpose (which is) to inspire our people to dream bigger and live more prosperous, sustainable and fulfilling lives.”

Other speakers included Ruth Philips-Fevriere, Acting Curriculum Development Officer in the Early Childhood Service Unit of the Ministry of Education, who pointed to the positive and lifelong connections fostered by “early learning with a human development focus.”

Describing the new centre as a “bold ground-breaking initiative”, she congratulated SRI for “pioneering an ECD facility that exhibits the same renowned standards of high quality, amazing aesthetics and caring services” displayed at its resorts.

Philips-Fevriere invited other local hotels and workplaces to “share in the Sandals vision and embrace this ideology” – and she’s looking forward to government “receiving requests from other properties on the island, to help them establish similar facilities.”

The centre’s Administrator, Monica Weekes, underlined that “Children’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive development can all be achieved through play…”

But despite what she described as “the misconception that education at this early stage should be more-focused on meeting academic benchmarks”, she assured that: “Our trained teachers are very cognizant of the significance of play-based learning…”

That, she said, will allow the students “to discover themselves — and the world around them, also to develop self-esteem, confidence, valuable social skills, coping skills and much more…”

This pioneering centre, she noted, is “a safe and rich play-based environment” where, in addition to “meaningful play, quality care and effective learning techniques will also be employed, to ensure each child succeeds.”

However, her ultimate “dream and vision” is for the first Sandals ECD centre “to become the benchmark locally and regionally, by which future child-friendly centres will be judged.”

After all, she concluded, “Teamwork really makes dreams work!”

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