Education goals long term

Education Minister Roy Bodden refuses to make Band-Aid repairs to government schools just to win an election.

‘I am not prepared to jettison long-term objectives for short-term success just because it’s an election year,’ he said in his contribution to the debate on supplementary expenditure.

Mr. Bodden said he was confining his remarks to answer criticisms raised. He was the last person to speak in the House on Monday night.

His said his concern was for the children. He would not have people say five years down the line that what he had done after Hurricane Ivan was cosmetic.

He announced 1 March as the date for the Frank Sound high school ground breaking. Two and a half million dollars has been earmarked for a geotechnical survey and site preparation.

The school will come on line in 2007, as will another high school in Boatswain Bay. Immediately after that, the present John Gray High School will be tackled, so that Grand Cayman will have three high schools that can cater to about 800 students each, he explained.

One of the side effects will be alleviation of traffic, he predicted.

Giving credit where credit is due, Mr. Bodden said the Frank Sound school was the idea of North Side MLA Edna Moyle and himself.

He quoted from the report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean after Hurricane Ivan. ‘Damage to the education sector proved to be both costly and disruptive to the everyday life patterns of the Grand Cayman population. Financial damage to the sector amounted to CI$44.8 million. However, if it were measured in school days lost, this varied from 25 days to a maximum of 40 days per student,’ he read.

The school year has been extended, he said.

Mr. Bodden said it was fortuitous that Government had built the Prospect Primary School. The structure had housed close to 1,000 people during Ivan, he said.

He defended split shifts for students and the use of Agape Family Worship Centre facilities for Year Ten students. Previous problems were not with the students, but with the numbers being manageable. Behaviour has improved tremendously and teachers report elevated academic performance and interest levels.

Many societies would not have school at all if they were faced with the effects of Ivan, he said.

At the Savannah Primary School, engineers found that trusses were defective. Should they have been covered up or repaired and strengthened, Mr. Bodden asked.

At George Hicks High School, the rafters were found to be eight feet apart. Ceilings could have been put up quickly, he said, but it was more sensible to first decrease the spaces between rafters. The bottom line was the safety of students and teachers.

All of the schools had been damaged except Prospect. Contracts were awarded for the work to be done. But it had been difficult to get good contractors because all the reputable ones were busy elsewhere. Now, between Public Works, the Ministry and various firms, the work is getting done.

The minister also addressed criticism of modular classrooms. He pointed out that they were specifically designed for the purpose and were used in many countries around the world, including the US and Canada. He had visited the classrooms and spoken with engineers, students and teachers: ‘Nothing is teetering,’ he said.

If he hadn’t done anything, critics would say the minister is worthless, he commented.

Mr. Bodden thanked Brac schools for helping out with some 300 students after Ivan.

When Ivan hit Cayman he was at a UNESCO conference on education. He had gone in order to compare what was being done in Cayman with the rest of the world.

He garnered that Cayman was doing well. Other people were talking about universal primary education or universal secondary education. But in Cayman, ‘we have clearly established roots to universal tertiary education.’