Education system primed for change

All the right elements are in place to make a dramatic change to Cayman’s education system, says a leading authority on education innovation.

‘The chances to do this right are rare,’ said Professor Stephen Heppell, an expert in school design and online learning from the UK. ‘You have that chance. Nothing would be worse than staying the same.’

Mr. Heppell was in Cayman recently to provide input on the Education Ministry’s new school facilities plans so that modern technology and education tools – especially information communication technology – can be optimized. He has worked on projects all over the world including UNESCO groups in Europe and Asia, and is the founder of the cutting-edge UK learning technology research centre, Ultralab.

With three new high schools in the wings, there is an opportunity to build facilities that don’t simply deliver curriculum but create spaces that inspire learning, Mr. Heppell said.

‘You also have a Minister who cares and has made a commitment to better learning,’ he said. ‘And you have this extraordinary sense of rebuilding . . . when would all those ingredients fall in place at the same time?’

He said many parents would agree their kids are coasting in school. Grades aren’t good enough and too few students are qualifying for university.

‘All of that is going to change,’ he said. ‘Your (education minister) is committed to make things better.’

Mr. Heppell visited Cayman at the invitation of Education Minister Alden McLaughlin. The two met at a recent UK education conference, which drew some 60 countries from around the world.

In providing advisory support, Mr. Heppell describes his role as linking Cayman with innovative school facilities and programming around the world.

‘It’s not about telling you what you should do. That’s up to you. It’s about helping people to help each other.’

As part of his agenda, Mr. Heppell gave public presentations on schools of the future.

He noted teaching and learning in the 21st century is vastly different from the previous century.

‘We’re in a world where people learn through doing. The world where we’re expected to regurgitate is already gone.’

Schools must tailor curriculum to individuals, and instill lifelong learning. Early education is vital to produce people who are passionate about learning. Schools must inspire teamwork, self-esteem and a strong work ethic.

‘We’ve got to make learning seductive, delightful, engaging and fun. And you need different sorts of spaces for that.’

Mr. Heppell noted even the design of classroom furniture can transform the way a student learns.

Curriculum and delivery must also keep up with the digital information age.

‘Children perform dramatically better in 21st century schools.’