The Government’s actions and plans concerning education were a hot topic during the Budget debate last Thursday and Friday.
Opposition MLA Cline Glidden was critical of what has happened in the past year with regard to education during their contributions to the budget debate.
Minister of Education Alden McLaughlin responded with his contribution to the debate, which began on Thursday and ended Friday morning, by detailing the progress that has been made so far in education and the plans for the future.
Mr. Glidden said little had been accomplished with regard to education except for the planning of three schools, which he said was the idea of the previous United Democratic Party government in the first place.
‘We were criticised for planning three new schools by people saying they weren’t necessary,’ he said. ‘The new minister, in fairness to him, came forward very quickly and said they were necessary.
‘Usually, new governments shelf plans of previous governments just because it was somebody else’s idea, but they still recognised the schools were needed.’
Mr. McLaughlin responded by saying the previous government was not really interested in education.
‘They were building edifices to their egos,’ he said. ‘They were breaking so much ground on projects before the election I’m surprised there wasn’t an earthquake.
‘They had signs up for new schools and didn’t even have (building) plans.’
Mr. Glidden also said there had been a lack of progress in the education system over the past year.
‘As important as education is, we haven’t seen any of the needed repairs and fixes they said are needed,’ he said. ‘The shift system is still going on, and we hear they are hopeful it will end in September.’
Mr. Glidden said that when the UDP was in power, the time between September 2004 (when Hurricane Ivan hit) and April 2005 (during the final weeks of the election campaign) was too long for the children of Cayman to suffer the shift system, according to the People’s Progressive Movement.
‘But now they’re saying that in September hopefully we’ll be able to move away from (the shift system).’
‘Promises are a comfort to a fool, but so far all we’ve seen is many promises,’ Mr. Glidden said. ‘A year down the line, all we’ve gotten is promises.’
Mr. Glidden also criticised the reallocation of more than $10 million from the 2005/06 education budget toward building the Esterley Tibbetts Highway extension.
‘They moved the money from the high priority of education to use on road works,’ Mr. Glidden said. ‘I’m not so sure the Legislative Assembly would have been so quick to give that money up a year ago if we would have known it was going to be used on road works.’
In his contribution, Mr. McLaughlin explained why the money had been reallocated last year.
‘I do hope by now the entire country is aware just how untrue and unfair the accusation that we’ve diverted funds from education to build roads is,’ he said. ‘The truth is we were unable to spend that money (on school).’
Mr. McLaughlin explained it has taken time to address the many problems in the education system as identified at the National Education Conference held last September.
The building of three new high schools was one of 10 strategies that came out of the conference outlined by Mr. McLaughlin in his debate.
The strategy of a shift system was tried at George Hicks High School because of the larger number of students on the site, Mr. McLaughlin said.
‘The overall view is that while it does allow every student to get the full number of hours within the day and reduces the number of students on the school site at once, it is not a system that should be carried on for another years.’
Mr. McLaughlin said that a new strategy was developed with the help of education consultant Professor Stephen Heppell which calls for George Hicks to be split into four smaller separate schools of approximately 230 students each.
‘One thing that we’ve learned is that the smaller schools are, the better children perform, and the smaller the classes are, the better children perform,’ he said.
Other adopted educational strategies outlined by Mr. McLaughlin include:
• Developing a new and less hierarchical governance model that takes into account both public and private schools, to be completed by the end of May 2006.
• A review of the National Curriculum to be completed by the end of the 2006/07 academic year.
• The creation of an Early Years Unit which will commence work on 1 June 2006.
• The establishment of a Human Resources Unit to address issues such as the hiring of teachers and the terms of employment for them, which a Pay and Conditions of Service Task Force is currently reviewing.
• To review scholarships, careers and guidance, which will be facilitated by and Education Council Secretariat that is expected to start work in September 2006.
• The development of a business processes in the education system that will lead to financial autonomy of school principals, which is hoped to commence in September 2006.
• The review of management and academic data, the latter which will allow for better statistical analysis of performances by school, by subject and by student.
• A review of all aspects of Technical and Vocational work in the school in order to ensure students are prepared for a full range of technical vocational opportunities.
• The development of initial teacher training in the Cayman Islands and continuing professional development for serving teachers.
In addition, Mr. McLaughlin said Literacy Task Forces had been set up for primary and high schools.
Mr. McLaughlin said there has been much progress on the correcting the problems in the education system.
‘(Mr. Glidden) said nothing appears to have been done,’ Mr. McLaughlin said. ‘He must be sleeping or burying his head in the sand if he hasn’t heard what’s going on in education.’