Cayman education on international stage

Cayman’s ambitious education reform process has been cemented with a well-received appearance by Minister Alden McLaughlin at Moving Young Minds, the world ministerial seminar on technology in education.

‘This is truly a sign that we are on to something in Cayman and the world is looking to us for inspiration,’ said the Mr. McLaughlin.

Held in London last week and organized by the UK’s Department of Children, Schools and Families, the event drew 64 education ministers along with other representatives from 72 countries to discuss how information and communication technology and e-learning can make positive changes in education.

Mr. McLaughlin, along with Steven Heppell, who has acted as a major force in Cayman’s education reform process, were asked to make back-to-back presentations on Cayman’s education reform journey.

Mr. Heppell’s joining Mr. McLaughlin on the dais was notable in that it was at the 2006 conference that the two met, and the wheels of the Cayman’s education reform process were set in motion.

‘Being asked to do not one but two presentations was unexpected, but the organisers told us they wanted to make sure everyone attending the various plenary sessions had an opportunity to hear our story; they felt it was that important,’ said Mr. McLaughlin.

His presentation placed ICT and innovation in the context Cayman’s national education reform process, starting with the struggling system he inherited and Cayman’s national education conference of 2005.

He then took attendees through the transformation to a new and relevant national curriculum, better administration, enhanced professional development, more effective applications of technology and vastly improved provisions in key areas such as early childhood, tertiary education, technical and vocational programming and special educational needs.

“The extraordinarily positive reception we got is truly telling of how far we have come and how much we have accomplished in such a short space of time. It is also testimony to our performance as measured by international standards,’ said Mr. McLaughlin.

“At the seminar we hoped to interest other countries in our approach, and even encourage them to adopt parts of our model for their own – well, we achieved that and much more.”

After the presentations, a panel made up of Cayman’s education leaders including Shirley Wahler, Gareth Long, Angela Martins and Vaughn Carter joined the minister in answering the many questions they encountered.

Mr. McLaughlin said attendees were most taken by the speed changes are taking place.

‘People kept asking us how did we do it so fast, and I think it is largely because the reforms are not merely touching on one particular area like curriculum but rather taking a holistic approach that is making changes to all aspects in one fell swoop,’ he said.

Mr. McLaughlin also commented that while the transformation taking place in Cayman is impressive, it is true that scale plays a big role.

‘To be completely frank, what made it possible has in large part been due to the scale of the project. Of course it is easier to implement institutional change in a place with a school population of 5,000 students.’

However, he noted that while certain countries, particularly those in Africa, may think that their populations are far too large and the costs far too high to embark on such a programme, scaling reforms to fit educational regions, and concentrating on a student-based approach cay pay big dividends.

‘The costliest portion of our reforms is the physical plant. Those countries with more limited resources can take encouragement from the fact that most things we are doing are not in fact capital intensive,’ he said.

He said the priority for any school reform should be to dismantle and flatten hierarchical systems, making principals, teachers and schools responsible for daily activities and student success. The education department then can concentrate on the bigger issues.

‘Arguably, retraining teachers and staff does cost money, but it is not a huge financial outlay,’ he said.

‘It may take longer in some places but this model is replicable everywhere.’

Mr. McLaughlin also reported that the panel team was met with great enthusiasm wherever they went at the BETT education technology trade show which followed the conference.

‘Regardless of what you do you will find sceptics,’ said Mr. McLaughlin.

‘I have had my share of detractors and the profound support we have attracted through our appearance here lends a tremendous endorsement to what we are doing.’