Right to education gutted

The right to education contained in Cayman’s proposed bill of rights has been changed in the latest draft constitution to an aspiration rather than an absolute right.

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Science is part of the curriculum taught at most private schools in the Cayman Islands. Under the proposed constitution an education for all students is not guaranteed. Photo: Jewel Levy

The proposal states that the government ‘shall seek reasonably to achieve the progressive realisation, within available resources, of providing every child with primary and secondary education.’

The previous plan included language in the bill of rights that stated ‘every child of the appropriate age, as provided by law, shall be entitled to receive primary education.’

‘That was not our proposal,’ Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said, referring to the previous working draft of the constitution. ‘We do not have the facilities and resources present to permit all children who reside in Cayman to have free government sponsored education.’

Under current Education Law, only Caymanian children are allowed to attend public schools. All children of non-Caymanian status holders must receive their education at one of the country’s private schools or through home schooling.

Private schools in Cayman receive pooled funding of $2 million per year from the government through the Private Schools Association, but that funding is more or less spread evenly throughout the facilities and all parents of children who attend those institutions pay tuition.

Mr. McLaughlin said the revised draft constitution aspires to provide free primary and secondary education to children, whether they are Caymanian or expatriate. But he said that simply can’t happen today.

‘Even with the completion of the two high schools and George Town Primary we still won’t have the capacity to accommodate all children in Cayman,’ he said.

‘I tried to persuade the United Kingdom that because of our particular circumstances we should limit the absolute right to education to Caymanian children because that would reflect what the reality of Cayman currently is,’ he said. ‘(The UK) has said that it is unacceptable to distinguish between children of nationals of the country and other children in relation to education and that that would be in breach of some of (the UK’s European Convention of Human Rights) obligations.’

The earlier language in the proposed constitution might have caused the Education Law to fall afoul of another section of the bill of rights, the prohibition against non-discrimination.

That portion defines discriminatory acts as ‘different and unjustifiable treatment’ against someone due to their nationality, among other reasons. UK negotiators may be concerned that the exclusion of foreign children from the right to education may not qualify as ‘justifiable different treatment.’

Mr. McLaughlin said it was a something of a disappointment that the right to education could not be made available to all.

‘That is one of the goals of this government, but we are somewhere short of it,’ he said. ‘I wanted at a minimum to be able to assure all Caymanian children of the right to primary and secondary education, which would simply reflect what we are already doing anyhow…but that’s not acceptable to the UK.’

Nothing contained in the draft constitution is final. UK and Caymanian negotiators are set to meet again next week in London for a final round of talks.