School age increase sought

Changes in the Cayman Islands Education Law would extend the mandatory school age here from 16 to 17 and would outlaw corporal punishment for school kids, if a revamped Education Mondernisation Bill is approved by legislators later this month.

school age mclaughlin

Mr. McLaughlin

The bill, expected to come before the Legislative Assembly as early as this week, has been in the works almost since the ruling People’s Progressive Movement government took office in 2005.

The proposal requires all children from ages five to 17 to attend school, with exceptions made in specific circumstances.

Currently, children are only required to attend school until the age of 16.

The minister of education is given more power to establish the national curriculum for the Islands under the Education Modernisation Bill. The bill also sets out certain key stages for measuring how education is delivered, and establishes what’s believed to be Cayman’s first registering and disciplinary body for teachers, known as the Council on Professional Standards in Education.

Corporal punishment in schools – the practice of adults in charge inflicting physical pain on students – would be prohibited, if the new bill is approved. However, certain provisions allow students to be restrained in specific circumstances. All schools, public and private, would be required to have a written student code of conduct and discipline policy.

The current Education Law (1999 Revision) allows corporal punishment for students only ‘where no other punishment is considered suitable or effective.’ The law also states that only the principal or a teacher selected by the principal can mete out such punishment.

Other changes made by the bill would include provisions for career and technical education, including vocation training, for students at secondary schools.

The bill would also continue the current practice whereby government provides funding to private schools in the Cayman Islands. Under the bill, the education minister would have the power to make grants to those schools and Cabinet ministers would decide any conditions under which those grants are made.

Cayman’s Private Schools Association receives about $2 million a year from the government, which is distributed among the schools on Island based on a formula.

Non-Caymanian residents are not allowed to send their children to public schools in the Cayman Islands, and must pay to send their children to private schools. The new education bill will not change that requirement.

Lawmakers agreed in principle last year to increase the minimum age required for school attendance from at least age 16 to age 17. Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said at the time that adding a year of required attendance would better prepare students who were going to enter the workforce immediately, as well as increasing their chances to enter university, particularly in the US where most students attend high school until age 17 or 18.

There are likely to be increases in education costs if the Cayman Islands agree to such a move.

‘We haven’t increased the resources to accommodate the growth,’ Mr. McLaughlin told the Legislative Assembly last year. ‘What we’ve done is to squeeze onto the existing sites until we almost had chaos at George Hicks.’

An ambitious school expansion programme undertaken by the Cayman Islands government has been curtailed somewhat due to budget constraints, but work on the new Clifton Hunter High School in Frank Sound is well underway and plans for the new John Gray High School campus are also progressing.

Proposals to build a third high school in West Bay have been at least temporarily shelved.

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