Education the way forward

With a new government in place, optimism about Cayman’s education system remains high despite delays, economic difficulties and the revamping of the education system.

New Education Minister Rolston Anglin, charged with picking up the ambitious projects where the previous ministry left off, and new Chief Officer Mary Rodrigues seem eager to support Cayman down its progressive education path.

At the opening of the school year, Mr. Anglin noted that this year the system will be undergoing an Education System Health Check that will use information gathered from a questionnaire completed by government schools staff and a review of the efficiency and effectiveness of the Department of Education Services.

In an about face from the previous ministry’s enthusiasm for cutting edge buildings, teaching styles and curriculum changes, he was cautious about making the core issues too complicated.

“Recent research findings on how the world’s best-performing systems come out on top, tell us that we need to simplify our focus and zoom in on the three things that matter most,” he said.

“That is getting the right people to become teachers, developing them into effective instructors, and ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for each child.”

That said, construction on Grand Cayman’s two new high schools, celebrated for their 21st Century design, continues.

New schools

With 7,512 students attending 26 schools in 2008 student numbers continue to rise.

And while the new high school campuses in George Town and Frank Sound have been scheduled to open in 2010, potential problems signal the possibility of delays down the line.

Particularly impacted will be Cayman’s older students, already under pressure during their final years of schooling, are faced with a worksite where their sports fields used to be and the constant construction activity outside their classrooms.

That din may cease for a while. At the time of writing, financial issues threaten the construction schedule of the new John Gray campus.

Concern has also arisen that when completed, the two schools will not provide sufficient places to meet the number of places the Chief Education Officer says will be needed when they open.

Mr. Anglin said government was hopeful that additional classroom space can be completed in time at one of the campuses at least to ensure that won’t happen.

Finances are critical. In August Mr. Anglin told the Legislative Assembly that the buildings housing the two schools were expected to cost at least CI $120 million. That’s not including fit-outs like furniture.

Challenges ahead

The government school year kicked off on 28 August with three professional development days for teachers and staff, which opened with a morning of speeches and presentations from policymakers and government officials who all reiterated the message that while things were going to be tough, there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Aligning what the schools offer and the expectations from employers and other educational institutions are one challenge he identified, saying UCCI, the Ministry, the Department and the Education Standards and Assessment unit will need to work much more closely to ensure programmes are meeting the needs of the education system.

Programmes of note

The International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme seems to be proving a success, in that it is getting positive feedback from teachers and students alike with its focus on helping teachers to become more effective instructors.

Some new programmes said to be in store this year include a new primary numeracy strategy, along with the ongoing International Baccelarueate Primary Years Programme training, ongoing behaviour for learning training, and ongoing ICT integration training.

Details on these programmes remain to be released officially as the Ministry and Department regroup in the lead-up to the new budget.

Another programme likely being implemented in the upper years is the Cayman Islands Literacy Strategy, which was introduced to primary schools in 2008. The three-tiered strategy will address reading problems using a corrective reading programme.

Education Law

Cayman’s students will not be entering the school year under a new education law as was previously anticipated.

Mr. Anglin says the delay in Cayman’s Education Modernisation Law’s implementation is tied to the need for regulations to be drafted with input from a range of stakeholders also an Education Advisory Council and a Professional Standards Council will need to be established.

The 16–part bill sets out the terms of education in primary and secondary schools, career and technical institutions, tertiary institutions, early childhood institutions and lifelong learning. It outlawed corporal punishment and introduced a compulsory additional school year for pupils, making the official age of leaving school 17.

Mr. Anglin said he inteds to begin an awareness–raising campaign and a readiness check, to ensure that the education system is ready to implement this new law effectively.

“While I am committed to implementing it as quickly as possible, I will not compromise its effectiveness by enacting it without the necessary structures that will make it work,” he said

With all that  set to happen (or not) over coming months, in face of Cayman’s changing financial position, time will only tell how Cayman’s education system will fare.