Education reform going ahead

The Education Ministry has announced that a New Schools Transition Committee has been appointed to oversee major restructuring of the local secondary schools, which will see far-reaching reforms implemented in September 2010.

Most of the proposed revisions have already been aired in various forums and are now being presented as one comprehensive plan.

Chief Education Officer Shirley Wahler strongly endorsed the restructuring process.

‘This is a significant and long-awaited step forward for education in the Cayman Islands,’ she said. ‘The move to all-through year 7 – 11 schools will provide young people with better continuity, and an improved learning environment.’

education reform

Mr. Anglin

In addition to establishing two all-through high schools, other aspects of the reform include: a new core curriculum, which will reflect cultural norms and the need to produce globally competitive citizens; the provision of more vocational and technical subjects; improved career guidance services; and compulsory schooling – known as a 16+ programme – extending past external examinations in year 11.

Mrs. Wahler said the 16+ programme would provide targeted and relevant career and technical preparation for the workplace, while also nurturing the academic potential of our students.

‘We believe that this programme will help us to develop a strong body of future citizens and leaders for the Cayman Islands,’ she said.

All-through schools

According to its chairman Chief Education Officer, Mary Rodrigues, the New Schools Transition Committee meets weekly with her reporting directly to the minister. The body is composed of representatives from the Ministry, the Department of Education Services and the Educational Standards and Assessment Unit.

Speaking to the Caymanian Compass, she advised that her ministry and the New Schools Transition Committee were ‘now moving beyond concepts to detailed planning, consultations and preparation for implementation.’

The chief officer stated that the construction of a detailed framework included, but was not limited to, the development of a curriculum model, programmes of study, timetables and a staffing analysis and plan.

Education Minister Rolston Anglin noted the urgency of separating the much-needed academic improvements in secondary education from the building of the new schools.

‘Education reform cannot be held to ransom by contractor disputes on buildings,’ he said. ‘Reform is ultimately about enhancements to teaching and learning; the curriculum; and students’ social and personal development.

‘There is much that we can do come September 2010 to introduce significant reforms that will benefit our children in our current school sites. Acting now will also ease uncertainties for all stakeholders, and allow for an easy transition once the new schools are completed.’

As for the fate of the George Hicks site, ministry officials have said that it will become the base for the new 16+ programme which will include technical and vocational training options. They further added that the site was being evaluated for its potential to house other education programmes and services. More details of the proposed programme will be announced shortly.

Core curriculum

The new core curriculum, also set for September 2010, will require all students to take English, mathematics, science, information technology, religious education and life skills from Year 7-11.

Year 10 and 11 students will also have to choose a social studies/humanities subject in addition to two other options. Plus the current core subjects specified by the National Curriculum for key stage 3 will also be required through year 9, including Spanish; art; music; design and technology, including home economics.

Vocational training

Innovative technical subjects available in the schools will include a leisure and tourism option, especially designed and accredited for Caymanian students, as well as catering; music technology; and health and social care.

These will be offered in addition to already well-established programmes in construction, electrical and electronics and motor vehicles, reflecting a renewed focus on national priorities and the needs of the labour market.

Additional year

Students’ compulsory schooling will not end with external examinations in year 11; they will continue for an additional year, with the launch of a 16+ mandatory bridge year for students, following the completion of their CXC/GCSE examinations.

According to education officials, the bridge year will better prepare students for either the world of work, or further education. ‘It will also be a valuable second chance for students who want to improve their results,’ Mrs. Rodrigues said.

The bridge year will include a variety of programmes for students at all levels, including technical and vocational options; an advanced placement/International Baccalaureate diploma programme for the academically inclined; and foundation studies for students who want to improve their readiness for further studies.

‘There will also be largely work-based options for students who would benefit from this training,’ Mrs. Rodrigues noted, adding that many of the programmes will have a substantial real world of work element.

Cost, staffing implications

As to the likely cost of such large scale restructuring, Mrs. Rodrigues said: ‘There will undoubtedly be upfront costs associated with some aspects of the restructuring and the provision of new and additional programmes of study, and we are finalising these for budget purposes.’

With regard to any staffing implications, she said: ‘The indications from an initial staffing analysis at this stage are that the overall number of teachers will remain approximately the same, although we have identified some key new posts.

‘When the new schools come on line, there will be significant other costs, including maintenance and operations.’

Legislation needed

The education reform will require new legislation, Mrs. Rodrigues said.

‘The Ministry is working towards a June 2010 deadline to have the necessary legislative framework in place,’ she said. ‘With the restructuring we are still looking at a total of six years of high school, just very differently structured.

‘Therefore the current law would accommodate the changes. However, the new Education Modernisation Law would formalise the new structure, and introduce the new programme as being mandatory.’

Former minister pleased

Commenting about the proposals, former Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said: ‘I am delighted that the minister has demonstrated the wisdom and courage to take forward and implement these key elements of the transformation process, which has been under way for the past four years. Continuity of the reform process is the key to improving outcomes for our young people,’ he said.

‘While the completion and use of the new high schools are an important element in the transformation process, I applaud his decision to proceed with these important reforms whether or not the new schools are ready for September 2010.’