Public education doesn’t breed crime

Another bank robbery, another drug bust, abduction, battery. Another murder, theft, kidnapping, missing person. It might seem like these crimes happen all too often on the tiny island of Grand Cayman. 

Before these criminals hit the streets, they are shuffled through the Cayman Islands public education system. 

Education Minister Rolston Anglin says there is no correlation between public education and this criminal behaviour in Cayman. 

“I don’t think you can find that in any country,” he says. “I think criminal behaviour all comes down to one’s home, one’s home environment, one’s neighbourhood environment.” 

Mr. Anglin says that someone is not more likely to be involved in criminal behaviour just because they went to public education. 

“I think the correlation between one’s home environment and what they experience – there’s a strong correlation between that and whether or not they wind up with criminal behaviour. That’s irrespective of whether they go to a private or public school,” he says. 

Brent Holt, one of the ministry’s senior policy advisors, says this is a common misconception anywhere in the world. 

“If you go to any jurisdiction, there probably is a higher correlation of persons who are in prison systems who have gone through public school systems, but that’s not what caused that to happen,” he says. “We’re trying to reduce the numbers of those incidents happening with our young men and women in our country.” 

Mr. Anglin echoes this sentiment. 

“I think that sometimes what happens is because the widest band of your population in any country goes through the public education system versus private, people start to make all sorts of correlations which I don’t buy into,” he says. “Take the same persons who wind up in deviant behaviour… if we took them and put them through private education, would that stop them getting involved in criminal behaviour? I don’t think so. I think the root of what we experience is what’s happening at home.” 

Sean Cahill, the ministry advisor on behaviour in school, says there are also circumstances where the public sector has had students who have been excluded from the private sector who had significant behaviour problems. 

Fights  

A recent problem in schools has been too common for some teachers, and blurs the line between school yard antics and potentially serious crimes. 

Fighting in schools might be something that has happened in schools for hundreds of years, but for Cayman teachers it’s very real. 

Although the Caymanian Compass was not able to speak with any teachers on the record, several of our brightest educators in the public sector are worried that fighting and other disciplinary concerns fill their day and take valuable time away from lessons. 

Mr. Anglin says that fights will occur in schools regardless of the country or quality of the teachers. 

“In any education system, you’re going to have (fights). Any time you have that amount of young energy flowing, there’s naturally going to be conflict and there’s naturally going to be those who settle conflict in an inappropriate manner,” he says. “In some instances it’s fighting, sometimes it’s cyber bullying. What I’m happy about is our new approach we’ve taken in schools in trying not to go down the road of suspending children so quickly, but trying to deal with them on the school campus and on the school compound.” 

Clive Baker, the education ministry’s senior policy advisor, says: “We don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘you’re not making it with us, you’re someone else’s problem.’ It’s everybody’s problem. We live on a small island. It’s our problem, our community, our society.” 

The ministry knows fights will happen – it’s part of a school community where students will have disagreements. 

“Private or public, that’s going to happen. It’s how we react as a system,” Mr. Anglin says. “My goal as minister is to keep children in mainstream school as much as possible. It’s when you take children out of the mainstream school system… that they really become a risk.” 

Drugs  

When it comes to drug use and dealing drugs on and around school property, the education ministry takes a zero tolerance approach. 

“We have to ensure that the safety of the majority of our children is front and centre of everything we do,” Mr. Anglin says. 

The ministry has been proactive in working with the RCIPS in bringing in drug sniffing dogs and other deterrents. 

“Drug use from an early age is a real challenge for our community and something can’t ignore. It’s something we must take very serious,” he says. “From a policy standpoint, the key is for us to do everything humanly possible to provide our students with as much good advice, good quality teaching and learning, mentoring at school, that steers them away from that behaviour.” 

Michael Myles is the at-risk youth coordinator at the ministry. He handles cases of kids who have had exposure to drugs and fights. He has worked in several facilities for the juvenile behaviour problems. 

“The young people that I dealt with at the time, I would say that 99 per cent of them were there because of social issues. Many of them were quite intelligent, but their social circumstances got the best of them in an educational institution,” he says. “It had nothing to do with them not being able to learn. All of them were able to learn. It’s just the magnitude of their social circumstances were just too great for the public system to deal with them.” 

Mr. Anglin says it’s easy for the community to point fingers. 

“Sometimes as a community, we’re a little harsh and unforgiving,” he says. “What we need to be ever mindful of is the quicker we write off someone, the quicker we’ve destined them to a life of crime. If a kid doesn’t have functional literary, numeracy, ICT skills, doesn’t have that ace education level, that greatly increases the likelihood that they’re going to be involved in a life of crime.” 

The most important aspect is fixing education at the beginning – early education. And keep kids in school, he says. 

“The big message that my government is sending out is we’re going to do the best job in the history of the country as it comes to early childhood care and education,” Mr. Anglin says. “Admittedly that is not going to show dividends for the next 10, 12 years, but it must be done. The old system catered to the high achievers. What we’re now providing for is the majority who don’t go that route but need to have access to further education opportunities. 

Everyone is now impacted, according to Mr. Myles. If there is a problem with a student in school, the community feels the impact. 

“That young man or young lady, we’re now paying $60,000 a year at Northward prison for,” he says. 

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