Test scores
‘not good enough’

An alarming number of children in the public school system are underperforming in math and English, test scores for 2012 reveal.  

The results, released by the Cayman Islands government following a Freedom of Information request, show a significant number of youngsters in every age category are falling behind in the core areas of reading, writing and arithmetic. 

Woody Foster, chairman of community action group, Literacy is for Everyone, which put in the FOI request, said the results were “shocking” and showed that urgent action was required. 

Education officials acknowledged the Cayman Islands was facing a long-standing problem with numeracy and literacy. But they insisted intensive work was already under way to improve results and cautioned against using the data, from the first year of a pilot assessment programme, to make sweeping judgements.  

They say the tests are designed to help chart progress over time, not to provide a state-of-the-nation snapshot of how students are performing. And they point to steadily improving GCSE scores as a better barometer of progress in schools. 

The latest results come largely from new end-of-year National Curriculum assessments known as Progress in English and Progress in Maths covering years two to nine (ages 6 to 13). 

The tests benchmark students against an “expected” attainment level for their age group.  

The situation is most acute in high school with only one in five year eight students (11 to 12-year-olds) meeting the minimum expected level in English and math. 

In the same year group two-thirds of pupils were ranked at the lowest possible attainment level in English, suggesting they are four years behind where they should be. 

More than half of the students in year nine had not reached the expected level in English with 40 per cent ranked in the lowest attainment range. 

The results in the lower age groups are slightly better.  

The end of Primary School Keystage 2 tests, which unlike PiM and PiE tests have been used in Cayman for several years, show an improvement on 2011. But Caymanian children are still falling way behind their peers in the United Kingdom. 

Roughly half of the children graduating from primary school in 2012 had not met the minimum expectations for their age group in English or math. 

In math, 43 per cent of the 418 year six pupils who took the test reached the expected National Curriculum level four or higher, an improvement from just 25 per cent who hit that threshold in 2011. 

In English, the figures were slightly better with 52 per cent reaching the required level compared with 33 per cent in 2011. 

The scores would still put Cayman’s schools in the bottom 5 per cent in Britain, which just released data for 15,000 primary schools on comparable tests.  

The UK government deems schools to be “failing” and targets them for emergency assistance if less than 60 per cent of students hit the required level at these tests. 

Shirley Wahler, chief education officer for the Cayman Islands, acknowledged there was work to be done in the island’s schools. But she insisted it was unfair to make a comparison with the UK, which has had a National Curriculum for decades.  

She said test scores in Britain were initially low but had steadily improved over time. 

Similar progress is expected here, with the current set of PiE and PiM tests providing a benchmark to help parents and teachers see where each student needs to improve.  

“This is the first year we have used these assessments. It is very much a pilot project and we were very careful to say to principals that we won’t use them at this stage to make sweeping judgements about your schools. 

“If you really want to see an objective assessment look at the GCSE results where we have seen year on year improvement over five years.” 

Results have improved from a rate of 27 per cent of students gaining five GCSEs at grade A-C (or equivalent qualification) in 2007, to 49 per cent in 2012.  

There is no breakdown provided to show if this improvement is reflected in the core subjects of math and English.  

Ms Wahler added that Caymanian children were on average five months younger than children in the same year group in the UK. LIFE chairman Mr. Foster, who runs supermarket chain Foster’s Food Fair, said his group has made the PiE and PiM results public to show the magnitude of the literacy problem in Cayman. 

“The first thing is honesty, if you are not honest about where you are how can you get better? 

“I think people would be shocked if they knew how bad it was. I want the walls to come down so we can have an informed discussion and come up with a better plan that has an opportunity to work. “As a business owner I see the results of this every day. We are not doing enough to equip our students for the workforce.” He said there were scores of concerned citizens prepared to step up and help. But he said people would not dig into their pockets if they did not know the scale of the problem. 

“At the end of the day everyone is going to have an opinion but when you boil away all the nonsense and all the noise, these results are what is important and they are not good enough.  

“There’s no other way to look at it. This is the future of the country and I don’t think it is fair to those children. We need to react fast and make some serious changes.” 

He stressed the group had no political motive. 

“We are not looking to blame anyone or be political in any way but we do recognise that this is a failing of our society.  

“To not properly educate our children and not equip them for the working world upon graduation reflects on all of us.  

“We want to bring teachers, parents, businesses, government and all residents together to recognise and solve the problem. Our future and our children’s future depend on it.” 

Chief officer at the Department of Education Mary Rodrigues said reform was already taking place highlighting new national literacy and numeracy strategies implemented in the past three years.  

“Improving students’ literacy and numeracy skills has been an area of priority for the Ministry’s reform agenda since 2009, and is a continued priority in the National Strategic Plan for Education, 2102-2017.  

“While we are making progress, there is still much further work to be done to ensure many more of our children achieve success in these critical areas.” 


The percentage of students at each age-group who fell below the expected National Curriculum level for their year group. The results are based on Progress in English and Progress in Maths tests apart from Year 6 which is based on end-of-Primary Keystage 2 test scores.


  1. Interestingly, for a country that is so wealthy the education system is so poor. hmmmmm the Ministry of Educaton should be blame becuz from what I have been understanding it is a long standing problem. Thank God for Freedom of Information Act! Even within the release result percentages are missing!

  2. If a child is not brought up to value education then no school or teacher can teach them anything. The culture of Caymans past is part of the problem just as any emerging country that is now trying to play catch up to the modern standards of education in the modern world. The fact that a man with a 5th grade education at best was chosen to lead with the expected results should convince anyone that this is Caymanians greatest challenge if they are going to continue to participate in shaping Caymans future. This more than anything else is why many Caymanians can not get work in their own country. They simply can not compete with anyone that has the basic education of the modern world. How to fix it? The same way every other country has. Its now too late for the recent generation of Caymanians. Can they fix it? We can only wait and see what kind of example the next wave of Caymanian leadership will show to those who follow them. Then its up to the parents to show their own children what is expected of them.

  3. Dear FairAndBalance

    You just gave us all a fantastic laugh and I am sure the Ministry of Education will laugh with us.

    You are critiquing the bad education results and then cannot spell becuz.

    This whole sentence of yours is wrong, hmmmmm the Ministry of Educaton should be blame becuz from what I have been understanding it is a long standing problem.

    Remember, education start at home!

  4. We worry more about math and english than do worry about teaching our children ethics and humanities.

    My child may be able to read and he may be able to count, but the bases of his life is rooted more in the virtues he has learnt from nature.

    We stress and fright so much on curriculums that we have forgotten the weightier matters. If you are a spiritual person like myself, you will understand where I am coming from.

  5. On the face of it, public education seems a good idea. In reality, apart from giving a student the very basics, public education is a failure. If parents and leaders want excellent results the public school system should be scraped in favor of privatization. Within a private system students can then pursue the course that’s right for them in a cost effective manner, a teacher will be held much more responsible for effective performance.

  6. Dear MB,

    If that boost your intellectual ego? Kudos! I have nothing here to prove! Obviously you are not familiar with internet shorthand. kmt, smh, becuz, omg etc! I sympathize with your ignorance. It is a reflection of the Education System in your island.

  7. Never in the history of mankind has education been more important than in this and the following centuries.

    Survival of mankind depends upon the ingenuity and knowhow to navigate life sciences, global warming, political tensions, elimination of borders and leveling of the economic world order to name but a few.

    Of course preservation of culture is paramount but hardly achievable without the tools to thrive in the real world.

    Try getting through a job interview with any major financial or insurance institution or just about any meaningful employment without reading, writing or basic mathematical skills.

    All studies show a good job starts with a good education and usually a great job starts with, well you know where I am going with this.

    One requires little intelligence to correlate employment statistics with higher education benefits.

    What is usually lacking is desire and passion, which can only be re-enforced at home and in the community at large, early and often.

    Don’t blame the educators entirely, it’s not someone else’s responsibility to ensure your child gets the best opportunities in life to succeed.

    Thank God for the measurement.

  8. Dear FairAndBalance(,)A comma was missing

    You just gave us all a fantastic laugh and I am sure the Ministry of Education will laugh with us. —- CORRECTION – please remove the and and replace it with a period mark.

    You are critiquing the bad education results and then cannot spell becuz. (This is call a fallacy in Logic)

    This whole sentence of yours is wrong,(*** insert quotation mark***) hmmmmm the Ministry of Educaton should be blame becuz from what I have been understanding it is a long standing problem. (*** close quotation mark) whole sentence is bad grammar. I would suggest you re-word that sentence.

    Remember, education start (*add s) at home!

  9. @Completely Baffled hahahaha small societies usually generate small-mindedness. It is a trait throughout the Caribbean not only of the bloggers on here. I try my extreme best to be fair and balance but again ….

  10. Breaks my heart, what can be done? I think generations of Caymanian schoolchildren were simply not challenged enough. They had and have the makings but the system did not bring it out. Why?
    Perhaps the cultural command that everyone has to have a prize? that no-one can be second? that second place is first runner-up?

  11. Case – I will enlighten you there, it is short for ‘Mathematics’, y’know, numbers and stuff. As we are affiliated with the UK system, we use UK terminology, therefore it is ‘Maths’ and not ‘Math’.

    Problems with education include, but are not limited to…parents who are not literate or numerate, students who don’t want to actually learn, very little provision for the weaker students who make up a significant minority, teachers of differing quality, schools of differing quality, schools that lack basic resources due to a lack of funding, a culture that doesn’t value learning, people putting too much power in the value of prayer and just hoping stuff will get better, (poor) decision makers in power staying in for too long/nobody willing to challenge the status quo…etc. etc. etc.

  12. How did the child get from year 2 to year 3? Why did the teacher pass these children? Or 3 to 4 . Or 4 to 5 and so on. How did , or why did this happen? In the past we didn’t have this problem why now?
    Should we do a test for our teachers and see if they really qualified? Last year the Education minister of Jamaica said that 16% of math and english teachers were not qualified to teach. Did they come here? Are they from England? Canada? USA? Where are these teachers from?
    I have said from the first concept of producing 3 high schools was ridiculous . We should have placed the money on good or better teachers. Please don’t get me wrong I know the parents are to blame too. When the kids have study or homework they just let the kids play. They have to study and parents need to check.
    This FOI is alarming something needs to be done now .Don’t wait .

  13. In comprehensive national security threats assessments, the framework to determine vulnerabilities with the potential to impair the sovereignty of a given country always considers education.

    Some may find difficult to connect education with something as abrasive as the national security doctrine. Things make sense when you consider that a poorly educated society is not only unable to thrive, but becomes an easy target for imperialism.
    Keep in mind that the areas of reported deficiency are pivotal. Maths literacy is connected with overall economic success.

    The other deficiency is English. In an English speaking country, the ability of a person to understand and express anything is a function of the command of the national language.

    And now, here, in this country we love, we have Maths and English functional illiterates. Combined, both deficiencies make synergy and create a particularly dismal scenario. This takes me back to the national security framework I opened with.

    The Cayman Islands has a persistent issue with the invasion by Expats. To properly educate Caymanians must be a prime objective, because in the absence of properly educated Caymanians fit to work in positions required by the national economy development, those positions are to be filled by, surprise surprise, Expats.

    In a globalized world, even in countries in where educational goals are effectively achieved, there will be always a need for some foreigners to fill certain positions, granted. The key term here is ‘some’. When, instead of some, we have myriads of foreigners making a country to tick, we deal with a sovereignty that has become vulnerable, as those non-nationals are key players in the country functionality. A power imbalance is granted and exists, and sovereignty is indeed compromised.

    So what to do?

    Pointing fingers will not work. Reforming a curriculum for the sake of doing so will just create volatility.

    Perhaps the curriculum is beyond the ability of the teachers. So let’s prepare the teachers. Perhaps the curriculum was imitated from other jurisdictions that have different resources and goals. So let’s tailor the curriculum for the Caymanian needs. Perhaps the Caymanian youth requires a more hand-on, practical education. Perhaps this, perhaps that. Variables are many, and only an assessment keeping those goals in perspective could yield a difference. But the assessment needs to consider that resources are scant.

    In Maths, the goal is not to overwhelm the Caymanian students with Maths, just to make them mathematically literate.

    In English, the goal is to efficiently read and communicate. Again, equilibrium matters. If by tomorrow Shakespeare is to be used as the core reading material, the situation will soon get worse. A key factor in language literacy is to increase the reading levels, and hence comprehension. To increase reading levels, it is essential to find material that the youngsters like and find interesting, enthralling. Reading material that pokes their curiosity, entices their desire to read more. Many good intended reading programs fail due to pretentiousness. Pretentiousness that places in the hands of the youngsters books that are, no doubt, of universal high quality, but also too difficult, even for adults.

    So in this game, creativity is more valuable than resources.

    Those in charge of making adjustments will need to answer to themselves, first, how things can improve with the resources the country has.

    It is not a matter of money, but of wisely using the resources we already have.

  14. I wish I could make a bet with the public that during the next few months, candidates will once again talk about increasing the salaries of teachers.

    We hear blame placed on parents BUT never, once have I heard any Minister of Education publicly state that principals and teachers will be held accountable for their lack of class management, motivation and support for students to excel and reach their potential. The classes have a/c, resources are made available, every primary school has specialised staff yet they still expect more.

    At this rate the next generation will be uneducated again so when will the government realise that a basic education is a right and if the teachers and principals are not willing to accept their responsibility, then maybe parents should bring a class suit against the principal and his teachers, over whom he/she have been given management responsibility, for deprivation of the right to a basic education.

    They must get it together, otherwise we all will pay the price in terms of real financial and/or social burdens.


  15. Dreamer – want to pluck more ideas out of thin air? Pandering to teachers for votes? I would guess a lot of the teaching staff employed on the islands are not entitled to a vote. The ex-pats teachers are also treated rather shabbily when it comes to contract issues – you want world class teachers, you offer a world class package and don’t renege on it. Teachers are professional people, and deserve to be treated as such.

    Classes have a/c, this may be so, but I don’t think it has a great deal to do with educational standards. We also have a semi-constructed embarrassment, a new school with a myriad of issues, and a shortage of basic resources.

    ‘We will pay the price…financial and social burdens’ – I am sorry, but the horse bolted many years ago. There are many students suffering from abusive families and ill-treatment. These issues are not new, however, they’re a big problem.

    Good luck with your class action by the way…

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