Wide-eyed 5 year olds braving their first day at school won’t be the only new faces in the classroom when the new school year starts next week.
Around 80 teaching professionals, many of them expatriates returning home, left the public school system during the last academic year.
The figure, a significant increase on last year, represents just under 20 percent of the entire teaching body across the Cayman Islands’ primary and secondary schools.
A rigorous recruitment drive has been going on since December last year and most, but not all, vacant posts will have been filled by the time term starts next week.
More than half of Cayman’s teachers are from overseas, contributing to a high turnover of staff.
In an effort to address the issue, the University College of the Cayman Islands and the Department of Education are collaborating on a new training course that they hope will lead to more Caymanians working in the islands’ schools.
Education officials say they have been working to find high-quality replacements for the 80 departing educators – mainly teachers, but including some specialists, such as school psychologists.
There are still a handful of vacant positions ahead of the new school year, which starts on Aug. 28.
“There are still a few spots to be filled, which our human resources unit is actively working on and expect to be filled by the end of September at the latest,” said a ministry spokeswoman. “In the interim we have arranged for the necessary cover with assistant teachers or supply staff, depending upon the situation, and to ensure as little disruption to our students as possible.”
Roughly 54 percent of teachers in government schools are from overseas, with the majority coming from Jamaica and the United Kingdom.
A high teacher turnover rate is a perennial challenge. An average of just under 50 teachers left their jobs in the public school system over the three academic years prior to 2012/2013.
It is not clear why the numbers over the past year were so much higher. The education department says it conducts exit interviews with departing staff members to help identify and address any issues.
The upheaval that significant staffing changes can cause in a school has been on the radar of education officials for some time. Efforts are being made to increase the number of locals coming into the teaching profession and reduce the dependence on foreign teachers.
UCCI and the Department of Education have devised a more “robust” teacher training course, starting in September, which will enable students to qualify to work in the public school system without having to go overseas to study. The previous course at the university was not considered strong enough and was not recognized by government, according to UCCI president Roy Bodden.
The department spokeswoman said many senior positions in the islands’ schools were already filled by experienced local educators to ensure stability.
“The loss of an expat has more impact when it is a school leader who leaves. This is a challenge we have carefully considered for the coming academic year. In the government schools, all but one principal are either Caymanian or have a long-standing relationship with the Cayman Islands, as well as permanent resident status.” The majority of teachers in the Cayman Islands are paid between $42,564 and $57,252, according to a 2011 report on government salaries.
The department spokeswoman said the experience and lifestyle of living here, as well as a tax-free salary, tempted many expatriates to work in the Cayman Islands.
“Whilst some leave each year, many choose to stay and within the group of expat teachers, there is a very stable core. We want to encourage all teachers to remain in the teaching profession and not just expat teachers.
“It is important that there are clear career pathways and succession planning, which will be the focus of our efforts to retain the best teachers,” she said.
Mr. Bodden said it was critically important for the territory to make training and preparation of Caymanian teachers a priority.
“Commencing this September, Caymanians wishing to become teachers will be given the opportunity to study to become educators through the programs offered at UCCI,” he said. “Decreasing reliance of foreign teachers not only makes sense culturally, but significantly reduces leakage of valuable foreign exchange as well.
“Additionally, Caymanian teachers will be able to fit into classroom situations with the minimum of adjustment, since there will be no difference in accent and other cultural nuances, which reportedly presents challenges, especially in cases of teachers recruited from outside the Caribbean region.”