Government policies that separate expatriate children from the local public school system harm efforts to fund educational and school athletics programs and make relations between Caymanians and expatriates more tenuous, the president of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce said.
The issue arose last week when Chamber President Johann Moxam was asked whether better-funded private schools in Cayman have better sports and educational facilities than public schools, and if that puts Caymanian children at a disadvantage in both areas.
Mr. Moxam was participating in a panel discussion on sports, youth and crime Thursday at the Cayman Economic Outlook conference. Other panel participants included government’s Director of Sports Collin Anglin, FIFA Vice President Jeff Webb and Cayman Islands Rugby Union Director Richard “Grizz” Adams.
Only Caymanian children are allowed to attend public schools in Cayman. Non-Caymanian children who reside here must attend private schools. Caymanian children can also attend private schools if they wish and can afford the tuition.
“I think the country has suffered as a result of that [arrangement],” Mr. Moxam said Thursday. “The segregation of expatriate kids from local kids … I think the justification at the time was the lack of infrastructure and space.
“If you’re going to build a country and you’re going to influence your local population into understanding that we are one people, if all I ever see is me and Collin when I’m at school and then we run into Grizz [referring to Mr. Adams], at some point, shock and awe takes over.”
This comment brought laughs from the hundreds of conference attendees, including Mr. Adams, a former rugby player who still cuts quite an imposing figure. However, Mr. Moxam wasn’t going for laughs.
“It gets worse than that,” the Chamber president continued. “You see it sometimes during the kiddie/pee-wee tournaments. There’s nothing worse than seeing a bunch of kids who are involved in the sport for the right reason and then there’s a knucklehead of a coach or a parent … ‘Get that white-boy, don’t make him do that to you.’ And I’m thinking to myself, ‘the kid’s seven years old, what in the hell does he know about those issues?’
“It starts when you encourage the segregation of the local kid from the expatriate kid and then you intend to build the country up as ‘we’re one, we’re Caymanians, we’re together,’ it’s silly,” Mr. Moxam said.
Mr. Adams, a self-described career expatriate, said he sees the same issues on the rugby pitch from time to time.
“This whole business of expat/Caymanian is ridiculous and then the divisions within that are even worse,” Mr. Adams said. “Some of the guys at rugby say, ‘Well, you’re not Caymanian, you’re a paper Caymanian, and you’re a 10th generation Caymanian, and you’re some other … I don’t know what half the terms mean, to be honest with you.
“I just say, ‘Listen, you’re all going to run laps, so get on with it.’”
If funding for public school facilities is an issue, Mr. Moxam said, he has an easy solution: “Charge a fee, figure out what the infrastructure needs are, but get people back into the point where you have to integrate and exchange and interact with one another.
“Look at the region and everything that has gone wrong throughout the Caribbean. Do you want to do it differently? And if you do, implement policies that encourage harmony, that benefit the social welfare of the country. Break down the barriers of me versus Grizz.
“Politics, egos and little fiefdoms get created … and that’s what stops us from doing the right thing and that’s where the country suffers. I don’t want to live the type of lifestyle with the fear that I see in other countries, I don’t want to be Bermuda, I don’t want to be Bahamas, I don’t want to be Jamaica. Those are beautiful countries, but some of their issues that they’ve got, we’re better than that. We have to believe that.”
The government provides a subsidy each year to private schools. The amount has varied from $900,000 to $2 million per year in the past decade. For the current 2013/14 budget year, the government approved $1.53 million.
According to public budget records, all private schools that receive such funding are required to submit records to verify compliance with educational standards, including inspections by government officials.
Far more children attend public schools in Cayman than attend private schools. According to the government Compendium of Statistics for 2012, the latest year for which records are available, 4,956 students attended public primary and secondary schools. The number of students attending private schools for that same year was 2,787.
Over a five-year period, the number of students in public schools has increased slightly, while private school attendance has dipped just slightly. In 2008, there were 4,579 children in government schools, compared to 2,933 in private institutions.
Former Education Minister and current Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin said during debates in the Legislative Assembly during the former Peoples Progressive Movement government’s administration in 2005-2009, that government should be taking steps to improve public school offerings so that the quality of a child’s education is not dependent upon how much money their parents have.
“Both of my children are in private school,” Mr. McLaughlin said during a 2007 LA debate. “I thought they would get a better education. I want to remove that factor from the decision of any parents to come.”
The premier’s office did not respond to Mr. Moxam’s comments during the Cayman Economic Outlook forum last week.