Education debate: Minister Rivers, you have the floor

Education Minister Tara Rivers’s announcement that she is contemplating a proposal that “will lead to a public-private model of education for the Cayman Islands” is welcome news to us – and we would suspect to most in the Cayman Islands.

We applaud Minister Rivers for her boldness in stepping forward to take on in a serious way the largest challenge this country faces. To be sure, at this point Ms. Rivers is only calling for a conversation, but she is inviting a wide range of participants to be at the table.

The issue is so large – and so important – to these islands that parochial considerations, such as party affiliations, who originated what ideas first, or who ultimately will get credit (or blame) for success (or failure), need to be put aside. We have before us a national opportunity that must not be scuttled by personal grievances, self-interest, incendiary divisiveness or petty squabbling.

Surely as a small island nation, we can rise to this challenge.

It is especially important that members of Cayman’s business community – from all sectors, including the offshore and domestic industries – participate. They must abandon their usual practice of hiding behind the cloak of anonymity, cheering others on from the sidelines, but refusing to add their own names to their own words.

That’s not leadership, and this is an issue that demands the commitment – and courage – of every leader, or potential leader, we have on these islands.

Education officials have much to atone for. On their watch, they have overseen – indeed, built – a system that has rewarded the few at the expense of the many – namely the students who now must navigate their way through a competitive knowledge-based work environment with limited academic skills.

If a court would give Cayman students standing in a lawsuit, they should file it. They were forced, by law, into a system that has demonstrably damaged them – and their future prospects.

We understand that no particular “system,” “philosophy” or “administrative arrangement” is a guarantor of success. However, we do subscribe to the principles of OECD education expert Andreas Schleicher who testified in front of a U.K. House of Commons committee investigating the relative effectiveness of publicly funded, independent “academies,” which are now the most common type of secondary school in England.

While offering general praise for the English academy model, Mr. Schleicher emphasized that there is no universal panacea for educational malpractice, just as there are no social, cultural or demographic barriers that absolutely prohibit widespread academic achievement.

Mr. Schleicher highlighted two hallmarks of the best education systems in the world:

  • “Local discretion” for head teachers and school leaders (And, we would emphatically stipulate, school principals; no one knows their schools and their teachers better. Principals must have hiring and firing power).
  • A strong culture of accountability at all levels – including politicians, administrators and students

Here in Cayman, we must create a new paradigm where we direct our resources to hiring the best teachers we can attract (without regard to nationality), unapologetically getting rid of the worst (regardless of nationality), and letting the learning flow at the only place where learning actually occurs: in the classroom.

No one else – not politicians, theoreticians, administrators or the whole host of sociologists, therapists and their ilk – should be allowed to interject himself between a competent teacher and an inquisitive student.

How do we bring that about? Let the conversation begin.

Ms. Rivers, we believe you have the floor …

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  1. I cannot stand how inconsistent the opinions of the editorial board are — your fundamental principles seem to shift on a daily basis depending on what you feel like arguing at any particular point in time. For example:

    If a court would give Cayman students standing in a lawsuit, they should file it. They were forced, by law, into a system that has demonstrably damaged them and their future prospects.

    Really? Would the future prospects of Cayman students be better off if they didn’t have to go to school?

    Aren’t you the same editorial board that constantly goes on about personal accountability? And yet here the failing students are victims to the point where they should be allowed to sue, because they were forced into this system that demonstrably damaged them?

    The school system is not perfect, and the general message of this editorial is correct — that this is an opportunity to improve and that people need to put politics aside for the greater good.

    It would be wonderful if the Compass could do the same — stop arguing whatever side of the coin faces up at any particular moment, and show some consistency in your principles. Don’t talk one day about how accountability is so important and then the next day portray the failing students as helpless victims who had no say in their situation.

    Changing the school system, giving hiring/firing authority to the local schools, none of it will be a magic fix. As the Compass has correctly pointed out, a culture of accountability from the top down needs to come into effect in Cayman, and that includes parents being accountable for their children’s performance in schools, and students being accountable for themselves. Comments about the students being forced into the awful system quite simply undercut this message of accountability.

  2. A charter school is a good idea. zBut be careful how far you get invoSom funding to help them along is ok. But children can learn if they have people teaching them that can in deed really teach. look at both sides of this coin. If schools are failing. Its not always the children. Someties its just bad leadership and people given jobs to teach that were not even good scholrs themselves! Who is going to evaluate the schools and their performance prior to this big move that msy surely cost Tara re-election?