Mothballed education law back in motion

Legislation modernizing Cayman’s education system – including outlawing strapping and moving toward free schooling for all – will finally be enacted next year, according to officials.

The Education Modernization Law – the legal framework that provides the underpinning legislation for many recent reforms of the school system, including the introduction of the National Curriculum – was passed in the last days of the previous Progressives government in 2009.

But it was never brought into force by the United Democratic Party administration, which replaced the PPM following the election, and it has remained in mothballs ever since.

In practice, many of the provisions of the law, including the ban on corporal punishment, are followed as a matter of policy.

Now officials are working on a handful of amendments that will tweak the law in the light of the new constitution. Cabinet was reviewing the amendments this week.

One aspect of the law that could prove problematic is the requirement to move toward free education for all – something guaranteed by the Constitution of the Cayman Islands. The constitution ultimately requires removal of fees currently charged to the families of non-Caymanians to attend public schools. But in reality, the government can’t currently provide enough school places to cater to all children of expatriate workers, and an admissions policy of prioritizing Caymanians means the majority will still have to pay to send their children to private schools.

The bulk of the law, which was heavily debated in 2009, is expected to be brought into force for the next school year.

Other key provisions in the original law included the extension of the age limit for mandatory schooling from 16 to 17, the introduction of key stages for measuring how education is delivered, and creating a mandate for vocational training in high schools. Much of the intent of the legislation was delivered through the restructuring of the high schools and the creation of the Cayman Islands Further Education Centre, though an order of Cabinet is still required to enshrine those changes in law.

One aspect of the original legislation that has not yet been achieved and is unlikely to be enacted in this initial stage is the establishment of a registration body for teachers – the Council on Professional Standards in Education.

Clive Baker, a senior policy adviser with the Ministry of Education, said much work had been done behind the scenes since 2009 to establish the physical and administrative infrastructure necessary to carry out the requirements of the law. But he said the registration of teachers is one aspect that is not going ahead immediately because discussions with the Private Schools Association are still taking place and further consultation with the teaching body is needed.

Planned amendments, which should go the Legislative Assembly before the end of the fiscal year, largely deal with technical breaches and other requirements to update the legislation since its initial passage in 2009. Much of the substance of the original law, he said, remains the same.

“Education has changed a lot in the last 20 years, but our legislation hadn’t changed to reflect that, which is why the law was put forward in the first place,” he said.

Premier Alden McLaughlin, who was education minister when the law was passed in 2009, hailed it at the time as the hallmark of his government’s efforts to bring Cayman’s education into the 21st century.

“We in Cayman have strived to adapt to the new ways of education and the ways the world approaches education,” he said.

Rolston Anglin, who followed him as education minister, later explained why the law was not being enacted by the United Democratic Party, saying, “This is bare bones legislation that needs regulations to ensure that the precepts in the law are executed.”

Mr. Baker said much of that required work, including policy writing and drafting instructions, had been completed in the years since, to enable the passage of the law.

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1 COMMENT

  1. One of the main problems that many people had with the previous PPM administration was the fact that they spent money on projects that the country simply could not afford. It was not that the previous PPM administration did not have good intentions when they decided to take on major projects like the building of new /or updated schools. However, the reality of the situation was that the country was not financially in a position to afford the new /or updated schools and should not have taken on such a major project at the time.

    The Education Modernization Law and the Constitution of the Cayman Islands contain good examples of how the previous PPM administration did not spend sufficient time thinking about how their projects and other initiatives were going to be paid for and the long term impact that their decisions would have on government finances.

    The reality of the situation is that education is one of the largest government expenses and the government simply can’t afford to provide free education for all.

    While I do like the idea of free education for all, in practical terms this is not possible and the best approach would have been to implement school fees for all new students starting in three to five years. This would not impact existing students or any new students entering the school system for a number of years while at the same time allowing government to make the transition from the free education model that has been a significant burden on government finances over the years.

    Many people who like government handouts and the idea of being dependent on government will not like this plan; but in reality it would not impact any of the existing students and would give people a chance to plan and decide if they are ready to take on this expenditure.

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