Cayman education: A new year with new hopes

Some time ago, the publisher of this newspaper co-authored a book titled “Self-Made in America:

Plain Talk for Plain People About the Meaning of Success.” It begins this way:

Comedian Robin Williams tells a wonderful story about a man who lapses into deep sleep and dreams of two visions for his son.

In Vision No. 1, the son enters a hushed, hallowed hall full of distinguished guests, steps upon the stage, and approaches the microphone. After clearing his throat, the young man begins: “First I want to thank the Nobel Prize Committee for this high honor …”

In Vision No. 2, the same son steps up to a counter and asks with a quiver in his voice, “You want fries with that order? …”

The difference between these two possible scenarios for the same young man is what this book is all about.

It’s also what our school year, which began with orientation yesterday, and our school system is all about.

Above all, the start of the school year emanates an unadulterated sense of “newness,” optimism and promise.

This week and next, the Cayman Islands will be a country of pencil shavings and pink erasers, freshly creased uniforms and nervous smiles. Parents will introduce themselves to teachers, who in turn will introduce their students to worlds of ideas, facts and theories.

Our school hallways have no space for cynicism, and essential curricula have no room for pessimism and doubt. It is a new school year, and this is the opportunity to inspire our youth with the thrill of knowledge and the joy of hard-won achievement.

Meanwhile, a high-level debate, led by Education Minister Tara Rivers, is taking place on the longer-term future of public education in Cayman.

Minister Rivers’s announcement in July that she was considering introducing public-private partnerships to government schools, similar in style to the U.K. academy system, sent shockwaves through the entrenched educational establishment, and tremors of hope through reform-minded individuals in the community.

Most importantly, fundamental questions have finally been raised about how our country has been — and has not been — preparing our children for the future.

A relatively small, but vocal, bloc of reactionaries has positioned itself against meaningful change to Cayman’s delivery of public education. They warn and worry about creating a segregated and multi-tiered school system that is inherently unequal.

They, of course, ignore the fact that Cayman’s schools are already segregated, and they are already multi-tiered.

Our government’s decision to offer public education only to Caymanians has led to the development of a robust network of private schools that, as a rule, offer a superior education (at less cost per pupil) in a safer environment to the children of expatriates and Caymanians who are able and willing to pay hefty tuition bills. Is this not segregation?

The public schools themselves also differ dramatically in terms of resources and results. Compare the shiny and sprawling Clifton Hunter High School campus to the cramped confines of John Gray. Compare the disparate cultures at public schools on Grand Cayman to conditions on Cayman Brac, where students at Layman E. Scott High School continue their generational dominance of scholarly accomplishment. Is this not a multi-tiered system?

At the beginning of this new school year, our hope is that all of Cayman’s students are afforded the opportunity for unlimited and unimpeded success.

Their future depends on it — as does the future of the Cayman Islands.

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