Public schools urged to adapt to survive

Schools must find a way to get through to all children, regardless of their parenting and family circumstances, if the public education system is to survive, education expert Avis Glaze told Cayman Islands teachers.

Delivering the keynote address Tuesday at the opening of the 2015 National Education Conference, Ms. Glaze urged teachers not to make excuses about the family conditions of their students.

“Schools control the conditions for success,” she said. “You will ask, what about homes, what about parents? Parents are sending us the best children they have. They are not keeping the brighter ones at home.

“When children come to our schools, it is up to us to find out what their needs are and address those needs. Not many teachers believe that, but that is the way it has to be if public education is to survive.”

Ms. Glaze, a former Ontario schools commissioner, said parents in some countries are re-mortgaging their homes to send their children to private schools.

“There is nothing wrong with private schools, but the public education system is the foundation of democracy in any country,” she said.

Ms. Glaze addressed more than 600 teachers at the conference in Red Bay. Throughout the day, educators had the option to attend workshops, ranging from “teaching math to Generation X” to “music therapy in education.”

Ms. Glaze said the most successful education systems in the world were based on continual education for teachers, adding that professional development is the best thing that could be done to improve schools.

“I’ve never met a teacher who didn’t go into teaching for the right reasons. If you are not getting the results you want, it means you have to build capacity – work with the entire staff, ensure they have the right training.”

Ms. Glaze acknowledged that teaching children with special or behavioral needs, from difficult backgrounds, is a very different challenge than educating gifted children. But she said staff could be taught techniques to better manage such children in school.

She added, “As a teacher, you may not want to hear this message, but you must take responsibility for the future of this island. You have these children for so many years. You change their minds and you mold their characters.”

Earlier, Education Minister Tara Rivers recapped some of the goals of government’s strategic plan for education and highlighted some of the training programs. She said government’s focus is on ensuring teachers have the training and support to manage children in the classroom.

Shirley Wahler, the chief officer in the Department of Education Services, gave a brief farewell speech, thanking teachers for their efforts during her seven years at the helm. Ms. Wahler leaves the post this week and will be heading to St. Helena to take a senior government post.

She said she had seen the school system go from a point where around a quarter of children were receiving good results to two-thirds graduating with satisfactory grades.

“This kind of improvement does not happen by chance. It comes from your work, your efforts. Your efforts have created a new status quo – a system where far more children succeed,” she added.