We won’t in this editorial space dwell on the failures and shortcomings that are nearly universal among Cayman Islands government schools. The recently released reports by independent inspectors explore these in specific detail.
We urge parents, employers and, in general, all those invested in the Cayman community to visit the Ministry of Education’s website (Go to www.education.gov.ky, then click on the “Education” menu option) and read not only the “baseline inspection reports,” but also the ministry’s self-reflective “progress report summary” for the past school year and, more importantly, its forward-looking “plan of action” for the new school year.
The general tenor of the inspection reports is not surprising — but it is scathing. For our present purposes we shall quote one sentence from the executive summary of the overview report: “[S]tudents’ achievement overall is below age-related expectations and represents significant underperformance at all stages of education. The weaknesses in achievement are notably related to teaching quality.”
Allow that to sink in for a moment.
Now, let’s move on to something brighter: “In stark contrast is the good and very good teaching which is evident in differing proportions in all schools. The same group of students can be poorly behaved and disengaged in one lesson, yet well behaved and highly motivated in the next when they find interesting teaching which engages their attention and a teacher who has high expectations of what students can achieve. In such lessons, students are encouraged to aim for the highest grades and not be content with a pass at the lowest level. Lessons are conducted with a sense of urgency, and students capture teachers’ enthusiasm for their subjects responding with interest and enjoying their learning.”
Those two passages illustrate what we hold to be an inviolable law of education: The precise area in which real learning takes place is the metaphysical space between an enthusiastic, able teacher and a willing, focused student. The remainder of the school campus constitutes, at worst, mere trappings (ahem, Clifton Hunter) and, at best, a “facility” in the pure sense of the word, in that the accommodations assist teachers and students by enabling them to conduct their pedagogical relationship in greater ease and comfort.
To that we add the following tenet: There is a direct relationship between raising standards and improving performance.
Few will be shocked that the government schools were deemed to be so poor. Parents have been “voting with their wallets” for the past several years, as evidenced by the drop in government school enrollment and corresponding rise in private school enrollment. We view that trend as a positive one, in that parents are doing what they deem best for their children; however, we also view it negatively, in that not all parents can afford to make a similar choice for their own.
Accordingly, we exhort lawmakers to pass the new Education Bill, post haste, and then under the relevant statute, seriously explore the creation of U.K.-style “academies” in Cayman (i.e. government-funded schools run by non-government entities). A fundamental shift in Cayman’s provision of learning is required in order for our country to move closer to the goal of equality of educational opportunity.
Rather than castigating our public school system for the criticisms espoused by inspectors, we offer our praise and support to officials, administrators and personnel — particularly the leadership under Education Minister Tara Rivers — for “bravely taking their licks,” so to speak, and publishing the “non-sterilized” reports for everyone to see. We also offer our unwavering support to Cayman’s teachers, in public and private schools, to whom we have entrusted the future of this country: Our young people.
Finally, we offer the reminder that, ultimately, it is the individual students who have the responsibility and the obligation for themselves and their own education. The finest buildings, best teachers and most advanced curricula will amount to nothing more than government and personal expenditures if the students don’t actively participate in their own learning process.