Engaging our community in our schools

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”
— Albert Einstein

On the question of who should be running Cayman Islands public schools — be it government or the private sector — we are agnostic, philosophically speaking.

That being said, we do know this: Whoever will run them tomorrow, cannot be who ran them yesterday.

While we are not opposed to any particular model of governance, we are in favor of disruptive discontinuity.

Following an independent review of Cayman’s public education system, KPMG consultants have recommended that our country adopt a brand-new structure of delivering education, by severing the operational link between government officials (in the Ministry of Education and Department of Education Services) and the individual schools.

What consultants call “Cayman Partnership Schools” will be funded by government, but “governed” by autonomous boards comprising employers, parents, teachers and students, and run on a day-to-day basis by individual principals.

KPMG’s suggested model, which is akin to U.K.-style academies and U.S. charter schools but tailored to Cayman, provides the comprehensive disruption that our long under-performing school system desperately requires.

We continue to support Education Minister Tara Rivers and ministry officials in their quest for change, and we urge lawmakers to consider seriously KPMG’s proposal, which appears to hold much promise.

As we have said previously, we are not sticklers as to how a school system should be organized in theory, so long as it meets a few basic standards in practice.

First, school campuses should be “safe havens,” ruled by discipline and order. (Learning is nearly impossible amid a climate of fear and chaos.)

Second, administrators, faculty and students should be held accountable to the highest standards. (Raise standards, increase performance.)

Third, teachers must be allowed to teach; principals must be empowered to run their schools; senior officials should attend to higher-level functions.

Fourth, and most importantly, students must work hard, demonstrate intellectual curiosity and appreciate the education they are receiving. (Students cannot just be passively “taught.” They must actively “learn.”)

This last variable is largely beyond the control of even an idealized school system. The passion for learning is a cultural value, derived from family members and imbued in the home.

Unfortunately, in this country, generations removed from the “Cayman Miracle” that transformed us from an outpost of turtlers to a center for international finance — the culture of learning has not sufficiently developed.

(We exempt from this criticism Cayman Brac, whose government schools continue to produce capable, high-achieving scholars.)

Too many of our public high school graduates can neither speak properly, write correctly nor spell adequately. Too many shed their caps and gowns and transition into the business world, only to find that the education they have received is inadequate for the jobs that are available or to which they aspire.

For decades, the individual futures of our children have been sacrificed out of loyalty to the education establishment entrenched in posts throughout the ministry, department and schools. Large numbers of entire Caymanian generations have been consigned to one of two fates: a small minority to careers in crime, but far too many to chronic unemployment, or to labor that is manual or menial.

KPMG’s so-called “Cayman Partnership Schools” represent a new paradigm, and accordingly new hope, for the future of our youth. On the subject of education, there are no guarantees of success, but if the Byzantine, barnacled bureaucracy can be swept aside in favor of community-engaged, results-oriented boards; if dynamic principals can provide real leadership to their individual campuses; and if enthusiastic and dedicated teachers are free to transfuse their students with knowledge and, yes, joy — then maybe, in this increasingly competitive world, our children can be equipped not only to survive, but to thrive.

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  1. Thank you very much! This would be wonderful if this could be implemented. Please add #5! Parent/s & guardians, please bring or send your children ready to learn and to be taught. This includes enough sleep, proper food, proper supplies (an empty book bag with a nub of a pencil is not supplies!) and take the time to meet with the teacher/s if you have a concern, not just when the child has a failing grade, to show up and curse and act out. This only teaches your child that bad behaviour is OK. Attend the PTA meetings, get on committees, volunteer for activities. It is not all just "let someone else do it". Your child”s school is only as good as the participation by all concerned.