We’ve all heard of, “No more pencils, no more books” — but no more paper?

We’re not referring to the schoolyard chant signaling the beginning of summer vacation, but to concerns raised by Cayman Islands parents about the consistent scarcity of basic supplies in government schools.

In January, representatives from the country’s Parent Teacher Associations met with education officials and discussed, among other things, “a recurring issue of a lack of paper at schools.”

In a country which is one of the world’s wealthiest, which built a single high school at a cost of more than $110 million and which will spend $100 million on public education this year alone — how is that even possible?

In the face of shortages, teachers’ initial solution was to ask parents to please send extra classroom supplies. Education officials didn’t like that strategy — not because schools begging parents for paper is a bad idea (which it is), but because it made the government look bad.

Optics are important, but they shouldn’t enter this equation. Schools lacking paper doesn’t just look bad. It is bad.

(Here we’ll note that it took the Compass five months, and an appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office, to wrest the notes from January’s public meeting from the grasp of education officials, who, true to form, undertook to bury the embarrassing records from public view.)

The members of our ruling Progressives government, meanwhile, are attempting to take political advantage of a shameful situation they helped create. Last Saturday, the Progressives held a “Back to School Bash” at their party headquarters on Crewe Road where elected lawmakers distributed — you guessed it — free school supplies to the children of their supporters.

The pre-event announcement features a photo of Premier Alden McLaughlin handing over a bag of supplies to one such youngster. This is the same Mr. McLaughlin who, as education minister, championed the construction of Clifton Hunter High School — our country’s $110 million-plus monument to hubris.

Officials should have shaved $10 million or $20 million from that shiny edifice on Frank Sound Road, and spent it elsewhere: say, on paper — lots of it.

As for the remarks from current Education Minister Tara Rivers — who said the meeting was a “great way to facilitate dialogue …” — we’ll just observe that if Minister Rivers were a teacher emanating this kind of substanceless blather in front of a classroom, no one could blame the students for drifting off to sleep.

Cayman’s education problems, however, go far beyond Premier McLaughlin, Minister Rivers or this current crop of lawmakers.

Consider Clifton Hunter: On the outside, the school is a modern-looking, even beautiful, structure. But inside the building, the same old problems plaguing Cayman’s school system remain unattended to.

Fifty years ago, our country’s leaders made the serious mistake of not making public education the number one priority of the Cayman Islands.

In 1965 and the years after, when the beginnings of the modern Cayman were taking root, the first thing officials should have done was to examine the school system, realize that the education of the day would not prepare Caymanians for the jobs of Cayman’s future, and refuse to settle for anything less than world-class schools.

They, and subsequent governments, did not do that. Instead, they chose to protect a select number of high-ranking education administrators — at the expense of generations of Caymanian children — and for decades allowed them to preside over a continually underperforming school system.

With each passing day, and each failing student, Cayman needs dramatic education reform more than ever. The fact that there will be no quick, easy or cheap solution only serves to underscore the urgency of the situation.

This brings us to a tale told by the late Linton Tibbetts, who was perhaps the greatest entrepreneur in Cayman’s history.

Linton was a boy on the Brac, and his father was urging him to help him plant some trees. Reluctant to undertake the labor, Linton informed his father that, according to his calculations, the trees would not reach full maturity for 50 to 100 years.

“Well,” Linton’s father replied, “we’d better get started.”

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  1. This situation is beyond belief in a country which has periodically wasted millions of dollars on failed government contracts, damages paid to Third Parties, subsidies paid to keep the Turtle Farm and Cayman Airways afloat, and salaries paid for years to Civil Servants on “required leave” whilst under investigation for a variety of reasons.
    Ms Rivers is clearly not familiar with the expression – ” the buck stops here”. It is ironic that she was able to enjoy the benefits of an education which led to her achieving advanced professional qualifications, but as Minister for Education, has been incapable of ensuring that Caymanian schoolchildren are provided with the most basic of resources.
    What a sad legacy, by which to be remembered.

  2. Hubris: a great or foolish amount of pride or confidence.

    Wonder what percentage of the kids at Clifton Hunter know the definition of the word hubris or the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

    Better yet, how many of our political leaders know the definition or the story.

    In “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christen Andersen, a couple of swindlers pretending to be weavers make a special suit for an emperor. They tell the emperor and his followers that the clothes are invisible to people who are too stupid for their jobs. No one can see the clothing, but no one wants to admit this fact because they do not want to be identified as foolish.
    At the end of the story, a child is the one to point out the truth. Slowly, all of the people in the kingdom admit that they cannot see the clothing, and the truth about the weavers is revealed.

    In English, “the emperor has no clothes”, in Caymanian- “he nekked”!

    The moral of the story is that people should be willing to speak up if they know the truth, even if it is not politically correct.

    The efforts of Savanah Primary PTA and the Compass to raise awareness are to be applauded.

    The truth in this matter is that it shouldn’t cost $110 million to build a school and someone should be held accountable (fired) for the waste of public funds.

    Some of those funds would have been better spent on teachers since there is compelling evidence that (1) students in smaller classes score higher on standardized tests than those in larger classes, (2) smaller classes have fewer behavioral problems, and (3) teachers of smaller classes report themselves as more productive and efficient than they were when they taught larger classes.

    It is not the physical building that makes for a good school but the culture and especially the expectations placed on the teachers and students. (https://sites.google.com/site/7arosenthal/)
    During 1964-1965, Harvard’s Robert Rosenthal conducted an experiment in an elementary school to see whether teacher expectations influenced their students’ performances. Teachers were told the names of children in their classes who were “late bloomers,” about to dramatically spurt in their academic learning.
    In fact, these “special” children were randomly selected and no smarter than their classmates. At the end of the term, all the students were tested, and the results made an important point. The “special” children not only performed better in the eyes of their teachers (an expected outcome, the so-called “halo effect”), but they also scored significantly higher on standardized IQ tests.
    In other words, teachers’ expectations had improved the academic performance of their students. Where they expected success, they found it.
    Rosenthal insists that the “Pygmalion effect” also applies to higher education:
    Advice to teachers…never judge a book by its cover and be an encourager.
    1. Never forecast failure in the classroom. If you know a test is particularly difficult, tell your students that the test is difficult but that you are sure that they will do well if they work hard to prepare.
    2. Do not participate in gripe sessions about students. Teachers who gripe about students are establishing a culture of failure for their students, their classes and their own teaching.
    3. Establish high expectations. Students achieve more when teachers have higher expectations.
    Accountability: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for ones actions.

    PS How much will it cost to complete the sister school, $54 million already spent, $8 million planned for a new gymnasium and still haven’t heard what the final projected cost will be. Do we dare broach the topic of “apartheid” in the educational system?

    Darley Solomon, MD

  3. We had an inspection of our schools and the education department several years ago and it seems nothing has changed since the external inspection team produced it’s highly critical report. How can we take our Government, and our civil service seriously when the head of a particular high school which received very low marks, was rewarded by being promoted to head of the Education Dept.