EDITORIAL – Minister Rivers takes a ‘pass’ on schools report

Education Minister Tara Rivers addressed Cayman’s teachers before the start of the school year. – PHOTOS: JAMES WHITTAKER

At government’s behest, KPMG consultants issued a report in September 2015 containing two key recommendations to turn around the poor-performing Cayman Islands public school system:

First, remove schools from the direct control of government officials and second, end the long-running practice of “social promotion.”

A year later, education officials have announced they will, upon reflection, do neither.

The message from Education Minister Tara Rivers and her education chieftains is this: Government schools will not be subject to accountability in the form of potential closure or competition from academy- or charter-style schools. Students will not be subject to accountability in the form of standards that mean anything. Ministry officials will not be subject to accountability in the form of alternative models of school governance and administration.

Put another way:

  • Failing schools get a pass
  • Failing students get a pass
  • Failing civil servants get a pass.

Although Minister Rivers said the government won’t be pursuing the idea of so-called “partnership schools,” funded by government but controlled by independent boards (a concept also supported by EY’s “Project Future” report) — she did try to pivot to other, far more marginal, aspects of the KPMG report that officials deem to be of value.

Minister Rivers appears to be missing, or willfully overlooking, the central point of the report her own government commissioned. That point, of course, is that Cayman’s government should get out of the business of running schools altogether.

Minister Rivers says that the concept of partnership schools will not be pursued, at least until the next election in May 2017.

Question from the back of the class — If partnership schools are off the table … then what, exactly, is on the table?

It appears, to us, that officials’ only proposal is to throw additional resources into the existing system. They propose, in effect, to serve up to Caymanian students even “more of the same” nutrient-deficient fare that has been on government’s menu for decades. There will be no difference in quality — just quantity.

It is not without sorrow … or even a bit of anger … that we describe the public education paradigm that Cayman’s elected lawmakers are so loath to challenge.

In brief, successive administrations have watched as a relative handful of career civil servants have presided over an inadequate school system, in effect sacrificing the future of Caymanian children — and, by proxy, the country — in order to preserve the positions of a few adults in power.

The deadline that Minister Rivers has set for the further possible consideration of fundamental school reform — the next election in May — is quite telling. What does next year’s election have to do with transforming Cayman’s educational system in the long term?

That date — next May — has practical meaning only for Minister Rivers. It is around that time that far too many of Cayman’s underserved students will be passed on to the next grade level, without having reached the desired targets for the previous year.

It is also at this time that the following question will present itself: Will Cayman’s voters “socially promote” Minister Rivers to another four years in office?