EDITORIAL – ‘Taking attendance’ at Cayman’s public schools

Winston Connolly has done it again. The George Town lawmaker’s “Diogenes” gene has re-activated — meaning that Mr. Connolly has gone and said something amazingly honest, with no regard to the political consequences. We admire and applaud him for that.

This time around, the “unspoken rule” of Cayman Islands government that Mr. Connolly has violated is admitting … no, declaring … that he sends his own children to private school and that he won’t send them to government schools until or unless they are significantly improved.

For context, Mr. Connolly is formerly the government’s councilor for education, working directly with Education Minister Tara Rivers. To us, that suggests that Mr. Connolly is one of the most knowledgeable individuals in the Cayman Islands on education issues, giving added heft to his endorsement of the private educational system over the public offerings.

We, of course, would never criticize someone for offering what they feel to be the best possible educational opportunities for their children. If Mr. Connolly believes his children can get a better education at private schools than the government schools, and he can afford to send them there, who — certainly not us — could blame him? We would do the same.

But Mr. Connolly went further, treading where few, if any, of his elected colleagues have dared to go.

He challenged the wisdom of the government running a purposefully segregated school system where Caymanians go to one set of schools (public) and expatriates (approximately 50 percent of the population) must attend another (private).

“We need to desegregate our schools,” he said. “It is ludicrous to think that when our kids finally interact at 18 or 19 in the workplace that they are suddenly going to come together and hold hands and understand each other culturally. We are setting ourselves up for a lot of social problems.”

Although Mr. Connolly didn’t mention it, the exclusion of expatriate children from the public schools places an enormous, and unfair, financial burden on foreign families with school-age children. Through duties, fees and other local taxes, they are already paying for the schools their children are not allowed to attend. The inequity of this is obvious.

Further, the cost of sending a child — not to mention two or more children — to a private school is enormous. In fact, it is prohibitive to many of the families whose breadwinners are here on work permits. It is not an exaggeration to report that the cost of sending three students to a mid-tier private school in Cayman exceeds $25,000 annually. To send one 12th grader for one year to Cayman International School costs $19,000.

For families of means, these schools no doubt provide “value for money,” but most parents — expatriate or local — simply cannot afford such expenditures.

Again, Mr. Connolly had it correct when he suggested that the goal of education reform in Cayman (indeed anywhere) must be to create a school system that attracts, through quality and excellence, students of all demographic descriptions – rich, poor, Caymanian or expatriate. No government has a greater obligation to its people.