Premier Alden McLaughlin says his government plans to desegregate the islands’ schools in the long term, allowing foreign students to sit in classrooms alongside Caymanians.
He said the long-standing policy decision not to allow the children of expatriates to attend government schools was one of the most regressive decisions the country had ever taken.
Speaking during the debate on a new Education Law in the Legislative Assembly this week, he said the decision was “one of the greatest setbacks not just to education, but to the society we have.”
He suggested one of his aims in sanctioning new school builds during his tenure as education minister was to pave the way for integrating the schools.
“My move, for which I have been beaten with many stripes for many years, to get us the physical plant we need to accommodate the sheer number of students was based, in part, on the fact that we would seek to accommodate all persons of education age resident in Cayman.
“We are moving forward with the construction of John Gray [High School]. God and the electorate willing, we will have another term and we will complete John Gray and we will move on to whatever we need to do to create the space and the capacity to accommodate all who are of education age in these islands, whether they are Caymanian or otherwise.”
The Education Law does not affect the right of expatriate children to go to government schools, which is characterized by the Ministry of Education as a preferential admissions policy based on capacity.
In a 2014 response to questions on the policy from the Cayman Compass, the ministry indicated that it does allow some foreign students to attend government schools if places are available, though school fees are charged. At the time, one in 10 students in the public school system was non-Caymanian. Caymanians have first priority, followed by children of Caymanians, children of government employees and then children of permanent residents.
Former education councilor Winston Connolly reignited the debate last week, calling for public-private partnerships to create new integrated schools.
Mr. McLaughlin, in his remarks in the Legislative Assembly, supported Mr. Connolly’s contention that the schools should be desegregated, though he did not indicate how the new schools should be funded or operated.
The Education Law provides the legal framework for public-private partnerships in operating schools, and Mr. Connolly said Cayman should use that option to meet the needs of its growing population.
“I’m happy we are talking about different types of schools and that we now have provisions for different types of governance in our schools. I think we have reached the stage in our history where we have to partner with the private sector to enhance the product of education.
“The ministry and the government can only go so far. We have to acknowledge that some of that will mean shared control.”
He said government could maintain an oversight and regulation role, including setting the national curriculum, while giving up governing control of some individual schools.
Mr. Connolly suggested there are private sector groups willing to invest in Cayman’s schools.
“We need to properly vet them, to engage with them and see how their proposals will enhance education in Cayman.”