Principals should be given control over school budgets and the hiring and firing of teachers, Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said Friday.
Quizzed on what his party would do to reform education in the Cayman Islands during a Chamber of Commerce candidate’s forum in West Bay, Mr. Bush proposed what he described as a “game changing approach.”
He said he supported the concept of public-private partnerships for education as well as more autonomy for principals to run their schools.
“I believe we can have a partnership with the private sector. There are scores of good examples of this and we have people locally that can make it happen.”
He said any such plan should not be an “elitist group” but an institution that maintains equal access to education for all.
Mr. Bush squared off against his rivals in the West Bay West constituency, Independent Paul Rivers and the Progressives’ Daphne Orrett during Friday’s debate at Sir John A. Cumber Primary School.
All three candidates said they support some form of private sector involvement in Cayman’s schools.
Mr. Rivers said public schools had been overburdened by an increase in population.
“We need to treat education like a business to make a success of it. Invest in children in the foundation years rather than in rehabilitation when they go astray and end up in an institution like Northward. I endorse, promote and support public-private partnerships in education.”
Ms. Orrett said government had made improvements in public schools over the last four years, but said private partnerships are something that needs to be looked at.
She said better pay and more respect for teachers could also raise standards in education.
The candidates also tackled concerns around crime and gangs in West Bay, during the debate.
Mr. Rivers said government needs to start tackling the causes of crime rather than just dealing with the symptoms.
“Gangs are derivative of social conditions. When you put able-bodied people on welfare and they have no sense of self worth, no hope, no desire, then gangs is derivative of that.”
He said rehabilitation and mentoring for gangsters to turn them from crime to gainful employment is necessary in West Bay.
“We spend millions of dollars trying to eradicate crime and we fail because we haven’t got to the root cause of it. We need to give them [young people] a sense of worth and a direction to follow.”
Mr. Bush balked at suggestions that West Bay has the highest crime rate in the country, but said more after-school programs and community development initiatives were needed to put youngsters on the right track.
“I’m not sure West Bay has highest crime rate. Where did that statistic come from? When it is good news, it is always Seven Mile Beach; when it’s bad, its West Bay Road.”
He said the governor needs to do more to get tough on crime and prevent Cayman from being subject to directives from the U.K. that weakened sentencing.
“The police station has been robbed three times, how many drugs went missing? Our borders need protecting, but the rescue boat is a North Sound boat. The rescue boat needs rescuing.”
He said he believes the new commissioner of police is on the “right track” but said government has to work with the governor and the police to develop a national defense service to protect the islands’ borders and stem the import of drugs and illegal weapons.
Ms. Orrett said the Progressives government would create a “national coast guard” with assistance, expertise and funding from the U.K.
“We will convert the RCIPS marine unit into a national coast guard with the ability to interdict boats arriving with drugs and guns.”
She said the Progressives “got things done, not just promised to get things done,” and vowed she would be a hands-on representative, always available to people in West Bay.
“I see my role as being involved on a day-to-day basis in monitoring what is taking place in West Bay. I can’t do that flying all over the world and staying in five-star hotels.”