Despite pledges and platitudes that emanate from the campaign trail every fourth year or so (the most tired cliché being “the children are our future”), there is no real evidence that Cayman Islands officials – and, by extension, Cayman voters – value education as much as they need to, or ought to.
Poor or underperforming schools (and, by proxy, Cayman students) have been manifest for at least the last half-century. Plaintive voices urging reform may have been heard, but certainly were not listened to:
“Every effort must be made to make our educational facilities and teaching staffs second to none… all children deserve and must have a full and complete education.” (Tradewinds, 1965).
“It would be folly to develop Cayman before Caymanians were being developed to participate in the islands’ development.” (Benson Ebanks, 1976).
“We have to stop making political promises and start making good on those promises by finally putting a system in place that achieves the levels that we are proud of and that allow our children to make their own destiny.” (Woody Foster, 2017).
Put another way, the problems of yesterday remain the problems of today, and, barring a nationwide commitment to restructuring public education in Cayman, those problems will continue, well, forever.
The social and economic costs of not addressing this issue are foreseeable. They include growing gaps between economic classes (meaning class warfare), disparities in opportunities, increases in crime and other antisocial behavior, to name but a few.
On a regular basis, this newspaper carries headlines of sensational or violent crime, of overcrowded prisons, and of the ever-rising costs of maintaining the government’s social welfare apparatus.
These are all, at root, education issues, spawned in our classrooms but evidenced in our streets.
Year after year, standardized exams demonstrate that Cayman’s public school students perform far poorer than their peers in other locales. At the same time, our educational bureaucracy takes refuge in interminable, but predictable, protestations of “incremental improvement.”
We are particularly dismayed, as voters should be, that many of our leaders in Cayman’s public sector, including the education ministry, send their own children to private schools. Government schools, which they oversee, are good enough for your children – but not good enough for theirs.
As yet another election looms in these islands, we remain unconvinced (especially if past is prologue) that elected political leaders are capable of leading our schools, students and, by proxy, our country to the future they aspire to.
Just contemplate for a moment the judgment (and the optics) of the current government’s decision to build the new John Gray High School gymnasium before building new John Gray classrooms. Equally troubling was the $8.8 million cost of the facility (which was about double the government’s annual funding for the University College of the Cayman Islands).
The way forward for Cayman’s public education system involves three possible paths:
The status quo – Government continues to finance and operate public schools.
Public-private partnerships – This is a difficult marriage, particularly if each side insists on having influence over practical and policy decisions, proportional to the amount of resources each is providing.
Complete privatization – The government retains the responsibility for ensuring that every child in Cayman receives an adequate level of education, but steps away completely from providing the education services, with that role being filled by any variety of operators, including private schools, charter schools, U.K.-style academies, etc.