Cayman’s schools are about to get an overdue evaluation. A thorough, rigorous and objective inspection is necessary to determine the current state of our schools – public and private, individually and collectively.
But while a professionally conducted inspection is a necessary first step, we must keep in mind that its purpose is analytical, not remedial. What follows the inspection almost certainly will be a report replete with dozens of observations and recommendations. What happens following the report, of course, will determine the commitment this government has to addressing our education issues.
We are encouraged, even optimistic, that our newly named Minister of Education, Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, and the newly constituted Cayman Islands Education Council, under the chairmanship of businessman Dan Scott and MLA Barbara Conolly, appreciate the importance of their new roles and are planning and acting accordingly. The school inspector’s findings and insights will be important tools as they begin to formulate serious remedies for an ailing system.
Peter Carpenter, director of the Office of Education Standards, who will be heading up the inspections, appears well qualified for his task. He has performed similar roles in the U.K. and Dubai and, no doubt, has encountered political pressures in the conduct of his work. We trust that he has resisted such influences and hope he would do the same here. Politics and education has never been a healthy mix.
Mr. Carpenter recently told the Compass he expects the inspection process to be “collaborative,” requiring self-assessments of school administrators, which will then be included in inspectors’ assessment of the school. We think this is a good, and positive, approach.
Additionally, it is essential that complete transparency and the results of Mr. Carpenter’s findings be made public so Cayman’s teachers, leaders, parents and employers have an accurate picture of the state of our schools.
It is no secret that too many of our youths are graduating from Cayman’s government schools without adequate preparation for leadership, careers or even for satisfying, well-compensated employment.
The last comprehensive school inspections, conducted three years ago – far too long – revealed serious deficiencies in two thirds of Cayman’s government schools. This round, the process will be similar to accreditation methodologies accepted in other jurisdictions around the world.
This is important because standardized and widely accepted measurements will give Cayman a truer picture of how our schools – and our students – are performing.
Cayman cannot afford a repeat of the 2012 inspection debacle, which revealed such embarrassing deficiencies that the entire report was secreted away, replaced by a lukewarm version of the original in an effort to soften some of the sting. What may have been intended as a kindness did a great disservice to Cayman’s students, parents and educators. It also did damage to the process itself, calling into question the veracity of the findings that were eventually made public.
We understand that no one likes to convey – or hear – bad news, but pretending it does not exist only exacerbates the problem.
What is required, and what we trust Mr. Carpenter and his colleagues will produce, is a clear-eyed, candid assessment of our school system as it exists today.
Many students of our public schools emerge remarkably well educated and prepared to advance to higher levels of education and personal achievement.
But far too many do not.
The best thing we can do for our students, and our schools, is to hold them accountable to very high standards and – because we have provided them with the guidance, resources and opportunity to succeed – they will, in fact, in surprising numbers, do exactly that.