“Although the quality of teaching has improved, standards of achievement at the end of primary years has not yet shown any significant improvement from the baseline inspections of 2014/15.”
— From the Office of Education Standards
Annual Report 2018
As far as we can determine, there is little to find fault with the Office of Education Standards, which just issued its annual report, focusing on the 10 public primary schools in the Cayman Islands.
Indeed the report appears comprehensive, unbiased and, as might be expected, punctuated with photos of cute smiling kids, hands raised, apparently eager to learn.
What is concerning to us and, we would hope, all Caymanians is that after spending hundreds (and hundreds) of millions of dollars on our public school system over our modern history, it remains highly resistant to improvement and naggingly mediocre by conventional and international standards.
Because our public schools are government-funded and government-administered, it narrows our search when trying to pinpoint responsibility and accountability. For decades, one need look no farther than our elected governments themselves (with an “assist” from far too many parents, students themselves, and the business community – which historically has been far too passive as it witnessed year-over-year performances in our classrooms it would never tolerate in its own boardrooms).
One statement in the 34-page annual report leaps out at us. It is this:
“In 2017, in reading, only around two thirds of Year 6 students left government primary schools achieving at the expected level. This has declined from 73 percent in 2015.” As might be expected, the report continues, “In writing, similarly, results have declined from 62 per cent in 2015 to 47 per cent in 2017.”
In short, this is a doomsday scenario. If a third to a half of our students emerging from our primary schools are having identifiable difficulties in both reading and writing, their futures are predictably bleak. Remediation at the high school level, or, heaven help us, at the college or university level should be neither a hope nor an option.
“Reading is Fundamental,” of course, is the mantra that cannot be improved upon. None of the mastery of academic disciplines (from science and mathematics to history, sociology and economics) is achievable without the ability to read comfortably and, eventually one would hope, enjoyably.
Inspirational quotes about literacy abound. Here are just a couple to ponder:
- “The more that you READ, the more THINGS you will KNOW. The MORE you LEARN, the more PLACES you’ll GO!” – Dr. Seuss
- “Reading is a discount ticket to everywhere.” – Mary Schmich
- “Reading should not be presented to children as a chore, a duty. It should be offered as a gift.” – Kate DiCamillo
The best time to teach children to read is, of course, when they are still children. Anyone, indeed everyone, can learn to read in their early years of schooling. That should be the primary goal of our primary education system.
In the private sector, we would be remiss if we did not recognize the ongoing commitment to student literacy of LIFE (Literacy Is For Everyone). Founded by Woody Foster (of Foster’s Food Fair fame), LIFE is a volunteer organization that tutors and mentors public school students in improving their reading skills. LIFE deserves both our applause – and our support.
Given the resources and values of the Cayman Islands, a literacy rate of 100 percent is a worthy countrywide goal to pursue.