Council plans rollout of education changes

After nearly a year of studying the issues, Cayman Islands Education Council Chairman Dan Scott said it’s time to make a move.

Mr. Scott said he and the other council members, along with Minister of Education Juliana O’Connor-Connolly have looked at such things as increasing teacher compensation, rebalancing the power structure between the ministry and the classroom, revamping the curriculum and elevating expectations for student performance.

Officials have launched a plan of action that will be defined and implemented over the next year, he said, stressing that action is the key term.

“This stuff’s going to change quickly,” Mr. Scott said. “If these things are executed, you’re going to see, in very short order, the government school system will become competitive and very attractive.”

One immediate change will be increasing compensation for teachers, one of the first issues Ms. O’Connor-Connolly talked about after becoming minister last year. A 2011 report, the most recent figure available, said the majority of teachers are paid between $3,500 and $4,800 per month. The minister has argued that the minimum pay should be $5,000 per month.

“She’s right that she has to compensate at a level that’s attractive,” Mr. Scott said.

Cayman has struggled to recruit off-island teachers, not only because it has traditionally started the process late in the game, but also because its salaries are less competitive than in other jurisdictions.

Mr. Scott said increased pay would improve the morale of the existing faculty and help to bring in more high-quality instructors.

He said it will help in “making sure we get the right talent.”

While there are many excellent teachers already in the system, he said, the level of expectation will rise with an increase in pay. Some teachers, he said, may not measure up.

“The reality is to make sure [Minister O’Connor-Connolly] has the right people playing on the team,” he said. “It doesn’t mean it’s going to be the same players.”

Increased expectations also need to be placed on students, Mr. Scott said, by raising standards. A recent report by the Office of Education Standards noted that the current goals for student achievement are too low.

“The standards we have to be targeting are standards that are held in major countries around the world,” Mr. Scott said, adding that Cayman is currently having to import skilled workers from such countries in order to compete on the global market. “Anything short of that, we’re just pretending. We simply can’t set our standards low.”

A long-standing criticism of the Ministry of Education – and of many government agencies – is that control is too centralized. Schools, Mr. Scott said, often feel they have to conform to “cookie cutter” policies. That needs to change, he said.

The Education Council, he said, will recommend rebalancing authority within the system to give schools and classroom teachers greater autonomy.

“When you talk to teachers,” he said, “you hear, ‘Hold us accountable, but give us the flexibility to do what we have to.’ Let’s have some faith that I don’t need to be telling them everything they have to do.

“When you peel everything back, what is education?” he added. “To give to the students the necessary skills and knowledge they need to compete and succeed. The best chance of doing that is where they interact with the teacher in the classroom.”

He said people he has spoken to at the ministry level understand this.

“People at the center get it,” he said. “The teachers get it. And under this minister, it’s, ‘OK, let’s just go do it.’”

The council is also examining ways to incorporate Year 12 into the government schools. Currently, students graduate after Year 11, but must complete an additional year, either by attending a private school, the Cayman Islands Further Education Centre, the University College of the Cayman Islands or by going abroad. Mr. Scott believes a separate facility would be needed to provide the additional schooling. The cost of such a facility could in part be paid for by what the government would save by not having to provide scholarships for Year 12 study.

“I think it’s absolutely warranted,” he said. “And if you’re incorporating Year 12, you’ve got to do Year 13 (for those studying for A-Level exams). You need to do both.”

Mr. Scott said the school curriculum also needs to be revamped – a recently completed report by the Office of Education Standards called for a wholesale overhaul – part of which, he said, needs to be reintroducing textbooks, increasing the use of computers in the classroom and bolstering school libraries.

All of these proposed changes need to take place quickly, he said. He acknowledges that improvements have been made in recent years, but he said they are happening too slowly.

“I think the community has been speaking loud and clear for a long time,” he said. “They’re saying it’s time for action.

“Every year that passes by and we don’t do something, we have to look these kids in the face when they say, ‘Why not?’” he added. “Now is the time to pick up the pace.”

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  1. Reading and writing are the most important skills to teach.

    I have no qualifications in the education field. My sole qualification is as a relatively successful retired adult.

    I was good at Maths. But looking back; in my entire career I have never once used differential calculus or quadratic equations. (Although I use Excel spreadsheets and percentages every day). No one has asked me to draw a map of Peru from memory or write a sentence in Latin. My French is poor and German almost non-existent.

    It is reading and writing that are the skills I most use. With reading I can keep up with technologies that didn’t exist when I was at school.

    My suggestion is a greater emphasis on the three Rs, reading, writing, ‘rithmatic, and less on teaching those subjects that are never going to be of use to the majority of students.

    • These subjects (among many others) were mandatory when I attended a school:
      6 years of Math, 5 years of Algebra and Geometry, 2 yeas of Botany (5-7) , 1 year of zoology(7th), 1 year of human anatomy(8th). Physics begins in grade 7. First, we studied the introduction to this science, then the fundamentals of the doctrine of molecules, then mechanics. In the 8th class, thermodynamics, electricity, electromagnetism, the basics of optics were studied. In the 9th grade – mechanics, electricity, electromagnetism, nuclear physics. In the 10th grade – thermodynamics, electricity. In 11 – electromagnetism, geometric optics and quantum optics, quantum physics. In the 11th grade astronomy was also studied. The study of chemistry usually begins in 7 or 8 grade (7-9 class – inorganic chemistry, at the end of 9 classes – organic, 10 class – organic chemistry, 11 class – general chemistry and the repetition of inorganic chemistry). Nearly all students passed exit exams.
      Was it too much? I don’t think so. Well, may be astronomy was unnecessary.

      So why only focus on reading and writing?
      Intelligence is not fixed. Brain plasticity is a fact. Besides, reading and writing are the very basic, elementary skills children acquire in grades 1-3.

    • Perhaps not knowing how to draw a map of Peru, isn’t a requirement, but knowing where on the globe it is, is vitally important.
      Most can’t identify where most countries are located, and on which continent. How about a little history of various countries. A solid introduction to business and finance would be most beneficial to young Caymanians, as many leave here for other foreign destinations. It’s wonderful to be well rounded in as many subjects as possible. A successful teacher is one that inspires, motivates and keeps the student enthusiastic to learn. If a teacher fails these qualities, then they need to go. Our world’s future depends on the next generation’s ability to grasp the economics and the world around them, or be left behind.

  2. I don’t see that learning disabilities are being addressed in this plan.
    I am not talking about children with severe intellectual, cognitive, emotional or behavioural disorders or severe autism.
    Learning difficulties include problems with reading, writing, math, comprehension, logical reasoning, visual and auditory memory, dyslexia, non-verbal learning, auditory processing and attention. Binocular vision anomalies are pandemic and remain largely undiagnosed.

  3. Mr. Scott better read the statistics, that half of Cayman drivers can’t pass the drivers test. Can’t have stupid drivers, who can’t pass the driving test and operate a 4 thousand pound missile. Cayman better address this ASAP. The vehicular accidents and deaths here are staggering. The speeding is off the charts.

  4. I applied for a teaching position in Cayman from overseas. I have the following qualifications; BSc(Hons) in Physics from UCL, GradDipEd BEd (Double Major in Maths/Science), GradDipCertFin, MAppFin and MNursSci. Despite my qualifications, I was unsuccessful in the application because the salary was not enough to prove to immigration that I could support my dependents. Education will not attract suitable candidates when they are unable to gain entry due to the meagre salary. As teachers are positions predominately held by females and their role is grossly undervalued and under appreciated, you will continue to have failures within education. I have gained another position (not in education), and the school has missed the opportunity of utilising my skills. As a female Physicist, Nurse and Teacher who holds a Masters in Finance, it saddens me that even I could not get a position teaching in a school. Good luck to other applicants from overseas.