EDITORIAL – Education 102: A ‘re-introduction’ to Cayman’s schools

Much of the time, when journalists dig into an assignment over the course of several weeks or months, the resulting news story is a “spotlight” that narrowly focuses on a specific subject, or even from a particular angle.

In today’s Compass, however, we instead have taken a “floodlights” approach to the subject of education in the Cayman Islands, publishing a two-page graphical presentation across the center spread in what we hope is an illuminating overview of our country’s school system.

The story, tables and charts include fundamental facts, such as enrollment, administration, student-teacher ratios, budgets, tuition, test scores, etc.

In first world countries, this sort of information falls into the category of “old news” (or “not news”) because the figures typically are well-known and readily available to the public. In Cayman – well …. Suffice to say that our reporter Mark Muckenfuss put his phone book, Rolodex and records searching ability to good use.

On one level, Cayman’s education system comprises one of the largest and costliest functions of our government. This year, public officials expected to spend about $110 million on public education. The country’s total spending on education is, of course, far greater. About 60 percent of Cayman’s 8,000 students attend government schools. The remaining 40 percent attend private schools, where – depending on the institution and the age of the student – tuition can range from $4,000 per year to more than $20,000 per year.

The relatively large “market share” of Cayman’s private schools (spaces in which are in great demand) is largely due to the government’s effective segregation of public schools (which are nearly 100 percent Caymanian), as well as popular conceptions that the quality of education in private schools is superior to that in government schools.

There is no disputing that over the past several decades Cayman’s government schools have had, and continue to experience, challenges. Local public schools lag behind their U.K. peers in scores on official standardized examinations, though the performance gap has closed somewhat compared to years past.

But we address the above on a fairly regular basis through our daily reporting on education.

What is outstanding in today’s feature – or rather, what stands out to us – is the layers of administration and bureaucracy that have accumulated in the government schools system. At the apex is Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly. Next there’s Chief Officer Cetonya Cacho who oversees the ministry staffers. Further down the flowchart is the Department of Education Services, led by director Lyneth Monteith. Then we arrive at individual schools, each captained by a principal – a position which ideally should carry a CEO-like level of authority, including the ability to hire, fire, discipline and reward faculty.

Underneath this mountain of officers, deputies, administrators, analysts and the like, is – finally – the realm occupied by individual teachers and students … in other words, where actual learning takes place.

Today’s overview of Cayman’s education system is by no means our first foray into the layout of local schools. But it might be helpful to think of it as “re-introduction.” We certainly will be pulling out and saving the two-page spread for reference whenever we are considering this all-important topic.

After all, the education stories of today will in the future become the country’s stories of success … or failure.