*Editor’s Note: A part of the Current’s mission is to facilitate discourse on education in the Cayman Islands. This viewpoint from Nichelle Scott is the first in what we hope will become many opinion pieces submitted from the Cayman community. Click here to Join The Conversation.*
Education has long been touted as the great equalizer. However, education comes in many forms: The sharing of cultural norms, the exposure to other thought processes, the sharing of family, the creation of a community. These are the other types of education and benefits of the formal school system when living in a melting pot like Cayman.
For many years, the decision of excluding expatriate children from the public education system has been questioned by some. Why is allowing the children of expatriates to attend the public schools of the Cayman Islands worth discussing? Shouldn’t Caymanians be first in line to receive the free education offered by our country? They should. But in creating this exclusion, we are potentially making a detrimental decision for Caymanians. A school’s success is determined by the contribution of its community. It is not exclusive to the teachers and the administrative policies in place. It is about the community as a whole — the skilled technician who shares their knowledge and provides assistance, the homemaker who assists when the working parent cannot, the basketball coach who offers their time and energy, the lawyer who provides advice and guidance, the accountant who assists with budgets. Each person in society plays a role, and when the society divides itself, we begin to see an imbalance.
The median income of a Cayman Islands resident is CI$39,732. It can thus be determined that 50% of the population earns less than this amount. For an expatriate to receive permission to have a dependent in Cayman, the household income must be at a minimum CI$42,000. Most expatriates who can live here and afford for their children to attend private school have household incomes that are at or above the average Cayman resident. It is safe to say that many (not all but many) of the expatriates who have their children on-island can be considered mid- to high- net worth individuals. Unfortunately, statistics on what percentage of individuals who have dependents on-island eventually become residents, and later Caymanians, is not readily available, but it is probably fairly common.
What is the result when future Caymanians, who are the children of affluent residents, are allowed minimal interaction with the locals?
- We Caymanians begin to lose our culture. Why? New Caymanians are not exposed to indigenous Caymanians and instead create their own subcultures and definitions of what it is to be Caymanian.
- We limit private sector injection into the public schools. If you are a partner of a profitable company, and your daughter or son attends a private school (and is not allowed to attend the public school), what is your preferred school to support financially? Where does your loyalty lie? Which school do you know more of?
- From the child’s perspective: As a child who is raised to adulthood in Cayman and subsequently becomes Caymanian, which school do you support fiscally and with your time to volunteer? What school system holds your loyalty? Usually, the school you attended. Never forget, with Cayman’s current policies, the expatriate child of today is potentially the Caymanian of tomorrow.
- Our country has been structured to allow a simple residency process if you possess enough funds. You may become a resident of the Cayman Islands for a fee of $20,000 if you can prove independent wealth and you invest in the Cayman Islands. The rationale for this structure is that high-net worth individuals living in our country create a “trickle-down effect” of wealth to Caymanians. However, in creating this opportunity and then dividing the community, we invite individuals of high net worth to live here and run the companies that will hire our children, and don’t allow our children (or their parents) to rub shoulders with these individuals. We are effectively removing opportunities for networking and preventing the aforementioned trickle-down effect to occur.
- Lastly, some expatriate couples who can afford private school have the option for one partner to remain at home with their child/children. Stay-at-home moms (and dads) do amazing things for school systems. When we remove a portion of the high-net worth parents from the public school system, you remove the benefits they bring to the table.
The above points are only relevant if current policies remain as they are. This discussion is by no means suggesting that a local child should be displaced from the free education system by a non-Caymanian. Instead the point is that where there is space available, expatriates should be offered the ability to pay for placement within the public school system. Where space is unavailable, public-private collaborations can occur for non-core subjects; public schools offer some classes that private schools don’t, and vice versa. Everyone will benefit from such an arrangement; there will be additional funds for public schools, increased diversity and cultural incorporation, and a continued building of our community.
Will everyone jump at the opportunity to send their child to the public schools? Not initially. Some habits and ingrained thought processes take time to change, and that won’t happen until we begin proving that the public schools have just as much to offer academically as the private schools. However, we have to begin somewhere and the incremental changes to our society and our interactions will all be worth it.
Make no mistake, there are students within the government schools who have excellent academic successes, though they are not always as highly publicized as in the private schools. The public sector has a few opportunities:
- Sing of the successes high and loud!
- Do not treat parents entering the school system as if they have no choices. Offer tours, presentations and pamphlets indicating why your school is the best.
- Invest in learning support. No child is the same. EVERY parent wants to know their child will be supported, regardless of their educational needs.
- Lastly, Caymanians have shifted to sending their children to UK and Canadian universities for over 10 years now and yet only the private schools offer A Levels. Parents want to know they will not be scrambling to find a space within a limited A Level program once their child graduates high school.
Singapore is an island nation known for its excellent public education program. Like Cayman, Singapore has a large and growing number of expatriates (about 40% of the population). On an annual basis, Singaporean citizenship is granted to about 0.4% of the total population. By comparison, Caymanian status grants are awarded to about 400 people per year, about 0.6% of Cayman’s total population.
However, unlike Cayman, Singapore offers places to expats in their public schools on a space-available basis. There is a waiting list!
If the Cayman Islands Government is determined to grow the population swiftly via immigration (which is a topic for another day), we must ensure that future Caymanians are welcomed into the fold — or our cultural influence will go the way of the American Indian.
— Nichelle Scott