The three candidates for East End highlighted education as one of the top issues facing the country, criticising the top-down approach that changes with every new elected government.
During the first 2021 candidates forum hosted by the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, incumbent Arden McLean and challengers McCleary Frederick and Isaac Rankine discussed improving consistency in education policy across administrations.
“We keep changing the system. It’s like having a sore and keep picking at it. It never heals. It never gets better. We have to decide where we’re going to go, how we’re going to get there, put a plan in place and stick with it, and follow it, and give it an opportunity to work,” Frederick said.
McLean said, “We need to talk about the devolution of responsibilities and authority down to the schools, and cut out the Department of Education. It needs to be cut out. It needs to be put under an authority whereby the schools, the teachers — that’s what they do, they teach children — they must take responsibility and accountability.”
McLean suggested having committees of people in districts to volunteer on boards to assist with education.
Rankine said, “I certainly will support a school board, especially for East End.”
He called education a “political football” that gets kicked all over the place by each administration.
Saying that the government’s education budget is among the highest in the world, on a per-student basis, and that it increases every year, Rankine said, “We do not have to input any more money into education. What we have to do is use those resources properly.”
He said that the disparity between better-performing private schools and lower-performing public schools arose after the government enacted the policy to effectively prevent non-Caymanians from attending public schools (which today are 90% Caymanian).
“Then you started to see the degradation of our education because we then no longer mixed in and made our schools competitive,” Rankine said.
He said the government should identify students from an earlier age and distinguish who will be going in a professional direction, and who will be going in a vocational direction.
Rankine also emphasised the importance of the social well-being of children, and the necessary involvement from parents. “We cannot absolve the parents of their responsibility of ensuring their kids get the best education they can get,” he said.
Frederick said 2 of his grandchildren attend East End Primary School and he was “very disheartened” to find out the school barely passed its school inspection, with poor marks in English, Maths and Science.
“We need to sit down and determine what our education policies are going to be and stick with it and work it through. Yeah, there will be problems but we have to work the problems out. You don’t just throw out everything and start over,” Frederick said.
He said teachers come from all over the world to teach in Cayman, and when they arrive they are playing catch-up to familiarise themselves with local policies. “They have to learn, so they’re learning along with the students,” he said.
McClean said, “It’s impossible for me to understand why a country so sophisticated and [that] values [education] so much, and we don’t pay more attention to the actual education of our children, so that their boat can rise with the same tide that everybody else’s rises with.”
“We’re just throwing money at things that are useless,” he said.
The second candidates forum hosted by the Chamber takes place Tuesday, 9 March, and features candidates from North Side. The debates are posted on various media, including the Chamber’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.