The three candidates vying for the open seat in the Savannah district discussed the local Joanna Clarke Primary School, special education and gaps between public and private schools.
On Thursday night, Malcolm Eden, Heather Bodden and Jeanna Williams participated in the fourth candidate forum hosted by the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce.
Eden (the son of retiring incumbent Anthony Eden) said his top issue for the district is Joanna Clarke Primary (formerly Savannah Primary).
“That is the school that I attended and also my 3 kids attended. In speaking with the stakeholders, what we’ve found is there’s a lack of resources for the school. It’s desperately in need of a new hall facility, new canteen facilities,” Eden said. “There are numerous requirements for support for teachers. Another big issue that we’ve identified is there are kids with special needs that aren’t receiving the support that is required.”
On the topic of children with special needs, Williams said it was a priority to “push forward for the human rights of families with children that have special abilities, because of the stigma that is created in our society around children with special abilities”.
She said, “There is a lack of inclusion on the island in regard to children with special abilities. I would like to see that inclusion; obviously where kids are included they feel included in all areas of education, recreation and employment.”
Bodden (who was a Bodden Town MLA from 1995-2000) also said Joanna Clarke Primary is among her top local issues.
“We’ve already had some very long-standing relationships with the Savannah school, and we are to meet with the teachers, parents, and the principal, and hear their views on the issues that are affecting schools,” she said.
Bodden said, “There is an increasing divergence in the quality of education between our private and public schools. What measures at this time would I support to correct this imbalance would be an overall concerted effort between government, teachers, parents and the private sector, and I’m prepared to look at the assessments and find solutions that encompass all areas.”
Cayman used to have a successful education system, Williams said. “I’m a product of private school here in Cayman, and I recall vividly that the government school system was the elite education in Cayman.”
She linked rising cost of living to the deterioration of the education system, and said that although public education is supposed to be free for Caymanian children, many parents are still paying out-of-pocket for related education expenses.
“I would love to see the enforcement of the Constitution where it says that a cost of education for a Caymanian child is supposed to be free. I feel like if you got to the root of the problem then you would see that successful education level return to the public school system in the Cayman Islands,” Williams said.
Eden said he would like to see increased opportunities for vocational training, and to bring A Levels back into public secondary schools.
“My vision for a successful education system is one where we have complete buy-in from the private sector and the public sector. It’s one where we have teachers that are teachers, that are recognised for the work and the hard work, and appreciated for what they do. It’s one where we have retention of teachers in the system,” he said.
“We’ve lost a lot of the good teachers that we’ve had, and the new ones that are on board have not been provided with the proper training, so we do need to focus on a framework that we put in place which is given time to work. Over the past few years, there have been significant changes in the education system,” Eden said.
He said the education system is in need of “tweaking’, including enhancing the curriculum to allow students to pursue careers in alternative subjects such as the arts.
“I think success will be measured by lower unemployment and the satisfaction of the kids as they find jobs,” Eden said. “At the moment there’s a significant part of the population that are unemployed, and a lot of those happen to be the younger kids because they cannot find jobs.”
The fifth candidates forum hosted by the Chamber takes place Friday, 12 March, and features candidates from Newlands. The debates are posted on various media, including the Chamber’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.