Chamber Forum: Saunders says public schools have a ‘misperception’ problem; Frederick says schools are ‘failing’

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The two candidates for Bodden Town West clashed over their assessments of the public school system. Incumbent Chris Saunders said there is a harmful misperception among the business community, while challenger Vincent Frederick said public schools’ failures are real and deeply rooted.

Saunders and Frederick participated in the eighth candidate forum hosted by the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday night.

When asked how he would address a widening performance gap between public and private schools, Saunders said, “First of all, I’ll have to disagree with that question.”

He said, “There’s this misperception out there as if there’s something wrong with the public schools, and what I’ve found is that many employers are actually perpetrating that story as an excuse to not hire Cayamnians.”

“Where the rubber meets the road is even when Caymanian kids come back from university, qualified and having been educated in North America and Europe, they still can’t get the jobs,” Saunders said. “You can’t it back and say, ‘Well, there’s something wrong with the Caymanian local education system,’ when in fact even after the kids come back from university they are still struggling to find a job.”

He said, “It is that misperception or that view that’s put out there as an excuse to not hire Caymanians.”

(Editor’s Note: See our Schools Explorer series to read stories comparing the performance of all public and private schools on government inspection reports.)

Saunders did say there are some issues that need to be addressed to improve local public schools, for example a lack of textbooks, which he called a “political issue”.

He also spoke about the governance structure of education, saying, “We have too many people telling the people in education what to do. Again, politicians and others are not educators, they’re not experts. We need to leave it to the experts to do their jobs.”

On the other hand, Frederick said Cayman’s public schools are failing.

“Education in the Cayman Islands needs to be addressed … It is something that affects all of us. It affects our children. It affects their lives. It affects them getting jobs. It affects their opportunities even when they own businesses,” he said.

He said various government approaches have not addressed underlying causes of the system’s failures.

“How can we fix it? I mean we have changed curriculums, we have changed teachers, we have built schools, we have tried everything. We have asked the government to stay out, and keep a hands-off approach,” Frederick said. “But still they are failing.”

He said, “We’ve got to face the ‘failing’ issue. They are failing.”

Frederick said that decades ago, good attitudes and work ethic were instilled into children at home, in church and by local elders, and those virtues passed into the public school system, which at the time had far less resources than it does today. Now, children are grappling with social issues at home that prevent them from succeeding when they get to school.

“We didn’t have good schools then. We had pencils. We didn’t have shoes; we had sandals, if we had any,” he said. “And we came out quite well. Today we have everything to give the kids, but still we are failing.”

He said, “We need to put some effort into looking deeply [into] what’s behind the problem with the kids at those ages.”

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