Hew: Public education ‘on the right path’; Moxam: Progressives ‘big on talk, small on action’

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The two candidates for George Town North could have been talking about two different education systems, or describing alternate realities.

Incumbent Joey Hew said Cayman Islands public schools are on the right track. Opponent Johann Moxam said the vast majority of public school graduates are underperforming.

Hew cited accomplishments from the Progressives-led government, including the across-the-board teacher pay raise, UCCI School of Nursing, and Public Works apprenticeship programme.

Moxam said the relevant issue is not how much the government is spending, but how those funds are being used.

Hew and Moxam appeared on the Cayman Crosstalk radio show Thursday.

(Watch the show here.)

“Education is the world over a very topical issue. We certainly have been addressing it,” Hew said.

In addition to nursing and vocational programmes, Hew referred to the new national school curriculum, the provision of laptops to all public school students during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the increase in teacher pay to $5,000 per month.

“Whereas we were losing teachers from the public to the private sector, we are now gaining teachers from the private sector coming into the public sector,” Hew said.

Moxam responded, “Eighty per cent of students graduating from the public system are operating at a substandard level. 80%. The government’s focus on education seems to be building a $170 million building, and giving raises to teachers, which is good politics, but at the end of the day are there [Key Performance Indicators] for these raises?”

He said, “Not all teachers are equal. Those that are really thriving, driving and reaching those sort of performance levels, they require and deserve a higher level of [compensation] as opposed to the teacher who’s just there to show up and collect a paycheque. And there are some in the system.”

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

Moxam said education should be a priority from nursery through university graduation. He proposed that every Caymanian student should be offered a government scholarship or funding to pay for their education at all levels.

“If we can spend $75,000 a year on housing prisoners and $2.3 million a year on the Fairbanks … facility where we’re housing Cuban refugees, certainly we must be willing to spend $5,000 on each student to ensure that they get help,” he said.

“For those Caymanians that are in private school, we should be able to subsidise those school fees because those are additional headaches and costs to the family,” Moxam said.

[Editor’s Note: Giving each of the approximately 6,600 Caymanian students a $5,000 scholarship would cost approximately $33 million per year, or about one-third of the overall public education budget.]

“The reason we can do that is if we stop giving away hundreds of millions of dollars in concessions in current and future revenue, the Cayman Islands government will have a pot where we can do these things to help the education system,” Moxam said.

“We need to have a wraparound system, and this government is big on talk but small on action,” he said.

Hew said, “We have been approaching education holistically, aggressively, and I think we are on the right path for that. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. And we have not been hiding that. We have been having the annual inspections, and we’ve been reacting to those and responding to those accordingly.”

He said the Progresses government has increased spending on education every budget cycle, “not by large margins but by tremendous margins”.

[Editor’s Note: According to the Auditor General, government’s annual spending on public education increased by 17% from 2014 to 2018, to $86 million. In 2019, it rose again to nearly $95 million.]

“We are investing heavily,” Hew said. “It does not happen overnight. It’s not unique to Cayman either, but I truly believe we are on the right path. There are some tweaks that we need to make but I think we’re following a plan. We are on the right path. We have invested heavily in education, and we will continue to do so.”

Moxam said, “The reality is this: We are talking about $90 million being spent on education. But is it in the right spots? Because you can have money, but it’s the allocation of said funds to the right programmes, to the initiatives, to solutions that will help the children and the families. We have a lot of money. We don’t have a plan. And that’s the problem.”

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