Chamber Forum: Hew refers to ‘academy-style’ public schools; Moxam proposes universal subsidy for Caymanian students

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The two candidates for George Town North gave significantly different assessments of the state of the Cayman Islands education system, and accordingly diverged on proposals for future improvement.

Incumbent Joey Hew and challenger Johann Moxam participated in the 15th candidates forum hosted by the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce on Friday night.

As they did in their previous debate on the Cayman Crosstalk radio show, Hew described the education system as one that is improving, and focussed on the initiatives of the Progressives-led government — while Moxam said the “woeful” public education system needs a complete overhaul, and shared a variety of proposals including giving government scholarships to every Caymanian student from early years education through university.

“We’ve been doing a tremendous amount of work in education,” Hew said.

He referred to the government’s pay raise for public school teachers to $5,000 per month, the introduction of a new national curriculum, the Public Works Department’s apprenticeship programme, School of Hospitality Studies and UCCI nursing programme.

Hew said public schools are taking the “first step” to move toward a UK-academy style of system where school boards and principals “have a bit more autonomy over the running of the school”.

[Editor’s Note: In an earlier Chamber forum, Premier Alden McLaughlin revealed that the government is rolling out a pilot project on public school boards.]

In contrast, Moxam argued for an entirely new governance model for the public education system, which he said is “woefully inadequate” and is “producing substandard students by a vast majority”.

He said, “I would support a new governance model, one that takes away the politics of education and allows higher levels of community and parental engagement.”

Referring to the new John Gray High School project, Moxam said, “Sadly we’ve spent more time and energy in buildings and monuments that we’ve had, than actually helping people.”

[Editor’s Note: Read our story giving context to the construction costs of the $170 million new John Gray and the $110 million Clifton Hunter high schools.]

“School fees grow every year and even middle-class families are finding it hard to sacrifice in order to send their kids to private school, and that is something that we can address,” he said.

Moxam said education for every Caymanian child should be subsidised by the government from early years through tertiary education at UCCI, ICCI or the Truman Bodden Law School.

Under Moxam’s plan, Caymanian students would receive a $5,000 scholarship every year from government to offset education costs.

[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 why that’s possible, ladies and gentlemen, is if we spent less time granting 100s of millions of dollars in concessions to wealthy developers, we could afford to look after our people,” Moxam said.

Later in the forum, Moxam said that in addition to the annual scholarship, Caymanians in the education system should have their healthcare costs paid for by government, for free.

When asked what a successful education system in Cayman would look like, Moxam said, “My vision for a successful education system is one where we emphasise inclusion, quality and high standards in teaching and learning. A more successful education system in Cayman is where there’s no segregation based on income or nationality, and one where the public school system is regarded as equally good or better than the private school system.”

Hew also offered support for the reintegration of public schools, but he said the rub is existing schools — public and private — simply don’t have the space.

“Segregation is a physical problem. It’s a physical plant issue, so if we don’t build schools we’ll never get to the point where we can start to reintegrate other nationalities into our schools,” he said.

Hew pointed out the law isn’t that non-Caymanians are banned from public schools, it’s that Caymanians have first rights to available seats in the public school system. He said the new schools are badly needed, saying conditions at the current John Gray are “deplorable”.

“Whether it’s through the government schools or through private sector schools where we can scholarship Caymanians into those schools, at the moment both sides, government and private, are facing a shortage,” he said.

[Editor’s Note: Read our analysis of crowding and capacity at each public school.]

The 16th candidates forum hosted by the Chamber takes place Monday, 29 March, and features candidates from George Town Central. The debates are posted on various media, including the Chamber’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.

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