Most of the candidates for George Town East agreed that there is a lack of accountability in the Cayman Islands school system, going on to propose a variety of causes of and solutions to that issue.
Incumbent Roy McTaggart and fellow candidates Richard Bernard, Emily DeCou, Christina Hislop Rowlandson and Frank McField participated in the 19th and final candidate forum hosted by the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday night.
All 5 candidates also took part in an earlier debate aired on the Cayman Crosstalk radio show.
McTaggart said a key difference between public and private schools is accountability to parents, and he supports a new governance model for public schools that will seek to address that shortcoming.
“Certainly I think that within the public education system, I don’t believe there is sufficient accountability. I think what we need right now is a new governance model within the public school system that would transfer a lot of the decision-making and accountability back to the schools themselves and the leadership of the schools,” he said.
(Editor’s Note: In a previous Chamber candidates forum in mid-March, Premier Alden McLaughlin first discussed the pilot school board project being pursued by government.)
McTaggart said, “The new governance model that is needed must include the parents of the students and allowing them, again, to have a say in the running of their schools and the policies that are adopted.”
“I think if we can get that right then certainly it will place the accountability right where it needs to,” he said.
Saying that private schools’ governance models allow parents to participate in their children’s schools, McTaggart said, “The parents getting involved in their education as a part of the process is something that is lacking right now in our public schools, so I do believe there is a great opportunity there.”
McField said, “We need to have a whole overhaul of the educational system. It’s not a question of accountability, it’s a question of lack of ability to have the foresight to plan properly for our people.”
He said there is a lack of Caymanian identity among students, and the schools continue to bring in foreign teachers while not training Caymanian teachers.
“We build the buildings to say we built the best buildings in the world, and we have not built teachers. We have not given them the kind of pay, the kind of motivation and the kind of authority within the school system that would make them leaders that would be leading our children,” McField said.
DeCou said there is “a clear lack of accountability and transparency” in the public school system, based on students graduating based on “attendance” rather than “attainment”.
“I am a supporter of depoliticising education, to give more of a say in the hands of the parents, the teachers and the principals and the school faculty, so that they can tell the Department of Education Services what their needs are for their students, rather than the other way around as the model currently works,” she said.
DeCou said government should use the Office of Education Standards inspection reports as a baseline and review Ministry of Education reports for recommendations that were proposed but never implemented.
Rowlandson said, “I was involved with the review of the Education Department very early in my career, and a lot of those recommendations were not implemented, and this was a common theme I found in government.”
She said, “There’s lots of reports done but they just don’t seem to see the light of day.”
Rowlandson said parents are the key stakeholder group to whom schools should be accountable.
“The schools should be a very safe place for children. I think that is being jeopardised and compromised at the moment, in terms of the drugs in schools and even harassment of some of the girls,” she said.
(Editor’s Note: See our analysis of student suspensions in public high schools over the past 10 years.)
Rowlandson suggested looking at UK-style arrangements where a public school ‘twins’ with a private school to share resources.
“It’s a model that the UK uses very effectively,” she said.
Bernard said, “There is definitely not enough accountability or transparency in the educational system in the Cayman Islands. It definitely needs overhauling.”
He said there seems to be a “two-tier system” in Cayman, with superior private schools and public schools that are “failing miserably”.
Bernard also addressed segregation of the public school system, saying students who attend public schools and students who attend private schools often don’t meet up until adulthood.
“There has never been any cohesion there, so you have this separation from when children are in the private and public schools. This needs to stop,” he said.