Candidates go big: The boldest education ideas from the 2021 campaign

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Should the education system be governed by a regulatory body instead of the ministry? How about a single ‘education czar’?

Should every Caymanian receive universal free education from preschool to college? What about merging Cayman’s local universities?

A few days ago, we published our ‘Campaign Report Card’, summarising every candidate’s position on 5 of the most-talked about education topics: governance changes, desegregation, special education, teacher support and TVET.

In this post, we’ll highlight some of the most ambitious, interesting or otherwise memorable initiatives proposed by candidates in this year’s campaign.

Meet the new boss(es)

In the conversation about school governance, the Progressives-Alliance position is to introduce school boards to place more authority in the hands of principals and parents.

By itself, this proposal is a significant departure from the current top-down, Ministry-led structure of the public education system.

However, a number of other candidates have gone further, advocating for the Ministry’s responsibilities to be devolved to a board-led authority.

Red Bay candidate Samuel Jackson has gone into perhaps the most detail about such a plan. Jackson said the framework Education Law should be revised to create a statutory authority, with a board of directors to oversee and regulate the education system.

The new education regulatory authority would in turn oversee individual boards governing schools.

Meanwhile, the Ministry would be responsible for creating policy and legislation to manage the authority.

On the other hand, North Side candidate Jay Ebanks recommended putting the power over the education system into the hands of an appointed education professional — likening this to how Roy Bodden was president of UCCI.

Paying for school

Several candidates have weighed in on giving subsidies, scholarships or other funding to parents of Caymanian students to pay for some or all of school costs.

George Town North candidate Johann Moxam proposes giving free education to all Caymanians, starting from 3 years 9 months, all the way through university (if they attend UCCI or ICCI).

That includes providing full support to Year 12 and 13 students to take A Levels (or other preparatory courses) or to participate in TVET courses.

In terms of funding, Moxam supports providing a $5,000 annual scholarship to every Caymanian student to pay for education at all levels — including at private schools.

(Editor’s Note: Along with the Progressives-Alliance manifesto, Moxam has arguably the most detailed education plan out of all candidates, with policies, strategies and actions outlined for the short- and medium-term. See it on the Current’s website here. Michael Myles of Prospect also has a robust and comprehensive education platform. )

Saying that segregation based on nationality is wrong, Cayman Brac East candidate Elvis McKeever said government should integrate both public and private schools, at all costs. That includes government paying for vouchers for Caymanians to attend private schools.

Taking a different approach, West Bay North candidate Rolston Anglin said in exchange for the government’s existing annual subsidy to private schools, that those schools should allocate more seats for low-income Caymanians.

Meanwhile, Anglin’s opponent Bernie Bush said government should pay for all higher education costs for Caymanian students, even if they are attending university overseas.

And Bodden Town West candidate Chris Saunders said UCCI should be free for all Caymanians to attend regardless of their age.

UCCI + ICCI = ?

Speaking of UCCI, West Bay South candidate Raul Nicholson-Coe has proposed that the public UCCI and private ICCI be merged into one institution.

“We are too small of a nation for two colleges to compete with one another offering the same programmes,” he states in his manifesto.

Nicholson-Coe says combining the 2 institutions and their resources will enable them to secure US regional accreditation more quickly.

Over in Newlands (the electoral district containing ICCI), incumbent Alva Suckoo said that creating a statutory authority to take the politics out of education would make it easier to unify UCCI and ICCI into a single entity.

For the record, both candidates for West Bay North, Anglin and Bush, said it’s a bad idea to merge Cayman’s local universities and colleges.

Early years

The Progressives’ new leader, Roy McTaggart of George Town East, has stated that it is a personal priority to reform early years education for children under the age of 5.

He has proposed introducing early childhood education programmes in public schools. (Currently the government’s only early years programme is on Cayman Brac.)

Myles said the government has done a good job introducing regulations and inspections into the country’s preschools, but now that those private centres are being held to government standards, the government should assist them by providing funding for those programmes.

To improve young student’s performance at the fundamental levels, West Bay Central candidate Katherine Ebanks-Wilks has suggested delaying the start of school by one year. So instead of starting Grade 1 at age 5, students would begin at age 6. That would trickle down to nursery and reception as well.

Odds and ends

In some areas, candidates have forged ahead on their own with unique proposals.

Nicholson-Coe, for example, is proposing the implementation of a Cayman Islands national standardised test for primary and high school students. (Currently, different schools use a mix of different exams, for example from the Caribbean Examinations Council, UK Cambridge IGCSE, etc.)

Suckoo has called for the creation of a third primary school in the district of Bodden Town, in addition to Theoline L. McCoy and Joanna Clarke primary schools, while Savannah candidate Malcolm Eden is advocating for a new school hall and canteen at Joanna Clarke.

And on the other side of the island, West Bay West candidate Mario Ebanks said there is a large, cleared and filled area of land behind Sir John A. Cumber Primary School that could be used for a new school project.

Ebanks has also proposed considering a morning/evening shift system to alleviate crowding, where for example a set of students would use a school from 8am-2pm and another set from 3pm-8pm.

Find all of our Election 2021 coverage here.

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