25 April 2021
Weekly Current (archived version)
Waiting out the Education limbo. Teachers under pressure from COVID-19 learning gaps. Non-Caymanians not clamouring to get into public schools. Positive exam results at government high schools. And more!
Welcome to this week’s newsletter on education in the Cayman Islands.
Week In Review
Congratulations are in order for new Cayman Islands Premier Wayne Panton and his PACT government.
While the big question of “Who’s in charge?” has been settled in Panton’s favour, we still don’t know for sure what that means for Cayman’s education system. In an earlier story, we highlighted policy positions from the Progressives Manifesto and statements from PACT members, to show where education might go depending on the new government and the next Minister of Education. (Read it here.)
As of our newsletter deadline, we know who the government is but we don’t know for sure about the new Minister. We’ve heard word — as-yet unconfirmed — that the new boss could very well be the same as the old boss, and that Juliana O’Connor-Connolly could retain her position as Minister of Education after crossing over from the Progressives group to the PACT government.
[Editor’s Note: On Monday evening, 26 April, it was announced that O’Connor-Connolly will indeed continue as Minister of Education in the new Cabinet, while also assuming responsibility for District Administration, which concerns government activities on the Sister Islands. Read our story here.]
That leaves open the issue of the direction of education, but it would pose a few additional questions: “Will O’Connor-Connolly continue the Progressives’ policies on education?” “Will she change course depending on the collective viewpoint of the PACT?” “Will she instead follow her own direction?”
It is difficult to tell how much daylight there is between the Progressives’ education platform and O’Connor-Connolly’s personal views, as she did not participate in public forums such as debates hosted by the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce or Cayman Crosstalk radio. (If anyone has footage of O’Connor-Connolly talking about her views on the education, please pass it on!)
Thus, the unsatisfying conclusion: Whether O’Connor-Connolly ends up being the ‘new’ Minister or not, we’ll have to wait and see what that means for education in Cayman.
(We’ll be keeping a particular eye on the new John Gray High School project, inclusive special education, possible changes to school governance, etc.)
Public school teachers approached the Current with concerns about declines in student performance and behaviour this year, following last spring’s COVID-19 lockdown.
They’re also apprehensive about the timing of school inspections so close to the resumption of in-person learning, and say their preparations were negatively impacted by the extended Christmas holiday — which O’Connor-Connolly announced in early December and led to the truncation of breaks during the 2021 Spring semester.
Citing fears over job security, the teachers would only speak to the Current on the condition that they remain anonymous.
There have been multiple international studies about ‘learning gaps‘ caused by COVID-19, but none have specifically addressed Cayman. Local teachers say the gap is a reality: “Obviously, the students are now behind in their expected level of attainment at this juncture.”
Teachers said the extended Christmas holiday compressed the Spring schedule and has ended up being an additional burden on teachers and students. The extra break “sounded good until the schedule to compensate for the break was published. Teachers are giving back more than was taken.”
With on-site visits by the Office of Education Standards coming up for John Gray High School and Clifton Hunter High School, teachers are working harder than ever to ‘cram’ for the inspections. “We are shattered but dedicated.”
The ‘common knowledge’ is that government schools are effectively segregated because after accommodating for Caymanian students, they don’t have the space for non-Caymanian students.
We looked into it via a Freedom of Information request, and in reality it appears that relatively few non-Caymanians are applying to gain admission into public schools, far less than the (limited) number of available seats.
For the last school year, fewer than 200 non-Caymanians applied for the more than 1,100 total available spaces in Grand Cayman public schools.
About two-thirds of those students were approved for admission, with the government citing a variety of reasons. Not one non-Caymanian student was turned away from the public school system due to a lack of space.
The results are in — that is, detailed results for public school students’ performances on the 2020 external exams.
The upshot is that Year 11 students achieved their best-ever results on the exams, with new benchmarks being set both at John Gray and Clifton Hunter. (The best overall scores are still being posted by Layman E. Scott Sr. High School.)
As is the rule with statistics, there are nuances in interpretation. The national standard is for Year 11 students to achieve 5 or more Level 2 passes, including in English and Mathematics. From 2011 to 2015, the national pass rate increased from 18% to 38%, but in recent years hovered around 40%.
The 2020 national pass rate of 56% jumped by 17 percentage points compared to 2019.
Government analysts note that because COVID-19 changed how exams were administered, results should be taken with a grain of salt.
Back in November, we published a series of stories exploring the results of the 2020 exams, finding that not only did Cayman’s Year 11 students outperform previous cohorts, they also beat the regional Caribbean average.
The new, more-detailed exam results are contained in the Education Data Report 2020, which has been posted on the Department of Education Services’ website. The annual report contains all sorts of information, including on primary schools.
We’ll be digging into the new Data Report this coming week. Stay tuned …
More from the Current
- Little Cayman Education Services rated ‘Satisfactory’
Around The Web
The Current is a central resource for education journalism by others, including regional and international news relevant to Cayman education. (Find our running collection of links here.)
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Covid restrictions force private schools to cancel exams
- The Guardian (UK): Students applying to university should get places on actual grades, says Ucas
- Jamaica Gleaner ($): School-Based Assessments Fix
- The Guardian (UK): Maths scores in world education rankings inflated for England and Wales – study
- Miami Herald ($): Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie arrested on perjury charge, district’s lawyer indicted
- Miami Herald ($): Hackers post online thousands of Broward schools files, including student, teacher info
- The Guardian (UK): Dear Gavin Williamson, teenagers use mobile phones. Get with the times
- Eye Witness News (Bahamas): THIRD WAVE HITS NP SCHOOLS: Education director says up to 20 suspected or confirmed cases
- BVI Beacon: More students allowed on campus for final term
The Week Ahead
- Keynotes and highlights from UCCI Commencement
- Cayman girls continue to outperform boys on Year 11 exams
- More analysis from Education Data Report 2020