2 May 2021
Weekly Current (archived version)
New government, same Education Minister. Public school learning gaps develop in primary years. Girls beat boys on external exams. Sights and sounds from the UCCI commencement ceremony. And more!
Welcome to this week’s newsletter on education in the Cayman Islands.
Week In Review
Yes, we have a Minister of Education. And yes, the position remains occupied by parliamentary veteran Juliana O’Connor-Connolly.
The situation under Premier Wayne Panton’s PACT Government isn’t entirely identical to the status quo ante under the Progressives government, however.
For one thing, new West Bay Central representative Katherine Ebanks-Wilks is stepping into the role of Parliamentary Secretary (formerly known as Councillor) for Education, replacing George Town South representative Barbara Conolly, who has relocated to the Opposition bench.
Ebanks-Wilks (who is also Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Financial Services) has suggested delaying the start of school by one year, so that students would begin Grade 1 at age 6, instead of age 5. She has stated that anti-bullying legislation should be implemented within 100 days of the election, and she has proposed creating a Ministry-controlled ‘intervention centre’ in each primary school to support students who exhibit learning challenges. She has also indicated support for inclusive learning environments for students with special education needs.
Another difference is that O’Connor-Connolly has dropped from her portfolio the Ministries of Agriculture (to Jay Ebanks of North Side) and Youth and Sports (to Bernie Bush of West Bay North).
In a press release announcing the Cabinet lineup, Panton said “the Ministry of Education will have policy continuity and a streamlined focus in a more strategic portfolio.” (Education, District Administration, Lands and Survey)
As we wrote in last week’s newsletter, it remains to be seen if O’Connor-Connolly will continue the Progressives’ education policies, if she will change course depending on the collective viewpoint of the PACT, or if she will go her own way — and then, how much difference there is between her personal views and the Progressives’ education platform as contained in their party manifesto.
And while O’Connor-Connolly is no longer responsible for Agriculture or Youth and Sports, she now has taken control over the Ministry of District Administration, as the sole Sister Islands representative in the PACT government. It should go without saying that District Administration — which has oversight over government functions on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman — is extremely important to Sister Islands constituents and thus to their elected representatives.
Many Cayman students fall behind before they finish primary school. Then they spend the latter half of their high school years trying to catch up to national standards. (The end results, as we’ve extensively reported on, are mixed.)
Continuing our series of stories examining the Education Data Report 2020, we compared public primary students’ scores on the ‘Cognitive Abilities Test’ (or CAT4, a standardised exam that assesses students’ ability to think) and the students’ actual results in Reading, Writing and Maths. We then repeated the analysis for public secondary school students.
Here’s what we found:
- According to CAT4 predictions, 91% of Year 6 students were expected to pass Reading and Writing, and 82% were expected to pass Maths.
- In reality, only 60% passed Reading, 55% passed Writing and 58% passed Maths.
- According to CAT4 predictions, 43% of Year 11 students were expected to meet national expectations.
- In reality, 55% of Year 11 students passed Maths, 70% passed Science and 81% passed English.
The bottom line is that primary school students are performing far below their abilities and enter secondary school at a significant disadvantage. However, by Year 11, many more students end up passing their exams than predicted based on their abilities.
According to the report, “[Primary] schools are unable to move students that are on the borderline … to the expected level.”
But, “[Secondary] schools were able to add significant value by moving lesser able students to achieve acceptable grades particularly in English and science.”
Also gleaned from the Data Report, we took stock of the ongoing ‘battle of the sexes’ and discovered that there really is no contest.
For the umpteenth year in a row, Year 11 girls in public schools outperformed the boys in both English and Maths.
In 2020, 63% of girls met the national expectation of achieving 5 or more Level 2 passes (including English and Maths), compared to 48% of boys. Over the past 5 years, the performance gap between the genders has varied from 8 to 21 percentage points, with the girls beating the boys every year.
According to the report, “there is evidence of growth over time in all performance categories for both males and females. However, there is little evidence that this gap is closing year on year.”
For context, we took a quick look at other countries and other types of tests. Girls generally have better high school GPAs than boys, but on some tests (like the US SATs or the OECD’s PISA), boys tend to do better than girls in Maths. At this point, there’s more food for thought than there are definitive solutions …
More from the Current
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.)
- Cayman Compass ($): Space not the issue in school segregation
- Cayman News Service: PACT Ministry of Education: audacity or redemption?
- Cayman Compass ($): Closing the divide: Education programme expands into West Bay
- Miami Herald ($): ‘Insane and dangerous’: Inside the Miami school that told teachers not to get vaccinated
- Jamaica Gleaner: CXC distances itself from school ranking pressure
- Jamaica Observer: ‘We are in a full-blown crisis right now’: Students not ready for CSECs
- Jamaica Gleaner: Present but absent: Educators question government’s ‘app’ to monitor attendance
- Jamaica Gleaner ($): ‘It’s a big joke’: High school graduates not prepared for university
- Jamaica Observer: Brown Burke raises concerns regarding breaches within education ministry
- Jamaica Observer: Gov’t to sponsor extra lessons for children, parents
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Quality assessments are critical
- The Guardian (UK): Children read more challenging books in lockdowns, data reveals
- The Guardian (UK): Vaccine success makes UK attractive to international students, poll finds
- Eye Witness News (Bahamas): Director: New education bill in the works
The Week Ahead
- Student performance varies widely at different public primary schools
- More analysis from Education Data Report 2020