The PACT government plans to increase spending on public education significantly over the next 3 years on new initiatives, expanded programmes and capital projects.
The new spending will go toward an array of goals listed in the 2022-2024 Strategic Policy Statement (SPS), including free meals to all public school students, free tertiary education at local universities, the creation of nursery classes in public schools, increased scholarship funding, laptops and broadband access for all students, expanded before- and after-school programmes, and the reintroduction of A Levels into public schools.
The SPS released Wednesday outlines the vision and priorities of the new coalition government which rose to power as a result of the April elections.
In his speech to Parliament while introducing the SPS, Premier Wayne Panton highlighted the free school meals initiative, the reintroduction of A Levels and raising the scholarship age for postgraduate programmes to encourage lifelong learning among Caymanians.
“This government has one of its goals to continue to improve education, beginning with a basic step to ensure that all of our children are fed, giving them the foundation to earn a great education,” he said.
Panton also noted how Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly had crossed over from the previous Progressives-led government to head up the Ministry for a 2nd term.
“I’m pleased that the Honourable Minister for Education agreed to join our government and to serve for the first time in recent history as a consecutive Education Minister. I believe this provides continuity and an opportunity to seek better outcomes from an improved policy approach,” he said.
According to the SPS, the Ministry of Education’s ‘operating expenditure targets’ increase from $136 million in 2022 to $152 million in 2024.
The $152 million in education spending represents an increase of more than 50% compared to the $95 million spent in 2019, which is the latest confirmed figure that we have and was given to us by an official with the Office of the Auditor General.
(Note: This may not be an exact ‘apples to apples’ comparison because the AG’s figures are for ‘public education spending’ within the combined Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports, Agriculture and Land, while the SPS document is for the new standalone Ministry of Education.)
Education historically accounts for the largest percentage of core government spending.
In 2014, education comprised 9.8% of core government spending, compared to 12.7% in 2018. The SPS targets have education comprising 16.1% of spending in 2022, 17.6% in 2023 and 17.7% in 2024.
The combined $440 million in operating expenditures does not include $88.3 million allocated for capital projects, including completion of the New John Gray High School campus, expansion of the Lighthouse School and expansion of schools to create nursery and learning support classrooms.
Additionally, $10.2 million has been reserved for capital investments into the University College of the Cayman Islands.
Apart from new programmes, services and buildings, the SPS outlines changes to education policy and governance.
The SPS calls for creating new legislation and a framework “to increase accountability for schools and teachers”, establishing a “Board of Governors to enhance operations of public schools” and encouraging parents to get involved in school improvement.
Other goals are to “improve school graduation criteria to end social promotion” and to create a centralised TVET curriculum starting in primary school.
Here are all the items listed under the SPS’s Broad Outcome of “Improving Education to Promote Lifelong Learning and Greater Economic Mobility”:
1. Build a stronger integrated education foundation
a) Provision of free meals in public schools
b) Provide mental health education programmes to reduce stigma and to promote emotional wellbeing among children
c) Increase and strengthen early education programmes
d) Ensure all schools have adequate reception classes
e) Programmes to integrate Caymanians and non-Caymanians into school system
f) Ensure each public school has a teacher’s assistant in every class up to year 9
g) Introduce homework centres through collaboration with Public school’s PTA’s
h) Implement programmes to assist with early-morning supervision of students on school premises
i) Improve the provision of learning support services to offer a learning support centre in each public school
j) Ensure each public school has a resident nurse
k) Increase funding and support for after-school programmes
l) Improve school graduation criteria to end social promotion
2. Provide financial and learning support for lifelong education
a) Increase capacity in public high schools to allow the reintroduction of A-Levels
b) Expand the scholarship age limit for post-graduate degree programmes
c) Incentivise Caymanians for upskilling themselves through implementation of a reward system
d) Strengthen and enhance the transition year programme between high school and college
e) Free tertiary education at University College of the Cayman Islands(UCCI) and International College of the Cayman Islands(ICCI)
f) Offer a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education at UCCI linked to an accredited UK university to develop more Caymanian teachers
g) Allow after hours access to school facilities to provide educational opportunities for seniors
3. Invest in tomorrow’s economy through STEAM, training and technology
a) More STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts Mathematics) training
b) Promote more private sector internship/apprenticeship opportunities
c) Increase access to technology through provision of free devices
d) Improve technology infrastructure in schools to support increased usage
e) Partner with a local telecoms provider to ensure students have access to the Internet at home
f) Increase investment in and awareness of technical and vocational training programmes
g) Centralised Technical and Vocation Education and Training (TVET) curriculum starting at the primary school level
4. Implement the governance model to enhance accountability in education
a) Enact legislation and create a framework to increase accountability for schools and teachers
b) Establish Board of Governorsto enhance operations of public schools
c) Introduce programmes to incentivise parents to get involved in school improvement