A question that has lingered since the April elections is to what extent the new PACT government’s plans for education would depart from the path laid out by the former Progressives administration.
Comparing the PACT’s Strategic Policy Statement (SPS) to the Progressives Manifesto, the general answer appears to be that the PACT does not plan to take education in a dramatically different direction than the Progressives.
However, the PACT does propose many additional — and ambitious — programmes not mentioned in the Progressives Manifesto, such as free meals in public schools, building nursery classrooms for public schools, free local tertiary education, and reintroducing A-Levels into public high schools.
The SPS calls for hiking government’s annual spending on education to $152 million in 2024, which would be a 50% increase since 2019.
New government, same Minister
The context, of course, is that MP Juliana O’Connor-Connolly crossed over from the Progressives’ side of the aisle to the PACT coalition to serve a 2nd consecutive term as Minister of Education.
O’Connor-Connolly’s return as Education Minister has been lauded by Premier Wayne Panton and Opposition Leader Roy McTaggart alike.
In his parliamentary response to the SPS, McTaggart said that O’Connor-Connolly “stands as a beacon of competence and reassurance in the sea of indecision and prevarication that characterises the government as a whole”.
McTaggart went on to express confidence in O’Connor-Connolly’s education plans and said, “I hope that she has been able to persuade her new colleagues to back her plans and give her the resources she needs to see the job through.”
***Editor’s Note: As we discussed on the last episode of EdBeat, a lot can change between an election and an SPS … or an SPS and the passage of an actual budget. In other words, campaign promises don’t always align with a government’s plans, and those plans don’t always bear out through the process of creating, amending and approving a budget.***
The SPS introduced last week by Panton is the seminal document laying out the unified vision for the new government of independent lawmakers.
In this light, the SPS can be seen as having 2 purposes: 1) As a ‘policy’ document laying out the PACT’s plans for the next 3 years; and 2) As a ‘political’ document staking out the PACT’s positions and priorities.
The PACT chose to place ‘improving education’ at the very top of the list of 10 ‘broad outcomes’ the government will seek to achieve.
Under that broad outcome, the PACT includes 29 separate programmes, ranging from early years education to continuing learning for seniors.
The Progressives Manifesto published during the campaign set out the “shared Vision for Cayman” of the Progressives and Alliance candidates. Apart from O’Connor-Connolly, members from the group now make up the Official Opposition in Cayman’s Parliament.
PACT vs. Progressives
The PACT’s SPS and the Progressives Manifesto overlap in many areas.
Initiatives proposed by both groups include:
- Finishing the $170 million New John Gray High School project
- Establishing a new school governance body
- Reforming early years’ education
- Improving schools’ technology and providing all students access to technology
- More mental health support for young people
- Additional programmes before and after school hours
- Working with private sector to provide more STEM opportunities for students
- Strengthening TVET programmes (Technical and Vocational Education and Training)
However, the PACT has introduced a number of new projects not mentioned in the Progressives Manifesto. For example:
- Free meals in public schools
- Expand all schools to create nursery classrooms and learning support centres
- Free tertiary education at UCCI and ICCI
- Reintroduce A Levels into public high schools
- Integrate Caymanians and non-Caymanians in school system
- Improve graduation criteria to end social promotion
- Centralised TVET curriculum starting in primary school
On the other hand, the Progressives Manifesto includes some proposals not in the PACT’s SPS.
The biggest ‘omission’ is the Progressives’ pledge that every public school will be rated ‘Good’ or better by the Office of Education Standards by 2025.
Also, the Progressives Manifesto called for several projects on Cayman Brac that are absent from the SPS, such as completing the new high school on the Bluff, converting the existing high school into a TVET campus, creating a school for special needs students, and expanding the UCCI Brac Campus to include Bachelor’s degree programmes.
Education Minister O’Connor-Connolly is now also the Minister for District Administration, which oversees government functions on the Sister Islands.
For the benefit of our readers, we have created a searchable and sortable table comparing the education proposals in the PACT’s SPS and Progressives Manifesto. We have included categories for the proposals that align with goals in the SPS, as well as for capital projects and proposals for Cayman Brac.
Education plans: PACT versus Progressives
|PACT SPS||PROGRESSIVES MANIFESTO||CATEGORY|
|Free meals in public schools||N/A||FOUNDATION|
|Mental health education programme||Improved mental health support||FOUNDATION|
|Increase and strengthen early education||New strategy for children under 5, reform early years’ education, increase childcare options.||FOUNDATION|
|All schools have adequate reception classes||N/A||FOUNDATION|
|Integrate Caymanians and non-Caymanians into school system||N/A||FOUNDATION|
|A teacher’s assistant in every class up to year 9||N/A||FOUNDATION|
|Homework centres via collaboration with PTAs||N/A||FOUNDATION|
|Early-morning supervision of students||New school extended hours programmes, including breakfast and after school clubs||FOUNDATION|
|Learning support centre in each public school||N/A||FOUNDATION|
|Resident nurse in each public school||N/A||FOUNDATION|
|Increase funding and support for after-school programmes||New school extended hours programmes, including breakfast and after school clubs||FOUNDATION|
|Improve graduation criteria to end social promotion||N/A||FOUNDATION|
|N/A||Roll out the new and more challenging curriculum||FOUNDATION|
|N/A||Improve special needs provision and extend individual support||FOUNDATION|
|Reintroduce A-Levels into public high schools||N/A||LIFELONG|
|Expand scholarship age limit for post-graduate degrees||N/A||LIFELONG|
|Implement reward system to incentivise Caymanians to upskill themselves||N/A||LIFELONG|
|Strengthen transition year between high school and college||N/A||LIFELONG|
|Free tertiary education at UCCI and ICCI||N/A||LIFELONG|
|Post-Graduate Certificate in Education at UCCI to develop Caymanian teachers||N/A||LIFELONG|
|Allow after hours access to school facilities for seniors' education||N/A||LIFELONG|
|N/A||New right to education, training or apprenticeships for every 16- to 19-year-old.||LIFELONG|
|N/A||Invest to strengthen UCCI’s programmes||LIFELONG|
|N/A||New approach to lifelong learning to reskill and upskill the workforce||LIFELONG|
|More STEAM training||N/A||STEM/TVET|
|More private sector internship/apprenticeship opportunities||Work with private sector to provide more internships in STEM sectors||STEM/TVET|
|Increase access to technology through provision of free devices||All schools to develop ‘wired classrooms’, every child to have needed technology||STEM/TVET|
|Improve technology infrastructure in schools to support increased usage||All schools to develop ‘wired classrooms’, every child to have needed technology||STEM/TVET|
|Partner with local telecom to ensure students have Internet at home||All schools to develop ‘wired classrooms’, every child to have needed technology||STEM/TVET|
|Increase investment in TVET programmes||Extend TVET to new service and knowledge-based sectors||STEM/TVET|
|Centralised TVET curriculum starting in primary school||N/A||STEM/TVET|
|N/A||Teach entrepreneurship and business skills in schools||STEM/TVET|
|N/A||High schools to provide early-career guidance - including on TVET||STEM/TVET|
|Legislation/framework to increase accountability for schools and teachers||N/A||ACCOUNTABLITY|
|Establish Board of Governors to enhance operations of public schools||New school governance (governing bodies with delegated responsibilities)||ACCOUNTABLITY|
|Incentivise parents to get involved in school improvement||N/A||ACCOUNTABLITY|
|N/A||All public schools rated ‘Good’ or better by the end of this 4-year term||ACCOUNTABLITY|
|Finish New John Gray High School||Finish New John Gray High School||CAPITAL|
|Expand Lighthouse School||N/A||CAPITAL|
|Expansion all schools for nursery and learning support centres||N/A||CAPITAL|
|$10.2 million for UCCI||N/A||CAPITAL|
|N/A||Continue improvements to primary schools, plan for new space as demand increases||CAPITAL|
|N/A||School building improvement programme based on prioritised list of school needs||CAPITAL|
|N/A||Convert existing high school into TVET campus||BRAC|
|N/A||Create new high school on the Bluff||BRAC|
|N/A||Enhance Creek Youth Centre to provide programmes for adult literacy and school for special needs students||BRAC|
|N/A||Expand UCCI Brac Campus courses to include Bachelor’s degrees||BRAC|