25 July 2021
Weekly Current (archived version)
Comparing the PACT’s education plans to the Progressives’. Special guest from Feed our Future on EdBeat. Interview with Montessori By The Sea, Part 2. Tiffany’s Preschool improves to ‘Satisfactory’. Catching up on efforts to revamp Bermuda’s schools.
Welcome to this week’s newsletter on education in the Cayman Islands.
Week In Review
How much do the new PACT government’s plans for education depart from the path laid out by the former Progressives administration?
That question has lingered since the April elections, in the absence of a unified campaign platform from the independent PACT coalition, and the decision by MP Juliana O’Connor-Connolly to cross over from the Progressives to the PACT for a 2nd term as Minister of Education.
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.
The PACT’s SPS and Progressives Manifesto overlap in many areas, including:
- Finishing the $170 million New John Gray High School project
- Establishing a new school governance body
- Reforming early years’ education
- Additional programmes before and after school hours
- Strengthening TVET programmes
However, the PACT has announced new projects not mentioned in the Progressives Manifesto, such as:
- 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
That being said, the Progressives Manifesto also has some proposals not in the PACT’s SPS, for example:
- Pledge that every public school will be rated ‘Good’ or better by 2025
- Complete new Cayman Brac high school
- Create new school on Cayman Brac for students with special needs
What doesn’t appear in either document are initiatives that would lead to a radical disruption to the structure of the Cayman Islands education system. For example, you won’t find plans to create US-style charter schools or UK-style academies. There are no proposals to introduce vouchers to help Caymanian students move from public schools to private schools.
(In fact, in the 2 areas of the education system that currently have some sort of ‘voucher’ or government tuition assistance for private schools — early years and A Levels — the PACT is proposing to move those into public schools.)
And, while both the PACT and Progressives discuss establishing some sort of ‘public school board’, it doesn’t look like the goverment intends to create an independent authority to oversee the education system.
In other words, the bottom line is that the PACT seems like it will continue in the Progressives’ direction of incremental improvement to the existing system, albeit while investing considerable amounts of resources into expanding and supporting programmes.
For readers who are more detail-oriented, we pulled out the education proposals from the PACT’s SPS and Progressives’ Manifesto and built a searchable and sortable table so you can see the similarities and differences for yourself.
Cayman Current editor Patrick Brendel and Cayman Life TV founder April Cummings talk more about it on this week’s episode of EdBeat. During the show, Patrick points out that the primary reason for comparing the PACT to the Progressives isn’t simply to play a game of “What if?” — but to look forward to see which of the PACT’s education proposals are likely to have support from the unified Opposition and therefore become reality, and on the other hand which proposals may become stumbling blocks, non-starters or poison pills.
Before Patrick and April get to that topic, however, they welcome Feed our Future Founder/Chairwoman Stacey VanDevelde on to discuss the PACT’s plans to provide free meals to all public school students. Feed our Future’s main programme for the past decade, of course, has been to provide free or low-cost meals to students in need, but VanDevelde said her organisation’s leaders are keen to pass that baton and focus on more fundamental initiatives to improve students’ nutrition and end childhood hunger in Cayman.
We got caught up in the government’s announcements on education the past few weeks, but after a hiatus we’ve returned with the 2nd half of our interview with Deborah Thompson and Denise Orosa from Montessori By The Sea.
Montessori By The Sea is Cayman’s first public or private primary school to receive the highest rating of ‘Excellent’ from the Office of Education Standards. It was also one of the first schools (for any age) to earn ‘Excellent’ marks in all individual areas of assessment.
Here are some highlights from the interview:
- “In this inspection cycle we wanted the inspection team to have a really good sense of what we were all about and how we did things and why we did things the way we did.”
- “We did look at all the different recommendations and we made decisions on how to address them, but always in a way that was consistent with our ethos for the school.”
- “I really appreciated the time the inspection team took during this last inspection. I felt they spent a lot of time in all of the classrooms, and I think that made a huge difference.”
- “As a school you are never going to ‘arrive’. You’re never going to say, “Great. I’ve gotten here.” We may have gotten an ‘Excellent’; it doesn’t mean we’ve arrived. We haven’t.”
- “‘Excellent’ doesn’t mean ‘Perfect’, just like ‘Weak’ doesn’t mean everything’s garbage.”
- “Another misconception I hear sometimes — and this is one I heard from my mom when we were starting the school: “Isn’t Montessori the one where the children are just allowed to do whatever they want to do?” … “No, Mom. It’s actually not.””
(And while you’re at it, check out Part 1 here.)
Tiffany’s Preschool improved its ratings in most areas of assessment since its last full inspection, and upped its overall grade to ‘Satisfactory’.
Inspectors said, “Leaders were competent and committed to improvement and this was evident in the improvements since the last inspection, as well as their plans for future improvements.”
Overall, the West Bay preschool improved its grades in 10 of 14 individual areas.
Let’s shift gears. Earlier in this newsletter, we mentioned that while the PACT has big plans for education in Cayman, they don’t involve fundamental shakeups of the educational system.
For an example of a jurisdiction that is undertaking radical changes to education, we can take a look over at Bermuda.
Last March, Bermuda’s government brought in overseas consultants to help restructure the public school system. As part of the overall plan (which includes introducing ‘signature schools’ that focus on high-demand sectors of the economy), the government intends to downsize and streamline public primary schools.
Bermuda’s public primary student population has fallen by about 1/3 in the past 20 years, and now stands at about 2,000. Last week the government announced the intended closure of 8 of the territory’s 18 public primary schools. (By comparison, Grand Cayman has 8 public primary schools.)
Understandably, parents greeted the announcement with mixed emotions of either ‘relief’ or ‘disappointment’, according to The Royal Gazette newspaper.
And apart from concerns over geographic representation, opposition has arisen due to racial considerations. For example, one of the primary schools slated for closure was one of the first schools in Bermuda to provide education to black students more than 150 years ago.
While there are considerable differences between Cayman and Bermuda, we think it’s important to keep an eye on developments in our colonial cousin (and economic rival) … if for no other reason than as a reminder that a society’s education system is the root system of the community it serves, and attempts to change that system can (and do) unsettle the entire society.
(We’ll continue to follow the situation in Bermuda and link to stories in our ‘Around The Web‘ section. We also think it’s worth perusing the stories in The Royal Gazette‘s education news section online here.)
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.)
- Stabroek News (Guyana): Teachers’ union not backing reopening of schools until safety protocols agreed
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Primary school closures announced
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Disappointment and relief as school closures are announced
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): School closure decisions had to be depoliticised, says Rabain
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Town Hall meeting to help save West End Primary School
- Jamaica Gleaner: Morris: Fund education from dormant accounts
- The Guardian (UK): Schools minister rebuffs calls to decolonise English curriculum
The Week Ahead
- The Current welcomes our first staff Journalist, and announces a big project!
- EdBeat, Episode Ten