9 Jan. 2022
Weekly Current (archived version)
… And we’re back! We hope everyone had a joyous holiday season!
COVID delays school inspections to Fall 2022. How public schools monitor online activity on student laptops. Local nonprofit LIFE is seeking a new Executive Director. Bermuda’s ‘botched’ school reopening.
Welcome to this week’s newsletter on education in the Cayman Islands.
Week In Review
The Office of Education Standards will not conduct any full school inspections during the 2021/22 school year, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead, school inspectors will conduct shorter visits to individual schools from January to March, provide feedback to the schools and compile a national report this year.
“Since September 2021, due to the ongoing monitoring, management and impact of COVID-19 outbreaks in our schools, with Ministerial support, the decision was made to defer inspections until September 2022,” Office of Education Standards Director Nicholas Sherriff said in an email to the Cayman Current.
Sherriff added that the OES will still be able to complete all scheduled full inspections by December 2022, which would meet the overall goal for the 2-year school inspection cycle.
So far, the OES has inspected 18 schools during the second cycle of inspections, which began in January 2021.
Sherriff said the decision to defer inspections until the Fall “allows schools to focus on dealing with continuing learning while managing community transmission of COVID-19 internally rather than the increased pressure of preparing and executing full school inspections.”
Although full inspections are on hold, the OES will be conducting one-day ‘thematic’ visits to schools, focussing on school leadership and well-being. That will result in a national report to be released this year.
Spotted on Facebook: Joanna Clarke Primary School in Savannah will be one of the first schools inspectors visit this week.
The OES inspection reports are the only source of information on faculty numbers, student demographics and school performance at the individual school level, encompassing both private and public schools, from early years centres through secondary school.
As many of our readers know, the OES reports form the backbone of data presented in our Cayman Islands Schools Explorer.
During the pandemic, the Cayman Islands government and private sector partners obtained thousands of laptops to provide to public school students.
Software installed on the laptops tracks online activity and attempts to restrict explicit content in search results on those school-issued devices, whether they are on campus or connected to the internet elsewhere.
However, it does not appear the Cayman government uses more-invasive ‘surveillance software’ that, for example, uses AI or humans to monitor documents or real-time messages in order to identify possible indications of negative behaviours such as suicidal ideation, drug use or eating disorders.
A raft of surveillance software programmes have exploded into use in the US as schools have shifted to virtual learning and accordingly deployed more devices to students.
Examples of programmes include Bark, Gaggle, Gnosis IQ, GoGuardian, Lightspeed and Securly.
Those programmes have raised concerns about student privacy and the possible disproportionate impact on lower-income students who are more likely to rely on school-issued devices, and therefore to have all of their online activity monitored by schools.
In response to an open records request from the Cayman Current, the Ministry of Education stated that it uses Cisco Umbrella to monitor and manage internet use on school laptops.
“However, we do not employ any of the software platforms (or alternatives) that are being referred to that holistically manage device content/use,” according to the Ministry’s response. “A content/application filtering product is deployed to the student device to manage access to the internet via web browsers or other applications”
Umbrella “tracks all internet activity including web browsing and attempts for applications to access the internet. It also enables browser safe mode which restricts explicit content in the search results”.
The overall cost of the government’s software license is about $30,000 for a two-year subscription and is determined according to the number of devices used by educators, not students.
“This product was deployed prior to remote learning and was not purchased specifically for this use case as student laptops did not leave the campus previously. A component of this product allowed for agents to be deployed to laptops to enable the same level of protection while away from campus, which is what was done,” according to the Ministry’s response.
Local nonprofit LIFE is seeking a new Executive Director to lead the charity in its mission to improve literacy in the Cayman Islands.
The successful candidate will succeed current Executive Director Juliet Austin.
“Working against the backdrop of this global pandemic, LIFE’s work has never been more critical. We look forward to recruiting a new executive director who is passionate about driving change and advocating for young people’s right to access quality education irrespective of socio-economic factors,” Austin said in an email to the Cayman Current.
“Addressing foundational literacy for children aged birth to 5 years is a game-changer and I am so honoured to have been part of this pivotal chapter in Cayman’s education story. Literacy is empowerment!”
Austin’s joined LIFE in October 2020.
(Read our story about LIFE’s search for a new leader here, including a link to an interview we did with Austin when she joined the nonprofit.)
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): ‘Botched’ reopening of public schools blasted by teachers’ union
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Mass absenteeism from classrooms because of slow return of coronavirus tests
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): After-school programmes hit by staff shortages and test problems
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): More preschools and primaries to open tomorrow, but middle and senior schools mostly shut
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Shortage of staff at Government lab caused delays in test results
- Jamiaca Observer: 60 per cent of schools reopen so far
- The Guardian (UK): Schools in England may suspend certain subjects to cope with Covid
- Stabroek News (Guyana): President says schools will remain open despite COVID rise
- The Virgin Islands Daily News (US): Bryan orders students revert to online learning amid COVID surge
- Eye Witness News (Bahamas): ‘VERY UNFAIR’: Former education minister suggests govt review blanket suspension of face-to-face learning
- Miami Herald ($): Amid tensions with faculty over COVID and academic freedom, UF president to step down
- Miami Herald ($): Miami judge clears way for lawsuit against FIU over student fees collected amid pandemic
- Miami Herald ($): EDITORIAL | The rush to replace Miami-Dade schools chief Carvalho looks awfully suspicious
The Week Ahead
- EdBeat returns!