O’Connor-Connolly: Public Nursery classes still on government’s agenda

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The Cayman Islands government intends to establish Nursery classes in all public primary schools, starting in Grand Cayman with Red Bay Primary School.

The space for the Nursery class (ages 3-4, the year before Reception) will be created by the construction of a new classroom block at Red Bay, Minister of Education Juliana O’Connor-Connolly said in Cayman Islands Parliament last week.

Progressives Shadow Minister of Education Barbara Conolly posed the Opposition question: “Can the Honourable Minister provide an update on the implementation of her plans to improve and extend early years education provision?”

The planned introduction of public Nursery classes in Grand Cayman follows the 2019 creation of a Nursery class at Creek and Spot Bay Primary School in Cayman Brac.

“It is still my hope to establish nursery classes in all of government primary schools,” O’Connor-Connolly said.

She said that the government has created a draft Early Childhood Care and Education Strategy that is currently going through an approval process.

“This strategy provides a strategic plan for further development of the early childhood sector. This strategy serves 3 critical purposes: to introduce, embed and to extend a number of initiatives aimed at improving outcomes for practitioners, children and families,” she said. “The successful delivery of this strategy will mitigate the effects of any quality and poverty and ensure that increasing numbers of children are ready for their educational journey and able to make an effective transition into school.”

O’Connor-Connolly said the government’s Early Childhood Care and Education Unit is undergoing a restructuring exercise to make it “more strategic and intentioanl”.

In a supplemental question, Conolly asked if the government had extended eligibility for the Early Childhood Assistance Programme (which provides funds for preschool tuition) given the spike in cost of living.

O’Connor-Connolly said she had not received requests for additional funding for the progamme, but “I have every confidence that on both sides of the House, should that application come for an increase, we would be meeting it as we have a rolling application now in process.”

The Office of Education Standards conducted the first-ever round of school inspections of Cayman preschools from 2018-2020.

Conolly asked what actions the Ministry is taking to improve standards in private preschools where inspectors had identified weaknesses.

O’Connor-Connolly said the government had provided access to some funding for private centres that had experienced financial issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the expectation is that the centres will improve as a result of the inspections and that she is “fairly confident” they are making those efforts.

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