Seeing can mean believing

| 02/09/2015 | 26 Comments

Cayman News ServiceMiss Represented writes: The annual release of the ever improving results from the government schools has yet again stirred up debate, fuelled in the main by those that doubt their legitimacy. In some ways this skepticism about government data is not without foundation. Other arms of government have fudged figures in the past, yet the extremity of doubt veers towards an almost complete disbelief that Caymanian children are capable of such achievements, something which flies in the face of the evidence for all to see.

The much criticized Ministry of Education has published its data for several years, both through the Economics and Statistics Office and in its own data report. The facts are verifiable. The number of students in the high schools can easily be checked, as can the passes in public examinations (CXC, GCSE IGCSE) that are set, marked and graded overseas – just as they are in the private schools that use the British/Caribbean system.

Unlike the rest of the Caribbean, the Cayman Islands publishes its annual result based as a percentage of all students at that grade level, not just those that were chosen to be entered for the exams.

Year group pass rates of 70% in English and 50% in mathematics are unprecedented in the English speaking countries of the Caribbean, and so inevitably, rather than offer encouragement, detractors make negative comparisons of the current government school results with those of England and our own private schools.

The Cayman Islands is not England, as obvious as this may sound. There are enormous differences between the jurisdictions in a huge number of ways. To use a CNS term, it is like comparing apples and cheeseburgers.

Let me make two things abundantly clear, firstly I intend no criticism or lack of admiration for anything British – but I am a Caymanian, discussing Cayman, and wish to focus in our islands. Secondly, I wish to make the point that, despite what I contend are verifiable improvements of some significance within our own government system, standards of education and quality of the learning experience are currently, and on average, lower than those in England.

Most significantly, in terms of comparison, however similar or dissimilar you believe the systems to be, England uses results from Year 11 as the benchmark for the end of compulsory education and the Cayman Islands uses Year 12. The reason for this is that under our Education Law students started school younger than in England – so that, on average, Caymanian Year 11 students are younger than those in England and Year 12 students older. Apples and cheeseburgers again.

Year 12 was added by Mr Benson Ebanks during his tenure in the 1980’s. It is not a recent addition. Year 12 results have been posted as the benchmark every year since that time and they have improved significantly in recent years. These are verifiable facts and such a rise should be commended.  

There are those that contend that it is wrong to allow students to take exams earlier than Year 12 or to re-take exams to improve their grade. Yet this has been standard practice in Cayman, including private schools, and indeed is standard practice in most countries that use similar examination systems.

The age of entry to school was changed in 2011 to 5 years old, so in about ten years direct comparison with England can be made, but until that time the apples and cheeseburgers will remain.

As for private schools, it should be obvious to all but the most prejudiced that comparisons are even more skewed. Most, if not all, private schools select their entry by means of ability tests and by charging fees. The least affluent and the less able don’t go to the most successful private schools. These facts are verifiable.

The significant size of the private education sector in Cayman is, of course, partly a result of immigration policy. Nonetheless, approximately 60% of the students in our most successful private schools are Caymanian. Private schools account for over 30% of our total school enrolment and this proportion is variable by catchment district. The proportion of students in private education is significantly higher than those in the England, by more than 5 times in fact, and represent a drain of talent from the government system that makes comparison with them and most other systems even more insecure. These facts are verifiable.

It is easy to understand why Caymanian parents choose to send their children to a private school. Aside from the perception, and in many cases reality, of poorer standards of learning and behavior in public schools, private education confers enormous social advantage. This is equally true in the UK, where a privileged minority also dominates the upper echelons of society.

The sons and daughters of the Caymanian professional and mercantile classes have endowed our private schools, sent their children to these schools, and continue to support the entrenched privilege that these schools confer. I suspect that the financial backers of the virulent attacks on the government system come from these backgrounds, and so the attempt to discredit any improvement in the public system is made more understandable in this context.

Yet, where no private school options exist we see excellence. At the high school on Cayman Brac pass rates of around 85% are achieved. The Brac benefits from small classes sizes, it is true, but so do many classes in Grand Cayman. What sets it apart, in my opinion, is the social equity within the schools, so the children of firemen, shop workers, domestic helpers compete directly with those of doctors, bank managers and shop owners. The products of public education in Cayman Brac continue to achieve significant prominence in Caymanian society and beyond.

Due to the recent improvements, in both Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman, we now see unprecedented numbers of students from public schools gaining the opportunity to attend university and access managerial and professional careers. Ultimately, this can only benefit our society by reducing our reliance on overseas expertise, providing role models for students to follow, and by emphasizing that you don’t have to be wealthy or privileged to succeed, no matter how much this might also help.

The best education systems in the world, as judged by the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), that have western cultures, such as Finland, Canada and the Netherlands, are those that have smaller proportions of students in private education and who promote social equity. Interestingly, England, with its ever-widening social inequality, doesn’t fare so well – even when compared to Scotland, where a more stable, liberal educational reform has occurred.

This stability is also something worth stressing. Finland has achieved consensus across its political parties on education and Canada has had the same ruling party for a number of years. Where systems are successful, education is not used as a political football and educational objectives are allowed to grow and come to fruition rather than being changed every four years.

So whilst recognizing (as all our education leaders have stated in public) that public education still has some way to go, instead of constantly doubting the very real strides in terms of progress that have been made in recent years, why not offer some support for the process? Why not give the students some credit for what they have achieved rather than demeaning their efforts? Why not recognize the work our teachers do, often in trying circumstances, rather than questioning their integrity?

No one is denying the right of a citizen to choose how to educate their child, if they can afford it, but a strong, adequately funded public education system is ultimately in everyone’s best interests. Even the private schools, that some people are trying so hard to protect, will benefit because it forces them to not to be complacent and to recognize where they too may need to improve.

A strong public education system means that a greater proportion of the population will be able to access well-paid and sustainable employment, will be more likely to have fulfilling lives, will be more able to raise themselves out of squalor and ignorance and the levels of all forms of abuse that are associated with it.

The improvement in the public school results is verifiable. Why not just believe what you see?

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Category: Education, Viewpoint

Comments (26)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I don’t understand this school system here period! I went through a school system where I was home by 1:00 p.m. every day and some terms had maybe once a week afternoon school for 2 hours. I don’t remember having to waste hours on a projects that really doesn’t achieve all that much and too often can’t be completed by the child at that age level without some serious assistance from the parents.

    I truly believe that schools these days often focus on the wrong things and waste too much time with “fillers” to complete the lessons, leaving the kids who want to remain competitive with hours of home work and studying after school rather than getting the work in during class. It seems that in an attempt to be more and more creative and fun, teachers often end not getting their entire lesson plan across efficiently and effectively, again leaving kids to catch up outside school.

    I am often worried that my kids may “crack” one of these days because by the time they get home from school, do their home work/projects/studying, get some of their sports in to blow off some steam and contribute towards the household by completing some chores, they had a 12 hour day!

    It seems there is more and more hours spent on school work, yet I am sorry to say kids these days are struggling more and more with being successful at school.

    Also, it may be helpful for kids to learn more about “life” at school rather than all that fancy schmancy stuff. As one student said, she can interpret a poem in 4 different languages, but she doesn’t know anything about the various government depts. or what they do, or how to balance a cheque book etc.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Want to watch an interesting documentary about Charter Schools ?? Go on Netflix and watch Rebirth of New Orleans. It’s really a good watch !!

    I do like Tara’s approach in trying this new system; which hopefully will bring about new improvements in our Cayman Islands Government schools.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Just close the Government schools except for those dealing with special needs. Give every child a $15,000 voucher to use at any school in Cayman or the big wide first world and let those who understand education dispense it. It seems everything government touches in this country turns to shit. Let’s stop pretending we can fix it.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I teach in a government school and although there are a lot of good teachers, there are also some really bad ones. The trouble is, they believe they are working hard and doing a good job, but their teaching methods are out of date, they leave school as soon as the bell goes (sometimes before the school bus has even pulled away) and they have a real lack of motivation to improve professionally. A lot of teachers here need to go back to teaching college to learn up to date methods and how to handle difficult behaviour.

    • Anonymous says:

      Sounds like a substantial proportion of my workforce in the private market. It is a problem caused by a broken labor code that gives rise to an entitlement mentality and a sense of being untouchable.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Are they not capable of taking all of the past reports, looking at the recommendations and then auditing what has and not been implemented. Now you have a way forward or is that too simple for Tara.

    • Anonymous says:

      No she would prefer to spend substantial sums commissioning new reports from people who know nothing. The reports though have stated what is obvious
      leadership is poor, management is poor, some teachers are less than adequate etc

      Identifying the problem over and over does not solve the problem.

  6. Anonymous says:

    So in other words, according to all these comments, my son who had excellent passes and went on to a US university is a failure? The grades that he got here means nothing?

    I’m not saying that we don’t need to improve but Tara makes her children and teachers out to be idiots. We have some very hard working teachers, children and parents.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Miss Represented you Miss Understand. Yes Cayman is different from everywhere else, but if Caymanians want quality jobs and standard of living, and if they are to ever stop complaining about expats stealing their jobs, they need to recognise that in order to compete fairly they need to be offered and study for the same internationally recognised qualifications available in England and elsewhere. Why limit Caymanians job prospects to the Cayman Islands by seeking to justify and antiquated education system that clearly is not doing the Caymanian people justice or affording them the opportunities they deserve when they leave school? Why limit Caymanians to low skilled and clerical jobs, when with international qualifications they can get jobs anywhere in the world, increase their skill set, and perhaps even bring home new and improved talent to bring into the work force. Why does everybody complain so much and then when the opportunity for change arises, they refuse to change?

    • Anonymous says:

      Did we read the same article? Where in the Miss Represented article did she attempt to justify the under performance of schools. The person was merely pointing out the factual inaccuracies that are contained in the Ministers speech, the Ministers Press Release and the trite that was written by the Compass.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The reality is that in the public system the best 10% need special education support to support mobility, the next 30%, heading for low level administrative jobs need good literacy and numeracy and of the rest there is a significant underclass for whom the expenditure of additional resources past very basic education is a waste.

  9. 'Scuse me says:

    Sounds a lot like excuses, and why exceptions must be made for the Cayman situation. You do realize our children must compete with people not just here. They live in a globalized world and must compete beyond the English speaking Caribbean. Their future will place them alongside well educated English, Russian, European, Japanese, Indian, and every other country on the globe. Saying it is fine because we are better than those behind us and then justifying it with excuses makes me angry. Spouting excuses makes the students, and yourself, a victim.

    It is hard to be an educator. There are improvements. That’s great. The results get better every year. That is due to hard work and attention to all the factors that go into building a well adjusted person in a well adjusted society. Keep going, it is important to everyone. But a C grade isn’t as good as an A.

    Take the criticisms as identifying what can help those students compete with the world they will live in. Didn’t some of those suggestions list improved resources and support for teachers?

    • Anonymous says:

      Miss Representative was not justifying rather she was replying to the disgusting miss representation of the facts by Rivers, The Compass and the content of the baseline assessment. If the reports compared Cayman to other Caribbean nations and suggested we were below them then that woukd without doubt be an injustice when the opposite is true. It no way means our system does not need root and branch improvement but lets get the facts straight.

  10. Anonymous says:

    In Britain it is recognised that national exam standards (GCE) have been “dumbed down” over the last few years so that everyone is getting better marks. Furthermore when British numeracy and literacy standards are rated on an international basis, the UK is way down in the list of countries. Care should therefore be taken if comparing our exam results with Britain as by doing so we are doubtless flattering ourselves.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I sympathise with Represented in his/her attemt to lift the level of what passes for debate in this forum. The very nature of prejudging however, would indicate that dialogue cannot take place with an individual whose mantra is: My mind is made up; do not confuse me with fact! I therefore doubt that the doubters will rise to her challenge of fact checking! As far as the shape of British education is concerned, factual information is readily available in the Education segment of the B.B.C and other parts of the media. Given the level of debate that is often encountered there, I am always mystified by British (apologists?) residents of the “colonies” who discover perfection from a distance! Who are so blind that they cannot see that the educational challenges across the West are in fact not so disimilar. I would suggest that Root Canal might benefit more from an ophthalmologist than a dentist.
    Some stats from the UK 2015 GCSE exams – for those interested in making comparisons:

    The number of pupils getting A*-C grades has risen by nearly one per cent to 68 per cent despite changes to courses (for those fueled by negativity, that means that over 30% fall below their own benchmarks)
    But overall pass rate falls for second year running amid move away from coursework towards end-of-year exams
    Girls widen gender gap, with 73 per cent getting grade C or above in their exams, compared to 64 per cent for boys

  12. Anonymous says:

    Very informative. Thank you.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Hire Miss Represented immediately.

  14. Anonymous says:

    These solutions and suggestions are not realistic. CIG won’t spend the money on Education, facilities, HR, the list goes on and on. Dis-functional Education Dept from the top down with no accountability. No sane parent with the means to pay for Private Education is going to take a chance and make their child a Guinea Pig by throwing them to the wolves in a Public School.

  15. Root Canal says:

    Why not just believe what you see? Yeah that’s a great idea, you mean the increased truancy? the violence and gangs? the dwindling respect? the general teaching standards (including unforgivable grammar in much of their communication)?
    Or, you know, we could take an external firm who did an audit on the school standards and outlined what we already assume – our schools need a kick up the butt.

    Just so you know, in Britain (yeah, yeah I know you stated you didn’t want to talk about the UK, but this is a forum after all). Anyhow, some of the standards of the comprehensive (that’s public to us Caymanians) are higher than a lot of the private schools there. Just because there’s money and facilities in a school, doesn’t mean there’s quality education.

    • Anonymous says:

      Truancy, drugs, violence and gangs is a DOE, Social Services and society issue. Thank you though for pointing out the conditions in which we teachers try to give an improving education to our children and young people despite the challenges and piss poor leadership.

  16. GJ says:

    Well put alternative viewpoint that sums up this matter of getting an accounting firm to assess the local educational system and then, within 12 or so months, bringing in UK ‘inspectors’ for a quick visit to compare the incomparable and recommend a number of things that were recommended over and over!

    • Anonymous says:

      Oh yes KPMG, I had almost forgotten about them. So now we have the E&Y report, the KPMG report, the Independent Schools Council report and lastly the David Moore report (I cannot quite remember his name). You know the one that was originally brought to back up Tara and her cronies desire to swap to Charter schools and then, having seen the problems, decided it was not such a good idea. Lots of reports in two years and little to show for it. Fools the lot of them.

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