(CNS): Students in government schools appear to be behaving themselves, according to statistics released by the Department of Education Services (DES). Sharply contradicting perceptions in the community that the schools are in turmoil, with children misbehaving at every turn, the number of infractions has fallen dramatically. During 2015, 324 children were excluded from John Gray High School, which has a population of around 1,000 students, but in 2016 that figure fell dramatically to 103. Meanwhile at Clifton Hunter High School the number fell from 71 in 2015 to 34 last year from a student body of around 800.
Students can be suspended or excluded from school for a several reasons and not just for fighting or violent offences. Repeated absence or lateness and accumulations of other minor or uniform infractions can also lead to kids being kept out of school for short periods.
Education officials said that the fall in exclusions is a result of the hard work of teachers and educators but also directly because of the new behaviour intervention policies that are being implemented and the improved training that staff in schools have received on behaviour management.
Christen Suckoo, the chief officer in the education ministry, told the media last week that if people would be willing to get past the politics currently surrounding education, they would see that a “tremendous amount of progress is being made” in the local education system.
However, during a media meeting last week, senior officials from the DES and ministry and Education Minister Tara Rivers spoke about the many challenges teachers and school staff are facing every day. The minister said that schools reflect wider society, so if there are problems regarding drugs and violence in the community, those same issues will also be in the schools.
Ministry officials also spoke of the barriers that many children attending government schools have to learning; these are not always because of learning difficulties or special needs but can be down to poverty and the home conditions of a student. From children who come to school hungry and tired to cases of direct abuse and neglect, education experts warned that no matter how good a school and its teaching staff are, there are some barriers that are extremely difficult to deal with and involve the intervention of multiple agencies.
Schools “don’t have a magic wand” to solve these challenges, the officials warned.
They also said that the community needs to do a better job accepting and understand the number of young people that are suffering from mental health problems that are not being dealt with. Officials said there were also ‘a lot of students’ that are in the criminal justice system whose learning circumstances have not been properly addressed.
Education experts pointed out the challenges for teachers, with significant numbers of children facing real problems that prevent them from learning and the teachers from teaching. But education officials believe they are turning the corner and things are improving. More children are being supported earlier in their school lives and behaviour is improving and overall more children are doing better.
Unlike the private sector, the public education system accepts all children regardless of their ability. Officials claimed they are also being increasingly transparent about results and performance, and that Cayman is one of only a few countries in the region that publishes the number of students that took a subject as well as those who sat an exam, leading to much more honest results.
Shaking criticisms about politicians who do not send their children to government schools, Rivers said that all parents have a choice to make and not every school is right for every child. But she said that these were improving and it was up to her and the ministry to take more opportunities to promote the changes and improvement and to ensure that people know about the improvements and that they are not just pre-occupied with casting blame.
Educators also warned that the constant criticism in the community on talk shows, on social media and the wider local press, not just of the system but of students themselves, was very demoralizing. Experts said that for children to constantly hear that they are failures can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.