Education chief highlights challenges ahead

| 03/04/2017 | 58 Comments
Cayman News Service

Chief Officer in the education ministry, Christen Suckoo, speaks to Chamber members

(CNS): With education likely to feature heavily on campaign platforms over the coming weeks, Christen Suckoo, chief officer in the education ministry, highlighted some recent success at the ministry as well as the challenges ahead at a recent Chamber of Commerce ‘Be Informed’ presentation. The priorities for education include the need to improve the recruitment, retention and deployment as well as performance of educators and increase resources, he said, but critical to moving forward is the collection and analysis of accurate data.

Speaking to Chamber members about local education, Suckoo listed improvements and noted what is working well in schools, which needed to be shared to provide encouragement and support between schools, but he also highlighted the many challenges still ahead.

With the election looming, educators may not be looking forward to the possible sweeping changes that might come with a new government, as improvements in any education system do not happen overnight and policy changes need to be given time to work. Politicians, however, tend to want to keep the public happy and parents want to see immediate improvement while their kids are in school and before they leave without the level of education they hope for.

As the current education minister, Tara Rivers, goes on to fight her election campaign, civil servants remain at the front line of learning. Suckoo told Chamber members that all decisions about education must be evidence-based and cannot be taken lightly because they can impact an entire country.

“Decisions must be made based on sound data and educational research,” he said.

Following a baseline inspection of all government schools and education governance reports, the ministry developed a plan of intervention for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years based on data and research. An important element of the plan was a focus on special educational needs (SEN) in the government system as well as dealing with behaviour problems and crime among the student body.

Suckoo said that during the 21015 year, all primary schools were allocated a full-time SEN coordinator so that teachers received support for students needing extra help and with identifying others that had been missed; additional professional development was also given to improve the skills of teachers who managed the students. All schools now have SEN teachers.

Schools have been given more staff, and more investment has been made in resources and professional development. A broad action plan has been developed based on all of the data and research conducted for the year ahead.

Suckoo said that things were steadily improving in the government system, and in 2016 students in the Cayman Islands outperformed their UK counterparts in English and maths, while 35% of government high school students graduated with Honours or High Honours. 86% of all Year 1 students at the end of the 2015-2016 school year were at the level they should be for reading skills for their age, and there was an increase in the number of children accessing early childhood education through government subsidies, which experts say will bear fruit further down the line.

But Suckoo reminded his audience, many of whom do not have children in the government system, that the public schools cannot select children on merit as schools in the private sector can. This means government schools are dealing with many children who come with complex and challenging barriers to learning. 

“Due to our intake policy, a focus for government schools has to be on overcoming barriers to education,” he said, noting problem such as students coming to school without breakfast, or children coming from homes where the parents cannot read or from low socio-economic backgrounds that present other challenges for students. He explained that the behaviour of students in school is often influenced by what is happening at home, including neglect and violence, and that can be difficult for teachers to tackle.

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Comments (58)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    More women in charge. I know that sounds sexists but women are better at grouping together and bullying and pouting to get what they want and they always get it. That is a trait I want to see in my children when they have to solve world problems.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Lets invest in louder car speakers. My kids can only learn when they are hearing music. we should put TVs in each classroom that plays with volume on real low. It is pure inspiration.

  3. Anonymous says:

    please stop blaming all this education on public schools you need to take a look at the private school kids too as they are not all perfect either !!

    also some of the teachers in our public schools need to be reviewed again too on how they are teaching and treating some of our children, how there teaching skills really are, as one of my grandchildren was top in sciences last year with a good teacher enjoyed his lesson a lot, now he’s fallen behind because of this new teachers ways totally different, this isn’t right !!! it should be addressed and ask why this has happened,

    and yes both my daughters went through public system and achieved a degree each!! i also have a grandson in college today doing really well keeping his grades up to,
    although I still believe that all children need there families help and support which a lot do not have.
    which is very sad,

  4. Anonymous says:

    How many school age children in this country? How many people being paid and how much and for how long to tackle the “challenges”?

  5. Anonymous says:

    It’s a joke that we keep talking about the education system and how to fix it.

    The fix is to hold parents responsible for their children. That’s all that needs to happen for anyone to see a drastic change in the schools.

    Teachers and government are not responsible for hose kids – the parents are. Stop the coddling and hold them responsible – kids not turning up to school, parents are responsible. Kids damaging property, parents are responsible……..

    • Anonymous says:

      Sorry, not only parenting has gone wrong. Check the changes to your child’s school curriculum. I.E. what they literally study in school.

      This was changed some years ago. Please, understand that for education to be a success we need the following to fall in place:

      1. Accountable parents

      2. Proper curriculum (this should not only be academia – not all students will be over-achievers)

      3. Students with learning disabilities and disorders need to be identified from elementary level and separated from the big class-room so they are not left behind

      4. Teachers should be passionate about teaching, it should not just be a pay-cheque; over the last 15 years we have seen a decline in the truly great educators on these islands (shame, shame)

      5. Hold your Ministry of Education and the Department accountable; they hire the teachers and they set the curriculum.

      If this Country doesn’t turn education around, we are all doomed.

  6. Anonymous says:

    For all out there, just take 10 minutes to stand by the fence or on the sports field and see what really goes on in terms of behavior at Jghs, children running riot , ignoring please to go back or even attend class after lunch, cursing out any teacher that tries to challenge them, spoiling classes by taking up the time of the teacher with vile language, threats and as for the so called rules they are a joke. I was told by numerous teachers when I asked that they had exhausted all avenues when it came to these kids whom are presenting the issues as they have an all inclusive policy and excluding them for having knives, drugs etc is not a policy the minister et al will entertain. This makes the schools look like they are moving in the right direction in terms of discipline but is just covering up the inadequacies of the system.
    Seriously go take a look for yourself, then you will understand.

  7. Yes Suh says:

    Nothing new here folks. Same old drivel, same old, b.s., same old tired clichés, same old recycled speeches, same old nonsense that has zero impact. What’s being done to fix the problem? Absolutely nothing – nada. So they’ve added a SEN teacher to each school. Yoouuuptidooooo, let’s celebrate!!! As if one SEN teacher per school is going to fix the myriad of problems associated with successive generations of abusive/negligent home environments. Not even close. What is needed here are some drastic solutions. The most important thing to do is to fix the parents and the home environment.

    Parents who send their kids to school tired, hungry, neglected, and lacking any sort of discipline and respect should be forced to attend parenting classes. This should be done for a minimum of one year, and/or until significant differences are noticed. Should no significant differences be noticed after a period of one year, children whose behaviour continues to be disrespectful and disruptive to the rest of the class should be removed immediately and placed into a school specifically designated for those with behavioural challenges. Specialized teachers with specialized training should work at these schools.

    Parents of these students should be forced to continue parenting classes (3 hours a week) for another year, for a total of two years. How does one “force” parents to attend classes? Working parents who refuse to attend classes should be fined until they start attending them. Should fines accumulate past a certain point, weekend jail time should be enforced. Those on welfare should have all benefits cut off until they start attending – in case that they’re unable to properly look after their children, the children should be removed from the household until the parents start acting more responsibly. Furthermore, those on welfare should be required by law to “earn” their welfare payment by volunteering 3 hours a day of their time to government. If they wish to go to school instead, they should be provided with the opportunity to do so. This option however should only be available to those who demonstrate that they are serious about their learning. If they refuse to volunteer their time or to go to school, they should be locked up until they do so. It’s not pleasant, it’s not nice, but the cycle has to be broken…

  8. Anonymous says:

    Those moaning about the lack of presence of Caymanians in the legal profession should recognize that the third world education system is largely to blame. But they should then also recognize that if they do not want to pay income tax nothing will really change.

    • Gt Voter says:

      Cayman government doesn’t have a revenue problem; it is largely an expenditure problem.

      We don’t need an income tax to better finance the education system. Priorities only need to be reassessed and realigned.

      • Anonymous says:

        THANK YOU G.T Voter. Amen!

        Money not the problem, we have always been given tons of it. It’s how we use it!

    • Anonymous says:

      Would agree to a certain extent, except that too much of government funding these days is on frivolous matters…the key to any future generations is education, education and education…and doing it right will bring prosperity for future generations.

    • Fred says:

      How will paying income tax make any difference? The government already has a huge Revenue from indirect taxes. The issue is not tax – its a combination of social attitudes toward education, kids home lives and parents, and government chosing to spend money on populist measures like Cayman Airways, the turtle farm and civil servants health rather than education. And of course, expecting a pollution of 35000 to produce an endless succession of lawyers and financial wiz kids might just be a tad optimistic.

    • Anonymous says:

      Are you saying the UK provides a third world education? Because this is the education system in the Cayman Islands. Please think before you write prejudicial nonsense.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yes, yes. Compare the literacy figures. The numeracy figures. The same exams does not mean the same systems.

  9. Blame the Minister! says:

    Seems like people here want to blame the Chief Officer! Please bear in mind the Chief Officers job is to implement the policies of the Current Minister. He/she cannot create policy and is simply taking orders. Lay this one squarely on the Minister and by extension the elected governments feet!!!!

    Tara is a failure!

    • Nunya says:

      So the 4 years that Tara has been in office is the blame for an education system that hasn’t worked for decades?

    • Diogenes says:

      It is also his job to remain politically neutral and not support his Minister’s electoral campaigns by highlighting “successes” during the campaigning season.

      • Anonymous says:

        I attended the meeting. This was a Chamber of Commerce ‘Be informed’ meeting. Not a public meeting. The Ministry of Education has been invited to these meetings several times in the past to speak to Chamber members. The Chamber invites media to attend when they think it’s a worthwhile topic for media coverage. To chalk this up to supporting the Minister’s campaign is unfair especially considering that the whole purpose of the meeting was to talk about what is going well AND what still needs improving, and since the the whole reason you are able to comment is because CNS has written a article speaking to the fact that the need for improvement was discussed.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I would note that some of the learning barriers for children are caused due to language barriers with teachers being employed by Education Department and english is not their first language or their native accent is so strong that it presents significant difficulty for children to understand standard instructions by that teachers.

    This has to be addressed!

    • Anonymous says:

      The xenphobia, to use the kind term for the attitude, of parents, evidenced by the attitude in this post is very hard to address.

    • Anonymous says:

      I am Caymanian and was educated in Cayman throughout my entire life. I had Jamaican, American, English, Irish, Scottish, Barbadian and Canadian teachers and I smashed all my exams. Graduated with more than enough CXCs to get into 6th form and went on to place second in my year in law school. Bye with that argument.

    • I AGREE says:

      This is an english speaking country. NO ARGUMENT.

  11. The Turn of the Screw says:

    “He explained that the behaviour of students in school is often influenced by what is happening at home, including neglect and violence, and that can be difficult for teachers to tackle.”

    They aren’t helping teachers tackle these issues. They are actually demanding more and more of teachers, but withholding support (which teacher have specifically asked for), especially in the area of student behavior.

    Suckoo is well-known for demoralizing teachers. It was under his regime that the same report damning the teachers came out. He lacks educational understanding, and fails to realize that teachers struggle to teach when students with out of control behavior are left in their classrooms.

    Recently on the radio he was saying that despite some issues, everything is fabulous darling….businesses are just racist, and that guy at ICCI doesn’t know what he is talking about.

    It seems like hot air and large pay cheques….where do his kids go again??? Where is River’s kid again?????

    • Anonymous says:

      Every politician should be forced to send their school aged children to government schools. Then maybe something will be done about the quality of education.

      • Anonymous says:

        Is the issue in the school really the quality of education or rather perhaps the quality of parenting?

        • Anonymous says:

          10:12am, you will find that it is both!

          Not one or the other, all two. Check that combination.

    • Anonymous says:

      They can send their kids wherever they like, that doesn’t mean they are not passionate about the children in Government school. It is not his or any chief officers regime, they are given a mandate by their Ministers to follow, when it does work the Minister gives the public speeches and when it doesn’t work the Chief Officers give the public speeches haven’t you clocked that yet.

    • Anonymous says:

      so true!! which schools do there kids go !! not everybody can afford all the private school fees for there children and we still have a lot of decent children and families who’s kids went through public system with dam good exam result’s and went on to college at the end of too !!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Education and ministry departments and officers cannot do this alone. Parents need to step it up but as highlighted in this story some parents does not know how. Some are careless, some are ignorant and some are just plain lazy and don’t really care about their children. So much of the problem that the teachers have to deal with is more a social issue than an education issue. They cannot get some of the kids to settle down long enough to determine if they are even absorbing what is being taught to them. Everyone is holding up themselves to be a better teacher, chief officer, minister of education or MLA but that is easier said than done.until parents get serious about their children’s behavior at home and in the class room they will continue to have this issue. The well behaved children are excelling so obviously it is not the teachers nor other education officials fault.

    • Anonymous says:

      It is common place to blame teachers but it all starts with parents. Not every person who has a child or children is a parent.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Why is it so hard to just get on with it already?

    It is pretty much common knowledge that there are serious and widespread problems in the public education system – consultant report after consultant report has borne out what was already known. It’s easy to make Tara Rivers the scapegoat, but what did you really expect her to do with an inherited system that is full of entrenched civil servants protecting their jobs at all costs, parents who won’t (and don’t have to) take responsibility for their children’s education and behaviour, and a community who is happy to throw blame around but refuses to truly hold anyone (including themselves) to account for any of it? It’s enough to defeat any Education Minister who comes near it. Everyone knows what needs to be done – the system needs a revamp from the ground up, with an absolute focus on competency, discipline and responsibility. This means getting rid of (gasp!) senior staff who are long past their prime and resistant to change, kicking out students who are dealing drugs and being disruptive, bringing in outsiders with proven track records to fill gaps in expertise and train local staff, and last but certainly not least, requiring parents to do their part and stop relying on the school and the private sector to educate, feed and teach discipline and self worth to their children.

    Stop studying the problem and start solving it – It isn’t going to be easy and it isn’t going to be painless, but the children deserve no less.

  14. Tell de Truth says:

    hello it was on a downward slide long before Alden McLaughlin. I na fan of de PPM but face the facts from the reignof the previous Minister of Edu from GT, this slide was truly started.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Education reform is not a priority of the PPM. Four years wasted on more reports with telling us what we already know. Teacher morale at an all time low because of ministry officials like Suckoo Cacho and Rivers as the Minister are all impediments to any progress. They are delusional and too arrogant to understand they are part of the problems.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Alden McLaughlin – Minister of Education from 2005-2009.

    Education went down-hill from then; fact!

    • Tru Dat says:

      Incorrect. Truman Bodden is to be thanked for the slide in the quality of education in the Cayman Islands.

      • Anonymous says:

        Why? Explain your allegation.

        • Anonymous says:

          I did not write the allegation, but there is some truth as to where responsibility lies. Truman forced all private sector expat children out of government schools, at a time when only wealthy expats were allowed to have dependents here. Those expats funded the church schools that they were forced to send their kids to, and poached many of the better teachers from the government schools. Middle class and wealthy Caymanians saw what was happening and voluntarily sent their children to private schools so that they could enjoy the better educational opportunities that arose. The result was that only the children of lower income Caymanian and civil service employees were in Government schools. The children generally did not have support from home and lost the competition benefits from those that did. Academic results fell. The education ministry decided to transition to a Caribbean based curriculum to replace the internationally respected UK exams existing previously. Educators were increasingly recruited from the Eastern Caribbean, bringing with them viewpoints and emphasis less consistent with the workings of a sophisticated, financial services based economy. The rest, as they say, is history. Of course, Truman did not anticipate this result, and when it became clear, generations of other politicians did nothing effective to reverse it.

          • Anonymous says:

            9:30 am, the transitioning to the Caribbean based curriculum and the recruitment of teachers to teach it was done under Benson Ebanks’s tenure as the Member for Education and was spearheaded by his Principal Secretary Oswell Rankine who disliked anything to do with the UK, including exams and curricula. He was assisted by a team of Dr Jacob Bynoe, Mr Leonard Dilbert, Mrs Deanna Lookloy and Mrs Lillian Archer. When the National Team won the General Election in 1992 and Truman Bodden returned as Minister, all these people were removed from positions of influence in Education but the damage was done. This is not to defend Mr Bodden, just to set the record straight. The rest of your post is very sound indeed.

  17. Anonymous says:

    As long as a no zero tolerance to disruptive, ill behaved, aspiring criminals is not enforced and their parents are not held responsible, nothing will change!!!!!!

    You can’t expect teachers to put themselves on the line day after day, to then have to face some irate useless parent because their precious child was strung up for being a thug!

    Cleaning up Cayman has to start in the schools – what you see lurking around there is truly frightening.

    Hopefully somebody with balls is going to take over.

    • Anonymous says:

      7:47am If the head of the stream is dirty, there is very little hope that the end of it will be clean. Behaviour, manners, respect, proper grooming starts at home, so if it has not been taught at home, you cannot expect the unruly children to be anything else but disruptive at school/ classes.

    • Anonymous says:

      That is our problem there are too many balls, the soft kind that shrivel when brushed across. The balls we need have to be brass or stronger…… Then we may start to get somewhere.

  18. Anonymous says:

    What about the violence and drugs that happen at public schools that has been hushed?

    I don’t think Tara has done anything other than keep the salons on island busy.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I have a hard time accepting that so many of our children should be going to school without breakfast given the prevalence of:
    – new kias on the road
    – pointy fingernails more bewjewelled than necklines (not even basic acrylics anymore)
    – extensions or extreme hair colors.
    – Muted, Fog and other novelty events
    – lastest mobile devices for every family member
    – travel for concerts and sports games

    And I guess it is governments fault? The rich people not wasting money like the poor people. The rich people making sure their children fed and educated.

    • Anonymous says:

      Amen 6:42 – the government has a responsibility to create safe, encouraging and warm school environment that is for sure. However, the parent are at fault for caring move about the above things than their kids. I will say though, its the so call socialites in Cayman you would be surprised about. Flaunting their social media status and don’t even care for their kids.

      • Anonymous says:

        Here we go again talking about the known as if it were unknown. Teachers know the problems and the solutions because they deal with the students every day. The latest problem avoidance scam is the data scam. Schools do not have the tools or the personnel to input and analyze the numbers, its a time waster of professional staff time. Teachers know that the behaviour issues are generated by a core group of students with serious issues, mental health and other serious special needs conditions. These students have to be included into the government school population as no one else would have them. This puts the staff and students in government schools at a great disadvantage when compared to private institutions. When politicians pander to parents and dictate where these students are educated then prepare for more of the same. Poor teachers are powerless under the heavy heels of a system that has a policy of inclusion of seriously disturbed students. I fear for teacher health and safety. Counting and tabulating “data”is only a smoke screen for continuing a system that guarantees failure of students and teachers who struggle to meet their targets. However, to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.
        “We are not fooled”

    • Anonymous says:

      Yup, like the KIA which stopped this morning in the middle of Walkers Road to let her kid out to hop across and get breakfast at Burger King…………and no worry whether all traffic was held up in the back….

      • I AGREE says:

        You wanted us ALL to WORK and take part in your SYSTEM – these are your results too! #whenwillyouSEE #captivityisntforWE

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m a Caymanian so I can do what I like and stop complaining or leave and shake the sand from your feet and don’t let the aircraft door etc etc blah blah

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