(CNS): The opposition leader has made it clear that education will continue to be the priority for his team this year and they will be holding government to account, not just over teachers’ pay and more local autonomy for schools but also the completion of the John Gray campus. Speaking to CNS about the year ahead, Ezzard Miller said this project should take priority over the controversial cruise port, as students and teachers are under duress and government should target resources to finish the project this year, not in 2020.
He said the attention government is giving to the unjustified and costly cruise port should be diverted to the high school so that it can be completed sooner not later, paving the way for improved outcomes for current students.
Miller said he also believed that to improve the overall management at all local schools they need to be more autonomous and, as provided for in the new education law, he wanted to see the development of school boards. He said changes in the management of schools would not happen without effort and government’s education department should manage the process of devolving some of the central authority to school leaders and boards.
The opposition leader said he would be seeking a meeting with the chair of the new Education Council, Dan Scott, as soon as possible to get an idea of what that body plans to prioritize and raise with him the need to act on improving how schools are run. Miller said he believes that the education department should be focused on standards, inspections, monitoring and the broader regulation of schools, not decisions over which schools can buy which note books.
Miller, who represents North Side, said that schools should not be run from offices in George Town but rather by the parents and community members in their neighborhood. He said that engaging the communities around the schools would help them raise their own resources and tap into local expertise. “We want to see schools have more freedom,” he said.
Concerned that the education system is still too top heavy, Miller believes that too much money was going to administrators and ministry officials rather than on schools. He said that the changes he and the wider public want to see will not happen overnight and will require a coordinated and concerted effort, as he expected there would be pushback from bureaucrats in the department and the ministry. As schools seek to manage their own affairs more, the opposition leader said, the change would need to be properly organised and directed.
Although government made announcements in the budget that education was getting more money, the operation costs are largely the same and Miller said the equity investments appear inadequate to cover the commitments being made. He said the budget allocations fall far short of what is really needed.
During his policy statement when the budget was delivered in November, the premier said that government had provided an additional $9.6 million over the next two years to cover a long list of needs in schools, including more teachers, investment in special education, enhanced science, literacy and math programmes, skills upgrading for 400 teachers and assistants, as well as scholarships and youth programmes.
An investment of $36 million over the two-year budget is also being stretched to cover computer software and equipment, infrastructure improvements at three primary schools, UCCI, as well as the planning work for new primary school in West Bay and the work to complete John Gray.
But the opposition leader has said that this is far short of what government needs to invest in education if it is to create the change the community wants to see and Cayman needs. Given the limited investment, he said, government’s claim that it is prioritising education remains to be seen but the opposition would ensure the administration was held to account.