Archive for July 9th, 2014

Rivers: Schools won’t select

| 09/07/2014 | 63 Comments

(CNS): Following revelations on CNS Tuesday that Minister Tara Rivers is considering the privatization of the education system, as advocated by her campaign supporters in the Coalition for Cayman, she denied that this will result in a two tier system. She said it would not mean the marginalization of kids with special needs, learning difficulties or behaviour problems and that schools won’t be able to select students. However, it is not clear how government will prevent that inevitability. While Rivers accused CNS of “ignoring the facts and putting out speculative information”, she hasn’t explained how by moving to public–private partnerships in education that selection and segregation of local students won’t automatically follow.

While the premier, a former education minister, remained silent in the face of the minister’s undefined proposals as well as the damning advertorial in the local press posted by her political backers, Rivers said she was “taking a critical look at the education system” and announcements would be made once all plans are in place. The policy she is pursuing appears to be a radical departure from the premier’s and the Progressive’s position on equality in education.

Despite requesting comment from the country’s leader, Alden McLaughlin has still not responded to CNS questions.

Rivers, however, said yesterday that the privatization proposal is still under discussion within the ministry and government and that the “presumptions” pointed out by CNS about the problems commonly associated with these types of schools “erroneously speculated in the article” were premature. Rivers criticized the CNS article, which drew attention to the fact that the type of systems that the minister is considering adopting have been already been implemented across Britain and many have fallen far short of expectations.

While some schools have done well as a resultof being able to select their pupils, others have failed and made poor schools even worse. In some case parents have fought long campaigns to prevent schools opting out of local authority control because of the inequities that have resulted in other academies. The pressures on schools remaining under government control in the UK have also become greater as they are forced to take kids rejected by the more elite academies, charter and grant-maintained semi-private schools that have emerged over the last decade, while juggling with constant budget cuts.

Nevertheless, Rivers has denied that any of these things will happen under her plans for public-private partnerships and board controlled schools here in Cayman.

“I refute the claims in the article about not accommodating students with special education needs, learning difficulties and behaviour problems, as well as the claims about the ability for schools to pick or choose students. Also, the claims about the selection criteria for students being based on examination passes, etc, as opposed to catchment areas are equally unfounded,” the minister said, but did not say how the schools would be able to define themselves without having their own selection criteria.

Although Rivers has been quick to deny concerns over selection and inequity regarding her proposals, she has not been so quick to defend her staff or teachers in the face of the significant criticism by her colleagues in the C4C, who have accused them of “empire building” and accused teachers of dumbing down.

The Coalition has also criticized the much lauded International Baccalaureate system and suggested that because education is free people don’t appreciate it. While the C4C is clearly pushing for an even broader privatization agenda, Rivers has not yet denied the possibility that fees may be introduced. 

CNS asked Rivers if she supports the position of C4C and their damning criticism but she has not responded to that request or other specific questions asking about the move towards public-private partnerships in government schools.

See related story on CNS: Minister plans school sell-off

See Viewpoint: Academies

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Scholarship criteria to be critiqued

| 09/07/2014 | 0 Comments

(CNS Business): The counsellor in the Education Ministry, Winston Connolly, is heading a subcommittee of the Education Council to look at the scholarship criteria and make recommendations to the Council, Education minister Tara Rivers told CNS Business in a video interview. The subcommittee will be looking at the types of colleges and universities that scholarship students currently go to, as well as what the parameters are and what they should be in order to access funding. Rivers said it was very important that Caymanians are able to continue their education to tertiary level but also important to look critically at whether we are getting value for money and whether or not the institutions are delivering the kind and quality of education expected, given the cost. Read more and watch the video on CNS Business

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CIG staff fob off complainers

| 09/07/2014 | 27 Comments

(CNS): Although the complaints commissioner believes things have improved considerably in the civil service complaints system, the failure of public servants to respond in a timely manner, or even at all, is still a major problem for government staff. Ten years after the Complaints Commissioner's officer (OCC) was created to oversee and deal with complaints about the service the public receives at the hands of government agencies and their employees, Nicola Williams said all public authorities have a formal complaints procedure in place but when departments don’t respond to people’s concerns and complaints, or fob them off, it is not just frustrating for the complainant but it is in breach of the constitution.

Although it may seem like a small thing, Williams said, when complainants are ignored small complaints can escalate into much larger ones. She said the original infraction may not be much but it soon balloons into something more serious when a complainant is fobbed off.

Under the 2009 Constitution and the Bill of Rights government workers have a lawful obligation to deal fairly and promptly with concerns and complaints raised about how the public is treated when accessing government services. When complaints are ignored and not dealt with promptly and fairly, civil servants are breaking the law.

Reluctant to name the worst offenders, Cayman’s second commissioner said there were two departments that cause the most concerns and where there is a long way to go before they could be considered as coping with and properly handling complaints. However, Williams was quick to celebrate the massive improvements seen at immigration, which she said is no longer the office’s most complained about entity.

At one time immigration complaints dominated the office’s workload, the commissioner said, but now, while there are still complaints coming to her office about the experiences people have there, it is no longer the worst offender.

As the OCC celebrates is tenth birthday this month, Williams said things have evolved since the creation of the office in 2004 as she and her team focus a lot more on training, regulating and monitoring the internal complaints procedure now in place across government departments. While they still get hundreds of people complaining to the office on an annual basis, by the time they reach Williams' team the complaints are usually much more serious and complex as the complainants have already been through an internal complaints procedure.

Not unlike the experiences of the Information Commissioner’s Office, Williams reported that her main concerns are the attempts public authorities make to stall and delay her staff when they attempt to investigate where things have gone wrong or when the researchers are conducting own motion investigations on behalf of the commissioner.

Williams said that she believes that no civil servant goes to work wanting to make someone’s life a misery but that it can happen when the complaints made to them are not properly dealt with.

While her office now spends a good deal of time training and has seen that pay off with public sector workers becoming more aware of the need to prevent complaints in the first place, Williams said the civil service heads of department also need to play their part. She said it was important that public sector bosses ensure that the staff they supervise are equipped and capable of doing the job that they are in place to perform and that that they understand the responsibilities they have to cut down on complaints.

With the budget for 2014/15 just recently passed, the commissioner said she welcomed the increase in her office’s budget but noted that the financing was still almost 30% down on its original funding. Like all government departments, the office funding has been cut year on year with each successive round of spending plans until this budget year.

For the first time in many years, Williams said, the office reached a staff of six but it is still not enough to cover the workload as effectively as she said she would like. The commissioner bragged that she has become something of an expert in the field of international complaints commissioners for doing so much on so little. She said she has spoken at a number of conferences on, ironically given the title of her damning report on the state of the country’s pension system, “penny pinching”.

Despite the many challenges however, Williams said there was much to celebrate over the last ten years and this week the team was on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman not only to mark the end of its first decade but to offer those on the Sister Islands an opportunity to raise any concerns they may have about the service they receive from government entities.

Returning to Grand Cayman Thursday, the office at Anderson Square will be hosting an open house event and on Thursday evening will be celebrating the launch of a new small claims handbook.

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Temp shut-down for overwhelmed animal shelter

| 09/07/2014 | 43 Comments

(CNS): The Cayman Islands Humane Society has said it cannot take any more animals and has been forced to close its doors as a result of an overwhelming number of animals being abandoned and left at the shelter in George Town. Having run out of space to put the adult dogs and cats, Lesley Walker, the charity’s director, said the kennels will be temporarily shut until the volunteers can find homes for the animals it currently has there. She urged people who have been considering adopting a dog or cat to seize the moment and come forward to help relieve the pressure at the location which houses lost, abandoned, abused or unwanted dogs and cats.

The director said the charity’s Facebook page or website shows many of the animals currently staying at the shelter that are in need of a new, loving home, as she explained about the forced closure.

"We have had to make the heartbreaking decision to temporarily close the doors as we currently at full capacity,” Walker said.  “In the past month we have been inundated with adult dogs and cats, puppies and kittens. At this time we are unable to accept any more animals as we unfortunately do not have the space for them. One of our prime purposes is to provide a safe refuge for lost, abandoned, abused or unwanted dogs and cats.

“We are responsible for keeping these animals that are in our care as healthy and comfortable as possible and the only way to do this is to ensure that we do not house them in cramped conditions, which not only is a health hazard but is also very stressful for them,” she added.

The Humane Society shelter is a small house that has been adapted as much as possible to function as an animal shelter but it is cramped. In preparation for the future, Walker explained that the charity is examining the possibility of getting a piece of land donated and then a campaign to build a larger and better functioning shelter.

“In the meantime we are faced with the ongoing crisis of animal overpopulation in the Cayman Islands. We are asking people to please call us first before coming to the shelter to surrender an animal so we can advise them on possible options,” she added.

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ICCI clamps down on scholarship students

| 09/07/2014 | 19 Comments

(CNS): The ICCI boss has said he won’t take “horsing around” from students attending the college courtesy of the public purse. Dr David Marshall, the college president, said that while some students on government scholarships are excelling, others are falling behind. He said the college takes full responsibility, and to improve performance ICCI is requiring mandatory tutoring sessions for all students in academic peril starting in the fall quarter, and government scholarship students are to sign learning contracts and individual learning plans to boost academic performance. He also revealed that the college will be raising its admission standards.

Some of the college’s accountability practices have sparked complaints to the Education Ministry, Marshall revealed, including a requirement that students attend 85% of the classes during the quarter to be eligible for a grade, but that is not deterring the college boss from his path to improve performance.

“This is not a place for people who want to horse around,” said Marshall. "We take attendance every class. Students who are absent from any class will be getting a call from the college to inquire what is going on … Let’s just say, I am not the most popular college president in the world right now.

“Students and their parents are trusting us to do our job preparing students for careers. We can’t let them down. Accountability is key,” Marshall added. “These are the public’s dollars. The Ministry of Education is investing in these students and in ICCI. We haveto be accountable for student performance, otherwise we have no business taking government dollars or students on government scholarships,” he said.

The focus on student achievement is part of the overall plan to strengthen academic quality at the college. In September, Marshall said, policy proposals are going to the Board of Trustees for approval that will raise admissions standards and elevate requirements to graduate.

“We are not going to accept anything less than excellence,” the president stated. “We want employers who hire our graduates to be confident that our graduates are globally competitive.”

Although students on government scholarships are doing better than they were earlier this year, Marshall still sees a lot of room for improvement. During the Spring Quarter (April 7-June 19) 49 government scholarship students were enrolled at ICCI, 33 full-time and sixteen part-time. Forty-two are in undergraduate programmes and seven students in graduate programmes. Of the total number of these students 36 (73%) achieved the required 3.0 GPA, a 7% improvement on the winter quarter.

But, Marshall explained, 13 (or 27%) did not achieve the required GPA, which is a 10% decrease on the earlier quarter, so fewer students are now below what is required but the president is still concerned. He pointed out that some 10 percent of scholarship students would not be eligible for government funds this quarter based on the guidelines from the Scholarship Secretariat and the figures are far below the aspirational metric of 90 percent of government scholarship students achieving 3.0 or above.

“While we are very proud of the government scholarships students who are doing well, we are disappointed that our overall success rate is so low. To my mind, this is not the fault of the government scholarship students, it is the college’s failure for not having systems in place to help these young people achieve and I take direct responsibility for that,” the president said, as he outlined the plans to boost academic performance.

He said some of the mandatory tutoring sessions will be held on weekends and students' learning contracts with the director of student support services, designed to identify problems regarding achievement and those students, will need to work with the “DSSS” on individual learning plans.

Marshall also confirmed that policy proposals are going to the board of trustees in September for approval to raise admissions standards and elevate requirements to graduate.

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SMEs swamped with myriad business challenges

| 09/07/2014 | 0 Comments

(CNS Business): The high rate of duty, problems of bad debt, the black market, training challenges, as well as the cost of doing business were just some of the issues that small business owners said they are struggling with at a special session at the Chamber of Commerce last week. A representative from an arm of the European Union looking to spend as much as EUR15 million in the overseas territories helping the small business market told guests at the event that the money could be used to promote any number of projects, initiatives or advocacy programmes relating to small enterprises but it was an “on demand project” and down to locals to decide what they wanted. Read more on CNS Business

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World cup kicks up violence against women

| 09/07/2014 | 15 Comments

(CNS):Disappointment at team and betting losses and excessive alcohol consumption during the World Cup tournament have created a recipe for disaster for spouses or partners of abusers. Across the world women are feeling the fallout of football frustration and Cayman is no different. Ania Milanowska-Sedgley, Executive Director of the Grand Cayman Crisis Centre, said that from the very start of the World Cup, there was a marked increase in the number of women seeking safe refuge at the Centre. “This is happening to such a degree that on several occasions the Centre has been inundated,” she said.

Although the causes are not all directly related to the tournament, the Centre’s clients have reported an increase in the level of aggressive behaviour towards them since the start of the contest. The World Cup may have temporarily united the world in the spirit of the game but there appears to be a genuine link with World Cup fever and increased violence.

The anti-domesticviolence campaign in the UK “Lets Show Domestic Violence the Red Card” reveals a 25% increase in domestic violence since the start of the tournament. 

“It is really quite disturbing, and rather sad, that this increase in domestic violence quite clearly started when the World Cup kicked off. The 'Beautiful Game', which is such a great opportunity to unite families in their joint support of their team, does not seem quite so beautiful to these victims of domestic violence,” added Milanowska-Sedgley. 

“Domestic violence is an issue that we can all be involved in alleviating. One source has reported she was appalled to hear a gentlemen in the bar next to her apparently 'joking' that it was 'time to go home and beat the wife….because when I’m a loser, everyone’s a loser!' when his team didn’t make it through to the next round,” she said. “It is the responsibility of all of us to make sure that people know this is not funny and it is not acceptable.”

The Cayman Islands Crisis Centre is always open to women in need and will never turn anyone away. Employees of the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre work tirelessly to provide help and support and confidentiality to victims and are reliant upon donations to carry out their essential work.

Meanwhile, the 100 Women in Hedge Funds (100WHF) inaugural Cayman gala, raised over US$26,000 for the Centre at an event in May attracting over 230 guests. The CICC was selected as the 2014 beneficiary as it provides services that fit this year’s global philanthropy theme of ‘women’s and family health’.

“The Cayman Islands Crisis Centre is an ideal partner for 100WHF,” said Philanthropy Committee Chair Christina Bodden, partner at Maples and Calder. “This is a perfect example of women helping women. The need to support victims of domestic violence and their children is unfortunately great and the Crisis Centre is instrumental in providing emergency shelter that enables women and children to take those first steps to a life free from violence.  We are pleased to be able to financially support them in their efforts and make a difference in this way.”

Milanowska-Sedgley said it was wonderful to see such an outpouring of support for the Crisis Centre. The Cayman 100WHF committee pledged to raise over US$35,000 for the Crisis Centre in 2014 and the inaugural gala brought in well over half the amount already. The 100WHF’s next fundraising event will be the Crisis Centre’s second annual speaker series, featuring Joshua Safran, a lawyer, documentary producer, writer and a childhood victim of domestic violence himself. 

Safran produced a documentary about his years of working to free a woman from prison who had killed her abusive husband. The event, which is scheduled for 11 September 2014, will feature a private screening of the documentary Crime After Crime followed by a discussion and book signing by Safran.

100WHF are looking for sponsors for the event so interested parties should contact the local organization via email cayman@100womeninhedgefunds.org

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Local cadets train alongside overseas corps

| 09/07/2014 | 0 Comments

(CNS): The Cayman Islands Cadet Corps welcomed eleven other young would-be soldiers from the Australian Cadet Corps and from the Canadian Cadet Force this week. The international peers came for a two-day camping exercise, which started on Monday 7, July and saw ten local cadets train alongside the five youngsters from Canada and six all the way from Australia. The camp began at Bonnieview Island in Prospect, where cadets participated in field exercises including waterman-ship training, and anti-ambush training, as well as learning river crossing and other survival skills, officials said in a release.

The exercise ended the following day at the Cayman Islands Fire Service’s training ground where the cadets did exercises in rappelling. These were led by Captain Wilston Bennett, Camp Commandant and leader of the Cayman Brac branch of the Corps.

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Art teachers show what they can do at local gallery

| 09/07/2014 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Instructors from the National Gallery’s education and outreach departments are showing their own artwork this month in an exhibition titled Our Gems of Art. With 25 programmes taught annually by professional artists, the gallery is highlighting the work of Joseph Betty, David Bridgeman, John Broad, Kieshona Brown, Meegan Ebanks, Kathryn Elphinstone, Monica Powery, Avril Ward, Gabrielle Wheaton, Simone Scott and Monte Thornton. Curated by this year’s Deutsche Bank Intern Kieshona Brown, (left) the work displayed shows a wide range of genres and mediums.

“This will be the second exhibition I have had the privilege of curating in the National Gallery’s Dart Auditorium/Community Gallery,” said Brown who has been focusing on the gallery’s educational provisions. The Gallery offers many different art programmes for children, adults, teens, the elderly and individuals with special needs. “These programmes are essential to the Gallery and the people of the community, but none of these programmes would have been possible if it weren’t for the men and women who take the time out of their busy lives to teach the programmes,” Brown said. “We hope that this exhibition will show the appreciation we have of our ‘gems of art’.”

Instructors at the National Gallery are either art teachers, well-known professional artists, or artists that have a lot of experience and practice in their medium.

Natalie Urquhart NGCI Director said that their dedication had not gone unnoticed. “We’ve seen a tremendous amount of quality artwork produced from these programmes, because of this we are honoured to exhibit their work and to put the spotlight on the art that our instructors have produced this year,” she said.

The exhibition titled Our Gems of Art: NGCI Instructors Exhibition opens with a members’ preview event 10 July from 5:30 PM until 7:30 PM. The exhibition officially opens to the public 11 July 2014 and closes 9 August 2014. For more information about the exhibition and for details regarding teaching opportunities at the National Gallery, email education@nationalgallery.org.ky or call (345) 945 8111.

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Caymanians make clean sweep in rugby awards

| 09/07/2014 | 0 Comments

(CRFU): New Zealand rugby legend Doug Howlett took to the stage in Cayman at the weekend as the guest speaker at the 44th Annual Players Dinner of the Cayman Islands Rugby Union. The night was a chance for local clubs and national squads to cap off a successful season in the style of a black tie event at the Marriott. Howlett celebrated the players on their performances for club and country with an awards presentation. An extremely encouraging sign for the future of rugby in Cayman and its aspirations to continue to grow and succeed was that six out of the six players awards were awarded to young Caymanian players.

Voted by peers, players and coaches the awards went to the following people:

Robbie Cribb Jr. (Men’s player of the year),
Mark Soto (Men’s most improved player),
Shenel Gall (Women’s player of the year), pictured right
Jenna Richards (Women’s most improved player of the year),
Jodie McTaggart (Women’s players’ player of the year)
Angel Hawkins (Junior player of the year) pictured above

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