Schools at risk over cuts

| 04/11/2009

(CNS): The former minister of education has issued a warning that the $100 million school projects could be completely undermined as a result of the drive to shave a few million dollars from the overall budget. The cost cutting exercise that the government is currently engaged in has already seen the Frank Sound Clifton Hunter campus lose its swimming pool and other cuts that save a few hundred thousands dollars but could severely impact the transformation of teaching and learning which Alden McLaughlin says the schools were designed to achieve.

Acknowledging that even his own supporters had questioned him over the cost of the schools, McLaughlin said there were lots of good reasons why the facilities were more expensive than conventional schools, not least being the goal to introduce entirely new methods of education that would make a difference to the outcomes and results students would attain in the Cayman Islands.

“Any and all amount of evil has been said about me but what we were building were not just schools but community facilities, sporting facilities and hurricane facilities. We carefully thought about this and we were not just building 20th century classroom blocks. We wanted schools for the 21st century to allow a new approach to education to be properly implemented and transform the outcomes for our young people,” he said speaking at Monday night’s PPM National Council meeting.

A look at theconsistent failure over the year of more than 25% of students to gain the average pass rate at the end of their school careers demonstrated, he said, the desperate need to change the system, and that’s what he was aiming for. McLaughlin warned that the current minister’s drive to cut corners and bring the bill down by a few million dollars would see the plan to transform education sacrificed.

“I am gravely worried already about where education is now going,” he added. “When we look at number of poor levels of passes, the inability for students to cope with tertiary education, or the work place we cold not carry on doing the same.”

It was clear, he said, that what people have called the “fancy new schools” by themselves were not enough and the education law had also been implemented to create a new way of delivering education. The schools, however, were designed in tandem to accommodate modern teaching methodologies – project integrated learning, team teaching and other approaches which had been proven to provide better learning for a wider number of students.

McLaughlin also explained that the consequences of cutting out what have been described as some of the "Cadillac items" as well as trying to undermine the design of the schools.

Regarding the $750,000 kitchen, he said it was meant to be a feeder kitchen for the smaller kitchens in each of the academies on the John Gray Campus, as well as one which could be utilized to feed hundreds of people during a hurricane. He explained that by cutting out that kitchen school meals would now have to be prepared off site, an added future expense and inconvenience. During storms there would be difficulties preparing food for those staying in the shelter as well, he noted.

“There is an unwillingness to see the bigger picture about these schools in the determination to demonize Alden McLaughlin,” he said. The decision not to construct the pool at Clifton Hunter to save $500,000 would also perpetuate the inequalities between the districts for students, he observed, noting that is was no coincidence that Cayman’s swimming athletes did not come from East End, Bodden Town or North Side.

“I’ve stopped crying about it not but I am still worried that the whole purpose of the schools is going to be compromised to save a couple of million,” McLaughlin said. “How can they take CI$3million and give it to the premier to spend in what I call his slush fund, but then take the pool way from the young people of the eastern districts?”

The schools, the former minister explained, were well thought out, planned and designed for a specific type of teaching and learning that would finally give all Caymanian students a real chance to achieve. It would be a tragedy, he stated,  if the country were to spend the $100 million plus for these two schools only to find in the end they will not deliver what they were designed for in order to try and save CI$2 or $3 million.

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  1. bush says:

    The same mentality that has greated the substandard education problem in Cayman is in charge of the building of a large building project equals substandard building project.  Wow.

    A lot of us expected different results.  Bigger WOW.

    And we are going to fix it by?  Biggest WOW!

    Hint  hint. Hire an already experiance,highly skilled and motivated proffessional (and by experianced I mean he or she has already done this type of job for a long time successfully) and then let them do their job.

    We  won’t find this person in Cayman because we have never needed someone with this kind of experiance before.

    The fact that this won’t ever happen with our type of system.  Not a big surprise.  Wow again.  Soon Come.  More of the same.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It is frustrating to have the Aden supporters unable or unwilling to hear the comments that are calling for a phased in upgrade to the school construction projects instead of an everything now regardless of common sense and financial prudence. Exactly why these people are unable to grasp this logic is an ongoing concern for me as it is a rather basic concept found everywhere it seems except in governmental spending in Cayman.

    As important or actually more important are the teachers and administrative support for the education process and the proper management of these new schools. If the same substandard push them through regardless mentality is used then this money will have been wasted.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Of course Alden is actually right, despite the insane comments below. The much maligned recording studio which was shelved was a key part of examination music courses AND would have been a key learning resource for students. THis is equipment they want to use!  The equipment was to be donated – there was no cost saving- it was just the size of a closet.  there is no saving – just nonsense saying "look at how i save money!" The nonsense about this is simply that – nonsense.  FORGET the fact there are recording studios in Georgetown -so  what – students need them where they are learning! 

    The swimming pool was not just for students,  it was a community resource.  students going to Clifton Hunter are NOT going to travel to Georgetown.  This is also nonsense.  We need full facilities in the districts, not that poor thing massively overused in town.  Nostudent will be transported from Clifton Hunter to George Town.  Those that gossip on about swimming in the sea are talking rubbish -( as usual)

    The schools are following leading edge designs -they are not badly designed  – they are wonderful.  Cayman and its new schools is being watched all over the world.  When they were started, they were leading the world – now, many other countries are taking over.  Again, Cayman will be diminishing good ideas and going backwards when everyone else moves forward – TYPICAL

    Few ministers have ever been bold enough to look ahead – Alden was – we will regret this lack of interest in what education should look like.

    I’ve been comparing the work rate of the new Minister of Education and new PS with that of Alden and his team.  This is not about politics about about our young people. 

    Alden, in the days and weeks on being appointed spent hours (e.g: hours in some schools talking to teachers) in every school.  He then decided on a national conference which everyone in the whole country was asked to contribute to.  Talk shows, TV shows, the newspapers all went on board and asked for feedback on the education system, public meetings and a two day conference which was open to loads of people.  Teachers, for the first time were able to speak honestly about the system, which we all know we all had been complaining about for years.  This was just four months after being elected.

    Alden’s team then wrote the Cayman National Concensus on the Future of Education which was passed without opposition in the LA just five or so weeks of the conference.   This means McKeever and Royston all voted for it as well.  And believe it or not things began to change.  Dead wood in the Education Department vanished, new management processes, things began to change for teachers.  It needed to.

    George Hicks got split into four schools, and as a parent, I know we all agree it is far better than what was there.  People know and can talk to each other, the numbers are small, work is better and behaviour is far better.  Remember that site where no one wanted to send their kids? All that good is forgotten.

    This was with a Minister with passion about education,  supported by a Permanent Secretary known throughout Cayman – we all know his PS getting things done and also passionate about making things better for Cayman and us Caymanians in general.

    I know the schools are expensive  but no one could have forseen the extent of the financial crises.  Apparently lots of people around the world were watching how we changed the education system so fast. All this in six months.  We were being talked about all round the world.

    Compare this with the performance so of new staff – much has been promised  but what has happened in the same period – NOTHING!  Most of the ministry staff have been sacked or moved. Only a few weeks ago, months after election he stated publically that he is still thinking about the future.  He sacked our Angela who had worked so hard and replaced her with the current one, demoted from the PoCS, back to education.  We all know from previous form that decisions will not be made.  The Ministry has surrounded itself with those that were there years doing everything to rubbish what was achieved since and not saying what they are going to do – the age of secrecy has returned.

    Where is the congratulations on the big improvement the exam results at JGHS – no where – we all know they have really improved by a huge jump – but no they are trying to undermine what our young Caymanians are doing well.

    He has even bought back Joy B for scholarships.  Are our memories that short.  We know it was a total shambles, no records, no policies and scholarships given to those whose they approved of when she was there before.  It was so bad! No one ever knew what was happening. It may not be perfect now …but then!

    And guess what, now there are issues to discuss, no one is ever available for comment.  They have got rid of most people in the Ministry, do not use the website, the blog diary has stopped and no one talks about anything.  I guess the PS is thinking what to do… don’t hold your breathe – she hasn’t made a decision yet.

    Out of ten – education is now zero.  It slips back into being not a priority for our young Caymanians.  Alden got things right but also some things wrong but his heart was all about making it better for our young people.  The schools are costing a lot, probably too much but to those who say we used to learn under the sea grape tree or in mashed up rooms  its good enough for today – get real – it just will not do now if we expect our people to compete against the rest of the world.  It is such a stupid thing to say.

    So I finish- but end with a question: – where is Angela Martins, (and Diane Montoya to think of it?) are we really wasting their talents and throwing away those who actually did something?

  4. Anonymous says:

    The swimming pool construction is proceeding. The statement is incorrect.

  5. UniqueCommonSense says:

    Narrow-mind Caymanians….

    All of you narrow-minded Caymanians are the same ones that run-ya-mouth and carry-on like you don’t have two grains of sense when you believe you’re not getting the BEST out of your island. YET when one of your very own fellowmen comes along, puts his neck on the chopping block and sticks his ass out for kicking, YOU now turn around and stabbed him (Alden) as though he has done YOU a grave injustice.

    Here’s what you will get……..less that what you deserve.

    Here’s what you deserve……..much lower than the best.

    Here’s what you will regret……..what you have now lost!!!

    Your vision in no deeper than the tip of your nose. Keep-up this type of ‘lack of intelligence’ attitude and you’ll see the full results in your children!! You’ll continue to grow old, questioning, wondering and running-ya mouth as to why? Why my children can’t get this…….? And Why my children can’t get that……?

    Caymanians………. Opportunities missed are opportunities lost, and 99% of the time, never come-around


    • JC says:

      You are getting exactly what you deserve.

      You reap what you sow.

      If you don’t like what you are getting, what needs to change?

      Hint.  Starts with S and ends with w.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Maybe we focus on the public private partnership that will see a 50M pool built in what is fast becoming a world class sports complex (Truman Bodden, Boxing Gym …) and then focus on how we make that pool, plus the existing 25M pool work for the whole island. Grand Cayman is not so big that we should not be able to work this out folks! And for the volume of people in this country we should not have to facilities in each district. Just better operational planning …

    It is possible …

    • Perhaps says:

      We do not need world class facilities in each district. However please do consider the logisitics of taking a group of children from North Side or East End Primary to the Sports Complex. An hour drive each way, plus presumably another hour at their venue. Thats a minimum of 3 hours out of the school day for one activity. Given the number of complaintsabout literacy levels, etc, I hardly think this would be considered acceptable. So, while we may not need world class facilities in each district, surely a facility of sorts could be considered reasonable.

      Ironic too, given that the now Deputy Leader of the UDP was in favour of district sporting facilities during her tenure as Minister of Sports.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I’m not sure I understand the mentality of such a statement.

    These schools were very badly designed in the first place. Now, to gain emotional support, the opposition is pointing out something that may happen.

    Perhaps a concerted effort by the opposition to assist in getting the right schools in at a reasonable cost would be a more valuable contribution than this type of article?

    Instead of spending millions on a bathroom, perhaps the opposition should have built a swimming pool instead?

    I’m sure everyone is tired of media junk and it would be a relief to hear of progress made instead.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The building of the schools is great for island, but the main problem before and the main problem after the schools are built still revolves around the teachers.  If you do not pay them a decent salary to survive and have kids willing to learn then who cares how pretty the school is. 

    Population is decreasing for Caymanian kids, and more are going to private schools.  This was all a big waste of money in my mind, could have spent over 100 million in better ways. 

  9. Anonymous says:

    In reading the various posts contained in this thread an idea came to me that I want to share. Were such grand school projects concieved and pursued to compete with the Dart school? Was the Dart project behind the unnecessary spending for these school designs? All I can say if there is a thread of truth to this suggestion is,"Shame on you."

    Then it was pride and not concern for the Cayman Islands that modivated such overspending that has hurt the country.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Since so much emphasis is being placed on the fact that students need top of the art facilities in order to learn, instead of top of the line teaching professionals (who do not blantantly curse at our children), and a current and concise curriculum, how many studys were done to compare the learning abilities and potential of students who attend these type of facilities compared to those who attend ‘regular’ facilities?

    Is there a proven statistic anywhere that says students who have attended a school where there is a $500K pool and a $750K kitchen and classrooms with vaulted ceilings, are any more or better educated than those who attend school where all your classes are conducted in building the size of the average house in Cayman. If the passing rate did not increase after this money was spen to build these schools, what would have been said then?

    Yes, technology has increased and we should provide our children with modern technology and facilities, but as many of us know, technology increases and changes every month (and sometimes sooner). Does that mean that every time there is a change in technology we are going to spend millions of dollars to create new schools. Or every time the passing rate goes down we will build new buildings that implament technology?

    I think this was a very rash decision and the simplest answer at the time was, "we came into power and there was an access in our accounts, here’s a good way to spend it…"

    • Anonymous says:

      I went to such a school (with incredible facilities), and boy, I tell you, it was a world apart from the run-down schools I had previously attended. And given my academic success (as well as the overall academic success of other students there) vs. the lack thereof in the aforementioned delapidated construct, I would say the proof is in the pudding. Yes, great teachers are an integral part of a successful education, but the learning environment itself matters a great deal as well.

      I cannot believe there are so many penny-pinchers in regards to the most important area government can spend money in. I say let’s throw another couple hundred million into all areas of our educational facilities and faculties. Every dollar spent on education gives, on average, an $8 economic return in the future. You show me a castle or turtle farm that can make that claim, and we’ll see who really wasted money for egotistical or political reasons.

  11. Makam says:

    Yes save a few hundred thousand by cutting school costs after all it is only going to help our children….but do spend 2 plus million in a "slush" fund to pay off UDP cronies..after all our children cannot vote – yet!

  12. Anonymous says:

    It really hurts me to know that this is where cost costing has begun 🙁 The children of the Cayman Islands need a better school system than what they have now.  We may be one of the top financial centres, but clearly it is not a benefit to our children. 

    • Anonymous says:

      Well if the language skills of the more mature writers like yourself are anything to go by, then it is nothing new to have illiterate school leavers, so it’s probably too late to make a difference now.

      All this cost ‘costing’ as you so aptly put it, is not to blame for a generation of illiterate lazy Caymanians, this is mainly down to the bad parenting and years of government incompetence and corruption that has burnt through the millions of dollars contributed by the financial industry.

      • Anonymous says:

        Now, now! Play nice, or, someone will have to take your toys (computer…) away!

  13. Anonymous says:

    I think you need to stand back aways and take a look at the BIG picture for a little while.  You are absolutely right that trying to save 2 or 3 million on a 100 million project is a tragedy.  The real tragedy here is that the Goverment is already broke and is trying to shave 2 or 3 million here and there to show that it is trying to save itself.  Cayman goverment can not afford to pay its bills and payroll with out borrowing the money right now but it still wants to continue spending like it has money.  The tragedy that you should see is that the consistent and obviously terrible failure of the current school system to teach at an exceptable level was not fixed when they had the money.   And do you not get the FACTS that the problem is in the teacher/student realm and not the buildings?  Pay for and hire better teachers then give them the tools and backing to do what is neccesary to teach the obviously hard to teach children of Cayman. Or just keep doing what you have always done and keep wondering why the children of Cayman are still behind the rest of the modern world.  YOUR choice. YOUR failure.

  14. Anonymous says:

    This is a pile of foolishness.!! Far as I am concern… We should be working together as one! Not fighting each other.! Cayman will always be drowning with the people like you in these high places!

  15. A Concerned Young Caymanian says:

    If these schools were "well thought out, planned and designed" as Mr. McLaughlin has stated, why were the Government unable to finish them?  Why was so much emphasis put on the Clifton Hunter school in Frank Sound, but not at the John Gray High School campus, which was much more needed?  It wasn’t in the interest of the children…it was for his own benefit to make himself look good.  They needed to realise that not everything that they implement in England’s schools work here…no matter what their chum Mr. Hepple, who they paid thousands of dollars to each visit, says.

    The reason why there was so little percentage of the student body achieving an average pass rate is not because of the school system.  It is because parents do not spend enough time with their child/children to help them with their homework or projects.  Would you expect your child to be interested in school if you haven’t taken interest in them to help them?  The teachers can only do so much at school to help the children.  What was the sense of taking out a school system that has worked for decades, where students achieved well above the average pass grade, to implement a programme where each year the percentage of students to obtain the pass grade decreases?  Even though the current programme is a well recognized academic programme, it is only for those who are academically inclined, not for those who have learning difficulties or for those who are not so academiclly inclined.

    I say put back in the Reception classes at all Primary schools…reason being, nowadays when children reach the age to attend Year 1 at the Primary schools, most of them do not know their basic ABC’s…some are still in pull-ups, meaning they aren’t potty trained…it makes you wonder what are these pre-schools doing.  It seems that all they are just a day-care centre and they’re not teaching the children what they need to know for Primary school. (Mind you, I’m not saying that every pre-school is like this, because there are pre-schools that take the time to make sure that by the time your child is 4 years old, they are ready to go to the "big people school" [Primary school] as they so affectionally call it.

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t think it is that simple. Whilst a state-of-the-art school may not guarantee an improvement by the student’s performances, I would say that one of the issues that we are having nowadays is that the schools are overcrowded and the classroom sizes are too big. Teachers are struggling having to deal with 25 plus children in each class. When you have to go to some of the school and see the state the facilities are in, it is not hard to understand why a lot of students just don’t feel motivated and it is probably an issue to attract a certain level of teachers to those facilities.

      Yes, a lot of time parents are not doing what they need to do, but then I must say that I grew up having to do homework on my own and study on my own, and the same was the case for most of my friends. However, if I didn’t do what I was supposed to be doing, I would feel the consequences of my lax attitude towards schools at home AND in school. If I didn’t get the passing grades, I didn’t move up to the next class. Unfortunately, sooo many teachers are stretched and stressed and do not want to deal with challenging students for two years, so they rather move them up and be done.

      Another problem is that a  lot of parents appear to be more concerned with children’s extra curriculur activities instead of their academic performance. Perhaps by being able to provide some more extra curriculur activies on the school grounds, there is less of a disconnect between the two.

      Finally, what message are we sending to our children. We can build a state-of-the-art government building and no cuts have been announced in relation thereto, but the cost of school construction is an issue? Come on!

  16. R says:

    Mr McLaughlin 

    I totally agree with you on the schools. At the time of tender the money was budget to complete the schools on TJI tender price. So why are they now cutting out features to the schools. I  agree that alot of professionial people and commitees put a lot of effort to build this design accordinally. They dealt with all the areas ( Hurricane  shelters etc) They also looked at  a pool that allows the people to socilaize together in a healthier enviroment and get a daily excersize program in effect. The people of Cayman need these facitlities. Once they are gone then it will never be dealt with again I have seen it time and time again. A pool that should have cost say $300,000 with the tender price will be say $550,000 in 2 years from now if they deside to build it later so any way you look at it its going to cost more in the future to add these features later. and someone  of course if it goes later someone has to be accountable for such a poor decssion. What will it tak another Ivan to happen and then what oh I told you so

  17. Why Not? says:

    I quote from the National Curriculum of the Cayman Islands. A curriculum on whose "Steering Committee" sat the now Minister for Health and Sports.

    Keystage 1 – "Students should become safe in water by developing basic swimming and personal survival skills through enjoyable activities that help to build their confidence".

    Keystage 2 – "Students should aquire knowledge and practical proficiency in a range of swimming and water safety technique."

    Keystage 3 = "Students should extend their skills in pool based activities."

    I’m guessing that this will be difficult to teach in a classroom or a gym and while I am not in a position to say if what the former Minister is saying at this point is in fact the cold hard truth, it would be very dissapointing if it were more than simply an immediate stop-gap measure which would be re-addressed at the earliest possible moment.

    This is not about Cayman’s swimming athletes however, it is about the opportunity for Cayman’s children and adults alike to develop an essential skill which one day may very well save their lives.



    • Anonymous says:

      We live on an island surrounded by water. The kids can go and swim anywhere. There’s plenty of safe and shallow places to swim, why waste our taxes on luxuries that we ourselves were never given?

      The parents could always take their kids swimming, except they’ll be too busy boozing, bible bashing and committing adultery.

      • Sherlock Holmes says:

        Your argument makes the point even more salient. "We live on an island surrounded by water". I deduce that this would likely increase the chance of drowning to those not taught safely how to swim. "We ourselves" never had air conditioned classrooms. Those before us lacked electricity and running water. Your point is?

  18. Anonymous says:

    CI$500k for a swimming pool, CI$750,000 for a kitchen. OMG. Alden what were you thinking? What are you thinking?

    The PPM still doesn’t get it. Just because my children like my neighbor’s million dollar home doesn’t mean I’m going to mortgage my life away just so they can have the same thing. There is nothing wrong with having a pool or kitchen at the schools but seriously, Alden, these costs are way out of wack.

    I really wish they had studied the DART school and see how he made a totally beautiful learning environment not just for a high school but from PRE-K to High School complete with pool, tennis courts, gymnasium, soccer field, kitchen and classrooms for a fraction of the cost of even one of these schools. Alden is caught up in having the most expensive things and doesn’t even realise that if he had planned properly he could have saved the country millions of dollars.

    Unfortunately, every time these guys try to toot their horns it makes my stomach churn at the way they destroyed our financial fabric. Still trying to justify it, in my mind, does nothing else but to rub salt in an old wound and to further convince me that moving away from the PPM party was the best thing I ever did.


  19. Anonymous says:

    Alden when you headed this portfolio we don’t know what you were thinking about…you wanted the credit for yourself and your party PPM.

    Now that the cost has had to be cut you are upset, costs must be cut to be able to finish the schools within our means as the past PPM Government didn’t really care and continued to spend and look at the mess we are in today!! 

    Just accept it and move on, please!!

  20. Anonymous says:

    These school buildings could’ve cost a lot less than what they did and what the previous education minister should’ve looked at is not the building and how grand it could be, but the the quality of students that they want leaving. I graduated from JGHS 6 years ago and I spent some time on campus earlier this year after returning from university, and I was shocked to see that there are now 5 different examining boards some of which the schools in their country of origin will not use. Why is it that we have high school leavers that can barely read and write (note this is not the majority), we also have students who cannot do elementary math. I think the government needs to forget about the buildings and focus on the children, take time and get to know them, it may surprise what they are going through or how intelligent some of them really are. What the government should do is take stock of all the youth that come from troubled homes or have not had positive influences in their lives, and pair them with individual who will listen to them and not judge them and are willing to help them achieve their goals. Caymanians need to be more involved in what is occurring amongst our youth remember it takes a village to raise a child.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Hm – interesting that nothing has said in relation to how much will be  shaved off the interior decorating for the new Government Building. My guess is not very much. It is all about priorities people. PRIORITIES!

    Well, we know where the UDP stands with that. It is all about everyone else and then somewhere at the bottom are the Caymanian people.