Teaching and learning

| 26/09/2010

Given the depths to which education in the Cayman Islands was allowed to plumb, a continued national conversation on what and how our children are taught is vital. However, it’s a pointless exercise unless the public keeps up with what is happening in the delivery of education and what changes and improvements have already been made – and why.

Right in the middle of massive and well publicised changes to the whole education system, there is a constant cry that we need to reform education. How can we have any meaningful discussion as to what the aims and objectives are and whether new initiatives are working if the public has not even acknowledged that change is afoot?

Periodically, there are comments on CNS that government schools need a new curriculum, even though this was introduced two years ago and is now under its scheduled review. A discussion about what is good and bad about the 2008 National Curriculum, what works and what doesn’t is a good thing, but if you haven’t read it you need to do so before your opinion has any relevance.

And please! Stop saying we need to introduce (or reintroduce) vocational studies when this has already happened. We need to get on to the next stage of discussion. Are they the right subjects? Are they effective?

It’s time for everyone to stop fussing about “graduation” from high school and focus on what is actually important: external, internationally recognized exam results (including the vocational exams). Government schools provide a UK style of education, which means that graduation is a nice ceremony, a rite of passage perhaps, but it is not a qualification or an academic achievement and never was.

Graduates, take those certificates that were handed to you during the graduation ceremony, be proud of them, hang them on the wall … but don’t bother taking them to a job interview or including them in a college application because they are academically meaningless. Similarly, if you didn’t graduate because you fell short of the requirements, including attendance and behavior (and more power to the Department of Education Services for insisting on this) it’s not the end of the world.

Here’s the important question: how many exams did you pass and what grades did you get?

Part of the confusion here in the Cayman Islands is that people look at North America, or went to school in the US or Canada, where a high school diploma actually means something, and assume the same applies here. It doesn’t. In Britain and countries that follow the British school system there is no such thing as a high school diploma. The conversations needs to stick to improving exam results not stray into why students can graduate without academic achievement — an entirely irrelevant discussion.

Among the many changes going on, the most drastic is the restructuring of the high schools to a 5+1 system.

In the UK, children go to high school when they are 11 and take their GCSE’s or equivalents when they are 15/16. (In fact, in an increasingly competitive academic environment there is a trend for the most able students to take some GCSE’s early at 14/15 or even younger.) There is a range of options available following this including, especially for students aiming for university, two-year A-level courses, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate diplomas. A-level studies are broken down into a 1-year AS course, followed by a second year leading to A-level exams. At university, undergraduates take a 3-year bachelor’s degree.

In the US and Canada students remain at high school for six years, earn their high school diploma and then go on to a 4-year university course.

Back in the early 1990’s it was decided that the Cayman Islands government schools, despite the fact that they followed the UK system, would stretch the five years of high school into six – the kids would be a year older before they went to college or left school for the job market and it would give them an additional year to take their exams, hopefully raising the rather poor achievement levels. It didn’t. In fact, results got even worse and have been consistently dismal ever since.

The system also served the top students badly; those who headed off to a college in the US may have been given a year to mature emotionally but they had not been provided the opportunity to take pre-college courses to prepare them for the rigours of university study, especially in mathematics, where many struggled.

The Education Ministry is doing the right thing bringing Cayman back into line with the UK and everywhere else in the world that uses the same system. Last year’s Year 11 took their exams at the appropriate time.

The construction of the new schools tends to grab all the attention but we also need to focus our attention on the teaching and learning aspects of education. The current education minister is at pains to avoid acknowledging what the previous minister achieved but does appear to be doing the right thing: assessing the changes, continuing the things that worked and adapting the things that didn’t.

Let’s be clear: an historical average of 24% of students achieving 5 or more Level 2 passes is a big fat fail. Radical change is desperately needed, so let’s all keep up with what’s happening so we can discuss those changes productively.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    The education saga will go on. What I can say is this. No matter what way we decide to go with, a US model or UK model, both are failures over-all. Things are not so great in the UK nor the US. If we adopt a complete UK education policy or US it will fail. That is not the problem over-all. 

    Cayman is failing. We are creating a community that has been allowed to fester a gang type culture like an infection. There is such a cause and effect problem here, no matter what education model you bring in the core values are not there, hence failure is the future. The children as a whole or stero-type are not able to succeed not in large because of an education program, but because of their home life and lack of supervision at home. I do not care what kind of schools you have, with the current state of the home life in at least 70% of the homes, you will never have success. The kids that are riding the fence in home life but are wanting better, but need help are the ones that are suffering this fate. Until the people address what is going on at home, you will never find what you are seeking. It is the parents duty to educate their child as a person, a complete unit. NOT THE GOVERNMENTS. They provide a place for learning, but it comes down the parents to make sure the kids are up to standard. I attended school in the Goverment Schools, from start to end. I can tell you this, we had books, teachers, buildings, but the largest obstacle was about half of the class that were not functioning as people. That was the failure. That was 10 years ago. I cannot fathom what is going on now.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It seems the arguement of lower fees that most US Universities may be changed with the possible doubling of UK University Fees.


  3. Anonymous says:

    Many valid points raised re: terciary education abroad. Point being, each and every student has a "best fit" scenerio and it’s imperative that, for success (academically, emotionally, etc.), they go to the school that, through investigation and knowledge of that individual, will benefit them the most. Some students thrive in N.America, others the UK, some in more competitive schools, some in less competive, some in urban areas…the list goes on. What IS important (specifically on Cayman Brac) is that the high schools employ competent Guidance Counselors who know their students personalities, potential and needs intimately (this is not difficult) and also way around a myriad of schools, Caribbean, N. American, British and beyond.   

  4. Anonymous says:


    Just for accuracy in reporting, students to not attend "high school" in the US for six years.  Junior high is two years (approx ages 12-14) and actual "high school" is four years.

    As far as which is superior that depends on what you want to do.  Many Caymanians have US Citizenship, so it may make sense they actually attend a top notch US University (not community college).  In the same vein if you want to live and work in the UK, then perhaps you should attend University there.

    Each hastheir pluses and minuses.  If one wanted the researched story, they could find the information that goes into detail they could find it at : http://www.educationalpolicy.org/pdf/global2005.pdf,

    CNS: Sorry, I stand corrected. However, junior high plus senior high is 6 years, so the point I was making stands. It’s worth noting, though, that the AP is a good bridge to either a US or a UK university. So too is IB, which seems to be the ultimate goal.


    • Tom McCallum says:

      Just a further note… some Caymanians have US citizenship, but ALL Caymanians have UK citizenship, which gives them the right to live, work and study in the UK, and also the broader EC.

      This is a relatively new extension of nationality over and above the old BDTC category (which did NOT give Caymanians such automatic rights).

      I’m no "UK-phile" per se, but if the opportunity is there, why not think about taking the chance to gain a perspective beyond the USA before returning to Cayman ? The option is certainly there now, it wasn’t for those students a decade or more ago.


  5. Anonymous says:

    Parents need to have a good line of communication with the teachers and school in order to be aware of what is going on when it comes to testing, grading evaluations etc. Don’t leave it up to the teachers to come to you to explain and alert you to a problem. Parents need to take matter in their own hands and educate themselves about their childrens’ education.

    One conclusion I had to come to is that children don’t learn anymore how to study! Homework is often minimal and children are not looking at their school books/projects etc unless they have an assignment due. The concept of "studying" is often introduced too late. Once the kids are entering highschool, they have a hard time managing their homework and assignment load.  A child needs to learn that responsibility and time management from a very young age, otherwise they will get lost quickly during the highschool years.

    I encourage parents prioritize the academic work, and treat the extra curricular activies as what they are meant to be  – second and extra!

  6. anonymous says:

    Thanks for shaking this up, Nikki !

    A few thoughts :

    – the church schools here that run on the UK system (Prep and St Ignatius) hit 90% plus of their students getting at least 5 A*-C passes.

    – those schools are open to anyone, there are no academic tests required to enter or remain in the school until 6th form (which require those passes at GCSE)

    – It is shocking and unacceptable, given the above, that the Government high schools have such a massive disparity in results.

    – I am not sure of the current numbers, but at least up until a few years ago, the cost to the public purse of educating each student at John Gray was higher than the fees charged by those church schools (which, as we know, receive a small contribution from Government, but otherwise have to cover all their costs from fees)

    – As to the UK vs US college argument, I applaud Minister Anglin for a) tightening up on academic standards for those on scholarship to do GCSE ‘A’ levels, and b) insisting that those students go to UK universities…. perhaps it needs restated, but Caymanian students at UK Universities are considered "home" students, so the fees are far, far lower than in US colleges for Caymanians.. plus, as Caymanians have the right to live and work in the UK, they have far greater opportunities for employment, whether college jobs to help pay the fees or career opportunities afterwards.


    • Anonymous says:

      Prep also "asks" underperforming students to leave at the end of Yr 9, essentially weeding out any possibilities for poor external exam results. Many of these students then transfer to the public system and fall into the group that does not succeed in those exams and, for the record, I am not asking you this, I am stating it as matter of fact.Of course, Prep does not publicize this. CPHS also has virtually no special needs population, unlike JGHS which has to take them no matter how challenged they are. Please see the excerpt from their website:

      "If we accept a student with special educational needs (SEN), the school is acknowledging that it is genuinely willing and able to offer adequate and appropriate educational provision that will meet the needs of that student. It would be disingenuous for the School to offer a place to a student knowing that the student’s special educational needs could not be adequately met at the School." (http://www.cayprep.edu.ky/podium/default.aspx?t=138900)

      At Prep, you either keep up or you’re out – if you got in there in the first place.


      I am not making excuses for JGHS any more than I am challenging Prep’s right to attract a high achieving student body, but we cannot continue to compare apples and oranges.

      Well said, Nicky! Thanks for pointing out that there is in fact a new curriculum. It always angers me when people talk about the educational reform process started by the last administration as if it were limited to new school construction only. Not only is it inaccurate and a sign of ignorance on the topic, but an insult to the teachers and other educational professionals is symptomatic of a public (many of whom are parents to children in the system) that is too quick to criticize, too reluctant to get involved and slow to realize that true educational reform will never be realized until they play an active role in their children’s education. Thanks for setting a few things straight.

      • Anonymous says:

        "Prep also "asks" underperforming students to leave at the end of Yr 9, essentially weeding out any possibilities for poor external exam results. Many of these students then transfer to the public system and fall into the group that does not succeed in those exams and, for the record, I am not asking you this, I am stating it as matter of fact."

        It would be good to hear an official response to this from Prep. I am not aware of this since I recently had a neice and nephew who passed through Prep and did not do well but were not asked to leave.   

  7. Anonymous says:

    I don’t understand why you think graduating without academic achievement i irrelevant. Seem to me it means that the system runs the student through the grades and puts them out based on their age. Sounds like "social promotion"and a big fat cop-out for the educators.

    CNS: Academic achievement is not irrelevant, nor did I say it was. On the contrary, it is extremely important. However, under the British system the standard is not a high school diploma but external exams. The new Year 12 allows for retakes as well as vocational studies to improve the chances of students leaving school ("graduating", if you insist, though you will never hear the term associated with high school in the UK) with adequate exam results. Far from being a cop out for educators, it is a reasonable approach to maximising a student’s potential and attractiveness to future employers.

  8. Anonymous says:

     I don’t know about anyone else but I need a Bachelors Degree just to understand the British system.  

    1. Since our kids are going on to American schools, we should have the American system.  That makes more sense to me.

    2.  We also had less children going to college under the old system.

    3.  They also struggle in English when they go to do placement tests in the States.  

    4.  I think the AP will help a great deal to prepare the children for college.  However, once again the system is different so it really doesn’t make sense.  

    The children are confused.  I know I was.  I studied in the States and I went to the high school here.  The math here was not to the level there plus the grading system is so different.  A "C" here is a "D" in the States.  We need to change that as well.

    CNS: The Advanced Placement programme is American but it is acceptable for UK universities.

    • Anonymous says:

      Having studied under both systems, the UK high school education is clearly superior, although American Universities (not colleges) trump many of those in the UK.

      Both are superior to the "Caribbean" systems.


      • Anonymous says:

        What ‘"Caribbean" systems’ are you referring to? Are you saying that all schools in the Caribbean are inferior to both UK and U.S. schools?

        • Anonymous says:

          Put bluntly, average institution  to average institution, yes.

          • Anonymous says:

            Then I am afraid your post was misleading. Averages mean little in this context. There is a very wide range of quality in U.S educational institutions ranging from excellent to poor. Our worst will be better than their worst.  

    • Anonymous says:

      Rubbish. There are Caymanians who did quite poorly at A levels (D and E) but obtained excellent passes (3.7+GPA) at at first tier U.S. Universities. 

      Our children should aim to go to British universities where they will obtain an excellent education at a small fraction of the cost of attending a U.S. university.  

      • Anonymous says:

        1.  Name them.  All the ones that I have talked to had problems at first.

        2. I’m not saying the US system is superior, I’m just saying that we have two educational systems and that is confusing.

        3. I just heard that fees have gone up at the UK universities so that should take care of the cost comparison of the universities but what about the travel?  I consider a trip to the UK a luxury that I can’t afford much less sending my child there 2 or 3 times a year.

        • Anonymous says:

          Caymanians have gone to the University of Texas, University of Florida and Yale that did not have stellar A level grades and have done exceedingly well. 

          You clearly have no concept of the disparity. The fees at UK universities are scheduled for a review next month and may increase due to a cut back in public funding but U.S. university tuition fees have also increased. Even if UK tuition fees increased three-fold AND you take into account the cost of thee trips to the U.K. per year it would still be cheaper to be educated in the U.K.  

          At present, tuition and fees in UK universities are £3,290 (US$5,200) per year for home students (which includes Caymanians).  This contrasts to Ivy League U.S. universities like Yale University  US$38,300 (which compares to University College, London) or University of California, Berkeley – US$33,747 (similar in rank to Bristol University). Never mind three trips, your family could afford a nice European vacation EVERY YEAR with the savings.   

          Get the picture?

          • Anonymous says:

            " Never mind three trips, your family could afford a nice European vacation EVERY YEAR with the savings."   

            My family can’t afford one trip to Europe much less three. 

            No need to be sarcastic.  Like I said I have no experience with the British system but Caymanians on a whole prefer to go to college in the US.  Mainly I think it’s because it’s closer to home.

            I don’t understand how they could get into a top notch college like Yale without "stellar" grades.  I guess their standards have dropped since I went to school.

            • Anonymous says:

              In the case of Yale it was a second degree and so was not based on ‘A’ level results, but evidently their ‘A’ levels served them so that they did exceedingly well in their first degree so that they qualified for Yale.

              Many good U.S. universities will accept Cayman students based on ‘O’ level passes even without ‘A’ levels. 

              I am afraid you misinterpreted my post; I wasn’t being sarcastic. I was just trying to graphically illustrate the vast difference in fees since you appeared to believe the margin was quite small.

              Caymanians as a whole need greater exposure and not be content to go to a third rate liberal arts college in Florida. Closer to home will not necessarily get you best education at the least cost.   

          • Anonymous says:

            I hope you don’t take too much offense for this comment, but the University of Texas and the University of Florida aren’t "top tier." While it is possible that certain departments within each major university does attain "top tier" level, overall standards for acceptance to the university, and the majority of their programs, fall under a tier two category. Yale, on the other hand, is a top tier school, though obviously their acceptance standards hold different when the student is pursuing a second degree.

            • Anonymous says:

              Perhaps you are using your own (narrower) definition of top tier. I am using the one adopted by U.S. News and World Report.  


              According to university rankings given by U.S. News (which ranks universities from Tier 1 to 4 as well as giving an individual rank) both University of Texas – Austinand University of Florida are Tier 1 universities.  Perhaps better examples are Emory and Georgetown University which US News ranks as #20 and #21 respectively in the U.S.   (Bear in mind that there are thousands of colleges and universities in the U.S.) And yes, I am aware of the criticisms of the US News methodology.

        • Anonymous says:

          On the fee issue, tuition at UK universities is capped at GBP 3,290 for the current academic year, which is roughly USD 5,200 at current rates and compares pretty favourably with the cost in the US even when flights (which with a bit of planning aren’t actually that expensive) are taken into account. As Caymanian students are entitled to be treated as "home" students in the UK, they may be entitled to low interest loans in respect of these fees as well.

          It’s also worth bearing in mind that these fees remain the same no matter which university is involved, so at the top end of the academic scale, $5,200 for a year’s tuition at Oxford or Cambridge is a bargain weighed against around $35,000 or so at an Ivy League school in the US.

          • Anonymous says:

            "It’s also worth bearing in mind that these fees remain the same no matter which university is involved, so at the top end of the academic scale, $5,200 for a year’s tuition at Oxford or Cambridge is a bargain weighed against around $35,000 or so at an Ivy League school in the US."

            Thank you.  I’ll look into this as my son will be applying for colleges soon.  

      • Anonymous says:

        I am one of those students who did poorly on my A-level exams and later excelled at a Tier 1 US University. However, it had nothing to do with the standards of either programmes but more so to do with me being a 16yr old without a care in the world. Once I made it into 6th Form the focus was on having fun – playing dominoes, volleyball whatever anything besides applying myself properly. Thankfully I had parents who realized the value of a higher education and who were less than pleased with my poor results and who instilled a pride and fire in me that mediocrity was not an option.

        I was able to get into University with my high SAT score and my 8 O’level passes did earn me a slight reprieve(not much mind you). Believe you me my freshman year I buckled down and I studied hard like there was no tomorrow. My emphasis and priorities were totally changed. If I went to a UK University the results would have been the same, because failure was not an option!!!

        So I think we should use this forum appropriately to debate the issues and the clear failures in our LOCAL Education system and not waste time debating a pointless argument on whether the US or the UK is more superior!!


        Very very poor examination results

        No guidance/no motivation

        Mediocrity is acceptable

        Lack of the basics (ie proper study skills, basic arithmethic, basic grammar etc)

        No catchment for weaker/slower students

        No acceleration/incentive for the high achievers

        etc etc

        Lets get a proper debate going please.

        Thanks for bringing this to the forefront CNS this is way overdue!!!

    • Anonymous says:

       CNS:" The Advanced Placement programme is American but it is acceptable for UK universities."

      Thank you.  I didn’t know that.

  9. The Crown says:

    You make some accurate points Nikki & you cut clear to the issues. I think the exrta year is a good idea & question the potential for craming all that study into the 11 to 15/16 years of age period. It did work when i was at high school,but things sometime need change or change as we say. 24% is much too low for the money it cost parents for schooling. One does wonder that simply for a time education has been portrayed as unfashionable to kids in Cayman. To some to their demise unfortunately.A education has to be balanced. With several things in the mix until kids can get a idea of what they are most interested in.Practical knowledge & information coupled with advanced knowledge & information.