Politics of learning

| 09/06/2011

The current minister of education can probably expect to earn some ‘love from the people’ for his recent moves to begin the much needed redevelopment of local primary schools. And why not? After all, who doesn’t love a minister who spends on learning? Oh hold on — of course one that spends on high school learning.

Recent comments by Rolston Anglin over his primary school project have been delivered without the slightest hint of irony, and while he is absolutely correct that primary school kids are in environments not conducive to learning, that modular classrooms are horrid and expensive, that schools are cramped, we all know where we heard similar comments before.

The minister’s goal to improve the facilities at primary schools is to be welcomed. However, what undermines this laudable goal to redevelop the primary schools is that, while the current minister’s plan is a marvellous and brilliant step towards transforming education, his predecessor’s plan to transform secondary education was – apparently –nothing but a foolish endeavour to build monuments to himself .

The kids at the John Gray High School are plagued by all of the same problems that younger children attending primary school face. Their learning environment challenges are compounded by the fact they have a building site on their school campus in a state of limbo and the kids who are now allocated to Clifton Hunter don’t even have a school to go to. These are kids that are facing their exams and at an age when anti-social behaviour is more challenging to deal with and more likely to escalate. They are at an age, too, when learning difficulties are far trickier to address and when kids are less likely to endure adversity and still excel.

The issue that everyone sees and which the minister seems to be hoping they will ignore is that this is all a lot more about politics and lot less about learning. Anglin, like all politicians, is looking for his own monuments to his time in office. After all, politicians who lose their seats or step down from the political fray, as history reveals, soon disappear from the public space unless they can tie their names to enduring  projects.

Anglin could have used the $10 million he is spending on primary schools to hurry along the secondary school projects. However, had he made that choice he would have not only faced the pressure from parents regarding the desperate need for primary school expansions but at the same time he would have helped to secure another politician’s  place in the history books, while risking his own immortalization.

A tough call no doubt.

The issue is that both projects are worthy, desperately needed and very positive ways of spending public money. Around the world politicians are vilified and criticised for over spending on countless infrastructure projects, but schools are rarely on the list. Education ministers that don’t build schools or that cut spending on anything to do with education are far more likely to suffer the wrath of the voters.

Here in Cayman, the vilification of Alden McLaughlin, not least by the current education minister, for choosing to build state-of-the-art schools and making a real effort to turn around the way in which children have been taught in the Cayman Island, which was demonstratively failing, has been nothing short of astonishing.

Now, however, the minister who time and time again said that children can learn anywhere if the teaching is good enough is suddenly the flag bearer for better learning environments. With his tongue far away from his cheek, Anglin has spoken widely in recent weeks about the need to improve learning environments and about how difficult it is for children to learn in cramped conditions. He is right.

No matter how often the myth is blogged on CNS, it is not possible for children to succeed in the modern world if they are taught under coconut trees. If that were the case, we would not have the appalling low achievement levels that we record year after year. Nor is it just new classrooms that will produce successful students.

Modern learning is not just about encouraging children to study and look at the blackboard in a new clean more spacious classroom. It is about making them yearn for and be enthusiastic about learning, about understanding science and technology, dealing with emotional intelligence, being equipped to compete on a global jobs market, and so many more complex elements that traditional methods ignore.

It is even more significant here in Cayman where achievement is particularly low and where traditional classroom teaching has failed many many students, who in more innovative environments may have excelled.

Anglin himself has noted that in the local school system even children capable of high achievement have failed. This probably is down to myriad reasons, including a cultural disconnect with education, or poor parenting and low standards of teaching, but it is also down to the physical structure of the learning environment.

The high school projects were intended to be new, modern, dynamic and exciting learning spaces that would have given local students new hope and transformed the way they were taught. How much the delays and changes to the design to revert them back to more traditional classroom spaces will undermine the hopes for a revolution in local education remains to be seen as the completion dates still seem a long way off.

What everyone must be able to see by now, however, is that the secondary schools must be finished as soon as possible and that learning should not be sacrificed on the altar of politics. Anglin is right to want to get the primary projects underway but he needs to be as equally enthusiastic about the high schools.  His war of words with his predecessor is becoming tired. The high schools will always be associated with McLaughlin, no matter what Anglin does.

What he should do, which could endear him to the wider public even if it doesn’t secure him a place in the history books, is to take the moral high ground, to forget the point scoring and openly acknowledge the pressing need to get the high schools finished. 

The problem, of course, is that the words ‘moral high ground’ and ‘politicians’ rarely seem to make comfortable bed fellows.

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  1. Caymanian Boat Captain says:

    A comfortable and safe environment with skilled teachers is absolutely condusive to good learning.  However, regardless of the above being present; a disfunctional home with children coming to school sleepy and on "hungry bellies"…….. put's all of the above to waste. Can't learn or do nothing properly with sleepy eyes and a hungry bellie, correct ?? A holistic approach first starting with a stable/supportive home and then a comfortable/safe learning environment, usually equals intelligent and productive students who later becomes productive citizens in our community.  

  2. The Beaver says:

    The incompetent leeches and parasites have always been and always will continue to be the problem until they are removed.  There are far too many in the upper echelons of Government and the Department who attempt to justify their grossly-inflated salaries by coming up with various variations of previously-failed hair-brained schemes that originate in England and the US…  These schemes are introduced and reintroduced every 3 years or so, just like rehashed stinky burger meat, and passed of as "innovative" and at the forefront of education…  when of course every teacher knows that they are just more nonesense dreamed up by some LSD strung-out professor hiding in an ivory tower, looking to make some extra dough for his next trip.

    Unfortunately ego and legacy-building takes precendence over substance – substance is for the other dummies who work for a living. Photo ops are far flashier and less grimy than rolling up ones sleeves to do something of value…  Flashing those pearly whites with a caption that includes ones name iswhat the leeches and parasites strive for.  The Germans have a word for it:  "kitsch" – tasteless, trashy…

    The true soldiers, the teachers, are only paid lip service, their salaries are cut, and their work-load is increased.  The "recipe" for educational success is rather simple:

    1.  parents who instill discipline, routine, and responsibility in their children's lives;

    2.  parents who place a high value on Education and fully support their children in their educational journey;

    3.  an adminstration that supports its teachers;

    4.  responsible teachers;

    5.  as few leeches and parasites as possible who seek the input of their teachers and allow a program to stick around for longer than a year or two…

    6.  disciplined students…

    Prospect Primary was built back in 2004 for less than $13 million – it served and continues to serve more than adequately for its students… 

    The Beaver

    • The Kitty says:


    • Anonymous says:

      As a public school teacher, I agree one hundred per cent with everything that the Beaver has stated.  There is far too much dead weight at the top collecting fat paycheques and doing little of value in return…

  3. nauticalone says:

    Very well written!

    Mr. Anglin is obviously impressed with listening to himself talk. Surely every week less and less of us voters are!

  4. Loveing the comments says:

    Well written, and a clear assessment, which begs the question. Is Minister Anglin trying to reinvent the wheel or just trying to appeal to the members in his constituency?

    1988 -1990 the Ministry of education decided to outsource the kindergarten classes to privately owned Pre Schools. The Government gave assistance to parents that wanted to send their children to pre-school. The result was that children entered Primary Schools at 4 + years able to read quite well. We have over the last 20 years seen fewer children being promoted that could not read. Unfortunately a lot of children sadly leave school and can not read or write, but this is in far less proportion than the numbers in the 1980's

    Minister Anglin will remove the kindergarten children, who should be in the privately educated pre-schools, with their small classes and lots of attention and putting them back into the large classes in Primary school, where they will not get the level of attention they need. This is a sadly a huge mistake.

    It seems like a good idea on the face of it; the problem is that there is no one in the Ministry that is able to speak to this ill advised decision. They are all very inexperienced administrators and probably experienced going to primary schools and not having the benefit of a pre-school. The will therefore buy into the Ministers' plan, however they should be smart enough to acknowledge that a pre-school is better able to teach kindergarten children than any of the primary schools, and they have been doing a very good job.


  5. Anonymous says:

    Wednesday, 2 December 2009 Official Hansard Report

    Writ by Tom Jones International (TJI)
    Hon. Rolston M. Anglin: Thank you, Madam Speaker.
    On Monday, 30 November 2009, the Cayman Islands Government was served with a Writ by Tom Jones International (TJI) which was filed with the Grand Court for claims in connection with the John Gray and Clifton Hunter projects. The Writ relates to extraordinary payments that TJI had demanded as part of negotiations outside of the contractual obligations.
    The Government’s position is that these demands are not due or payable, and the Writ will be defended vigorously.
    It is the Government’s position that TJI wrongfully abandoned the projects in breach of the contracts. Notice of termination was given to TJI last week, and is effective as of 4 pm today. The termination of TJI was necessary, valid and absolutely justified. It remains the Government’s position that all certified payments have been made.
    Plans are being developed in consultation with experts to complete the school projects in as cost-effective and timely a manner as possible. In so doing the Government will be seeking to mitigate any losses caused by the breach of contract by Tom Jones International.
    As soon as the Government is in a position to give details of these plans, the plans will be made public.
    The main focus for the Government will continue to be on ensuring that the key educational goals for our students are met.
    Thank you, Madam Speaker.

    Well done Rolston. Your vigorous defense was to pay their lawyers for the last year and a half, and now you are going to offer them $10 million for the expenses that you claim were already paid?

  6. Anonymous says:

    So what we are saying here is that Alden was right all along and that Rolston can only try to hide that by putting money in for the primary schools as well?

    Well written and the truth is still present!

  7. Anonymous says:

    So this is about Alden (PPM side) being better than Anglin (UDP side)? 

    Sorry to burst your bubble…

    But both parties don't impress me much!

    • Anonymous says:

      Please please please spend the money on better teachers (more training for teachers), smaller classes, better programs for children and NOT buildings. This is the problem with our education system! New fancy buildings are not going to make our children's education quality any better. 

      • Just Sayin' says:

        Better teachers will come and go until their working conditions are improved until their working conditions are improved and the incompetent bureaucrats above them are removed.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Well written. A related point is that the current government claims that the country is broke. So then where is the money to come from or do we not worry about that these days seeing as we have nothing even vaguely resembling up do date government accounts or any audited evidence that we are in fact broke or ever were.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Very well put.  I heard Mr Anglin this morning talking about how the High Schools will be obsolete before they are finished.  I ask. "is it not the current administration that has been slowing down the completeion.

    I am so tired fo this 'Laying Blame". I voted for Mr. Anglin in the last election.  He has lost his credibility with me now.  His big fancy words do not work with me any more.  he and the others have turned out not to be who I thought they were when I voted.  This is sad.