Alden reopens controversial schools debate
Leader of the Opposition Hon Alden McLaughlin has reopened the longstanding controversy surrounding Cayman’s new schools project, following the admission of 840 students in the newly completed Clifton Hunter High School.
Rejecting oft-used accusation that he was building himself a citadel, Mr McLaughlin said that “nothing can be far from the truth.”
Explaining himself in an interview with Cayman Net News, Mr McLaughlin stated: “My boy is 17 and this was never about me and will never be about me.”
Mr McLaughlin said that building the schools and taking “the political licks” was the least he would do for the children of Cayman, as opposed to others “who built a monument for turtles.”
Mr McLaughlin said he had no apologies to make for building schools that will contribute to a better future for the Cayman Islands.
He said that parents had been thanking him for a job well done, saying that students do not want to leave the school, owing to the welcoming atmosphere that has been enhancing their student life.
According to Mr McLaughlin, the design of the school was informed an open education conference led by Raphael Daniels after the PPM was elected into office in 2005.
“We could not let grass grow under our feet and we had to use the tremendous goodwill and political capital to create a blueprint for education,” he said in the interview.
“The plan was therefore a product of a two-day conference held at the Mary Miller Hall attended by an excess of 550 delegates. What stood out about the conference was an address by Conor O’Dea, then managing director of Butterfield Bank, who said that there was tremendous skills shortage in the labour pool in the Cayman Islands.
“Without investment in the labour force, the skills base would by obsolete by 2010 the conference was told,” the opposition leader recalled.
He stated that with the involvement of international experts, it became apparent to the then minister of education that the current and widely adopted “cells and bells” model of education would have to be abandoned.
The “cells and bells” model assumes that a teacher is the caregiver, counsellor and educator, who performs the roles at the same time.
The model also assumes that students are equal in intelligence and interest, based on the fact that the school year admits students of the same age set.
“Such a system does not create a knowledge worker who uses creative and innovative qualities to overcome professional problems in later life,” said Mr McLaughlin.
He said government therefore had to build schools that could encourage independent study, peer tutoring, team collaboration, one-on-one learning with teachers, a lecture format that is teacher-directed, project-based learning, and other learning modalities.
This brought in a paradigm shift from the “cells and bells” format, where students had a blackboard and inflexible learning zones.
“Moreover, the cells and bells model has shown that bullying of students and anti-social behaviour frequently occurs with central restrooms and corridors, common features in traditional schools.
“The research has shown that girls hated to go to the restrooms where bullying was happening and therefore avoided fluid intake,” Mr McLaughlin told Cayman Net News.
Mr McLaughlin said that his government designed the two schools with an initial budget of $58.9 million for John Gray and $56 million for the Clifton Hunter campus.
The schools project was seen to be extravagant and was used as a major talking point in the
2009 elections, which swept the PPM from power.
Mr McLaughlin noted that despite the rhetoric by his successor, very little of the original plan for the schools has changed.
One very impressed parent, who declined to be identified, said the Clifton Hunter school has a welcoming feature that brings about openness through the extensive use of natural light.
Cayman Net News made repeated calls to Minister of Education Hon Rolston Anglin for his view on the opening of the new schools, but received no response up to press time.