When we think of schools our minds often focus on excellent leadership from our Principals, good teaching and teamwork from our teachers, the ethos and "climate" that makes a school feel welcoming, the safety and well being of our students and, significantly, how our students are performing in their learning.
The recent annual report published by the Office of Education Standards focuses on these matters. It is a well presented, very readable document which zeros in on both strengths and weaknesses of several government and private schools including some pre-schools.
The fact that the Ministry of Education is willing for these findings to be shared publicly indicates its willingness to continue to aim for improvements in all schools and to celebrate successes in the education sector. Indeed, the Minister's opening statement refers to nurturing sustainable relationships that will positively impact education. This approach is vital.
Some schools and parents will feel pleased with the results. Others inevitably will feel concerned that there is still much to be done. This fact should now drive each and every school to identify its strengths and weaknesses and seek to address these findings, improving where there are needs and building on successes.
Sound teaching and learning and educational achievement are the business of schools. Good practice, excellent curricula and sound guidance must be their aim. It is not always easy to understand and quantify when a student is "turned on" to learning but we all know who or what inspired us in our past. Now we are also aware that the early years are critical to student learning and success.
Children the world over are naturally very inquisitive. As parents do we take the time to answer the questions that they ask us about the world around them? The role of the community is also a vital link. Do we visit libraries and museums and promote a culture of learning in our homes? Do we use our elders and the expertise of seniors to help build links with our culture and religious heritage? These all play a supportive role in educating our youth and developing their critical thinking skills, moral education and literary appreciation.
Often we are told to look for "low hanging fruit" which we can grasp and see immediate effects. This will have a positive effect on a school. However, the big issues such as literacy, numeracy, science, the arts, physical education and technology are all critical to student learning and can sometimes take more time to develop, review and refine.
Schools need to continue to look at good practice in other schools. They can borrow successful teaching strategies and share excellence. This report should also be a continuing point of greater collaboration for all schools.
Students, teachers and parents as well as the Caymanian community are all part of a school's success. At the start of this school year we must all aim to make Cayman's schools our nation's pride.