A report produced this week by the Office of Education Standards on the success of the home schooling of Cayman’s children since schools closed mid-March has found that it has not been a good substitute for students actually attending school.
“Although everyone involved in delivering home learning deserves recognition for the continuation of educational provision, a key finding from this review is that home learning currently serves as an imperfect substitute to school-based provision,” the OES inspectors said.
Important technical issues and training requirements had been identified and the review also highlighted some inequality in terms of access for students of both primary and secondary ages in government schools.
The report, commissioned by the Minister of Education, Youth, Sports, Agriculture and Lands, looked at how education was continuing for students at five secondary/special/post-16 provision schools and 11 primary schools, namely: CIFEC, Creek and Spot Bay PS, Clifton Hunter HS, East End PS, John Gray HS, Edna Moyle PS, Layman Scott HS, George Town PS, The Lighthouse School, Little Cayman Education Service, Prospect PS, Red Bay PS, Savannah Primary School, Sir John A. Cumber PS, Theoline McCoy PS and West End PS.
Access and use of technology, in particular, was a particular focus in the report.
“An appropriate educational digital strategy is required to maximise learning for all students during this COVID-19 pandemic,” the report stated. “Irrespective of the current crisis, a dynamic, well-resourced digital strategy is required to support all students of the Cayman Islands. In order to contribute effectively in the future as citizens of Cayman and compete in an international context, students need to learn using technology and need access to the most up-to-date resources to do so.”
Co-operation, truancy and technology issues
The report noted the prompt response by schools in developing home learning packs once schools closed and the development of paper-based tasks and online face-to-face teaching after the Easter holidays. It also praised the dedicated and hard-working team of educators.
“Teachers in government schools have, in almost all cases, demonstrated dedication and commitment to the challenge of teaching students based at home,” the inspectors said.
But there was a need to ensure consistency in good practice across and within schools.
“Despite the significant efforts of all involved in the delivery of home learning, inspectors judged that a majority of students made less than expected progress when taught at home as compared to school. The current home learning arrangements offer an imperfect substitute to face-to-face education,” they said.
Improvements were needed in order that all students had access to reliable technology, with 92 per cent of students accessing on-line learning, meaning 390 students had not yet accessed on-line learning and 9 per cent or 450 students needing access to a digital device or computer. These numbers were reducing but remained high, accounting for up to 30 per cent of school roll in certain schools.
There were also issues with teachers demonstrating variable levels of confidence in using technology, the report noted. Students’ attendance during on-line teaching sessions had been fluctuating and this adversely affected their learning and progress. The report found that 88 per cent of students were attending home school daily, meaning 590 students were not.
“School leaders referred persistent absence to truancy officers but there had been slow progress in addressing poor attendance to the full available range of classes,” the report noted.
In addition, the report said that while the vast majority of staff were willing to have their lessons observed remotely for the purpose of this review, a few teachers did not collaborate. In addition, principals reported that a few teachers did not provide regular on-line classes, as judged necessary.
“The irregularity and variable quality of on-line learning accounts for some inconsistency in progress. Clear guidance is required from the Ministry of Education to ensure all staff provide adequate teaching sessions to promote satisfactory learning and progress for all students,” it stated.
Looking to 2020/21 and 2021/22
Recommendations from the report included the development of a comprehensive educational digital strategy to promote high quality learning for all students in government schools incorporating regular opportunities for students to learn more effectively at home as well as at school.
Teachers needed ongoing professional development opportunities that related to the agreed learning platforms to be used by schools, the report said, with resources supplied to meet these needs. Wifi needed to be improved across the Cayman Islands to improve home schooling as well, and there needed to be a focus on upper primary and secondary schools providing access for their students to their own electronic device.
All school leaders should agree minimum expectations in terms of on-line, face-to-face teaching at different stages of education and monitor implementation on a regular basis, they suggested.
The Ministry of Education should provide a clear lead and direction to schools in order to devise coherent ‘catch-up’ plans for 2020- 21 and 2021-22, they recommended, with strategies implemented to adapt schools to ensure students’ health and safety in the school environment when they return to school.
Schools also needed to ensure gaps in learning were closed, which could be effected by lengthening the school day, providing catch-up sessions, additional examination classes or summer school.
“Lengthening the next two academic years, if possible, may be a necessary consideration,” the report said.