The Education System in Jamaica
Jamaica, which was once a Spanish possession known as Santiago, came under the rule of England (later Great Britain) in 1655, at which time it was renamed Jamaica. The country received its full independence and sovereignty from the United Kingdom in the summer of 1962 and has remained independent to this day. With a permanent population of 2.8 million inhabitants, Jamaica is the third-most populous English-speaking country in the Americas (after the United States and Canada). Its capital and largest city is Kingston, with a population of 937,700 (34 percent of the total population). Jamaica has a large Diaspora around the world, due to emigration from the country.
Jamaica is a Commonwealth realm, with Queen Elizabeth II as its monarch and serving as the head of state. Her appointed representative in the country is the Governor-General of Jamaica, currently Sir Patrick Allen. The head of government and Prime Minister of Jamaica is Portia Simpson-Miller.[ii] Jamaica is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy with legislative power vested in the bicameral Parliament of Jamaica, consisting of an appointed Senate and a directly elected House of Representatives
History of Education in Jamaica
The history of education in Jamaica is perhaps best explained and understood in the context of the island's colonial history. The education system and its administration were modeled after the British system; and many of the developments in the history of Jamaican education can be seen as responses to events such as the abolition of slavery 1834, the onset of public elections in 1944, and the achievement of independence in 1962. Much of the recent history of education in Jamaica has been driven by the perceived need to develop "homegrown" responses to economic, social, and political pressures on the island and in the Caribbean region.[iii]
Prior to enacting the Act of Emancipation in 1834, the history of Jamaica indicates very little in the way of a formal and cohesive education system for whites and no system whatsoever for educating the indigenous people and African slaves. While a small number of the “well-off” English colonists could afford to send their sons back to the "mother country" for schooling, others hired private tutors. Those who were less affluent sent their sons to one of the few free schools that were established through bequests from wealthy planters and merchants. The curriculum in the free schools was based on that offered by similar schools in Great Britain and was intended "to offer a classical education to young gentlemen so that they would be properly fitted to take their place in society."[iv] A few slave children received some schooling at plantation schools established by foreign missionaries, but their education dealt mostly with religion and the virtues of submission. At least some of these plantation schools provided education for girls as well as boys.
History provides little documentation regarding the education of girls in the colony of Jamaica prior to 1770, when Wolmer's Free School initiated a modified curriculum for girls. This curriculum was designed to prepare young girls for the rigors of running a home or for employment as seamstresses and mantuamakers. A small minority of educated girls were also able to secure teaching positions on the island.
Once slavery was abolished in Jamaica in 1834, the British saw education as an important means towards incorporating the ex-slaves into the colonial economy and to increase the odds of maintaining a peaceful lower class. In the several years immediately following emancipation, missionary societies developed a system of elementary education for the newly freed slaves. This system was taken over by the colonial government beginning in the 1860s. Many historians believe that the eventual government sponsorship of Jamaica’s system of secular education was a response to the conflicts between propertied classes that led to the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865.[v]
The post-emancipation education system in Jamaica emphasized skills that would help prepare children for eventual employment as estate workers. The primary grades of this schooling focused heavily on the proverbial three “R’s”—reading, writing and arithmetic—with some added education in religious training and some occasional lessons in geography and history. In addition to these lessons, boys were given training in agriculture and other manual arts, and girls received lessons in sewing and domestic science. These separate educational tracks for boys and girls were formalized in the Lumb Report of 1898. The report emphasized the necessity for agricultural training in order to counteract trends seen as threatening to the colonial economy and society: students were developing an aversion for manual labor and were moving from the countryside to the cities and towns to take up clerkships and other similar occupations.[vi]
Although the school system in Jamaica continued to expand in the early years of the twentieth century, education continued to be guided by the 19th century colonial practice of educating children to fit their station in life. As the relative number of British people in Jamaica began to decline, it became essential to move native Jamaicans into certain intermediate occupations, and this resulted in significant growth in the secondary school system and the creation of government scholarships for university study abroad programs.
Although secondary schooling at this time was not free of cost, elementary schools began to hold annual scholarship examinations in order to allow some children to pursue education at this level—children who would otherwise not have been able to afford the fees. Educational historians characterize these movements as the beginnings of the struggle to change the secondary schools from "being comprised of students with the 'ability to pay' to students with the 'ability to benefit from' the education offered."[vii]
During the 1930s, economic pressures associated with the Great Depression and the colonial system in general resulted in widespread unemployment among Jamaicans. This, coupled with perpetually low wages and widespread poverty and with the growing desire among Jamaicans for self-rule, led to the creation of groups such as the Jamaica Workers' and Tradesmen's Union (in 1934) and the Peoples' National Party (in 1938). Mass protests and marches among the working poor and the unemployed became commonplace and frequently ended in rioting. The British responded with the Orde Brown Inquiry into labor conditions in the colony and the formation of the West India Royal Commission under Lord Moyne, which was charged with inquiring into the social, economic, and educational conditions underlying the unrest.[viii]
Between the years 1943-1944, the Kandel Report and the associated Plan for Post-Primary Education further addressed the educational, social, and economic conditions in the colony. These efforts focused strongly on establishing a system of post-primary education, one that would update and restructure the existing harsh socially segregated system of secondary education, which at that time was rife with class and color discrimination. The Kandel Report and the Plan for Post-Primary Education also addressed the curriculum of education at the secondary level, and established a universal literary core for both boys and girls. However, these reports also further solidified the gender-based vocational training "tracks" that were originally outlined and formalized in the Lumb Report.[ix]
From the 1940s until independence in 1962, much of the educational reform and restructuring in Jamaica was cursory at best, serving only, according to historians, to further the imperial interests of Great Britain. Many believe that the lack of measurable reform in colonial education was due to a distrust of the island’s blacks and a lacking in confidence on the part of Great Britain that the blacks could manage their own affairs.
As part of a general trend toward the self-sufficiency of the island (and of the whole British Caribbean), the University of the West Indies (UWI) was founded in 1948 at Mona, Jamaica. This was an important step in establishing educational independence because Jamaica had been forced to import university graduates from Great Britain to serve as senior staff in secondary schools. The birth of the Department of Education at UWI in 1952 was a major step toward a completely a "home-grown" educational system.
The various processes leading towards self-rule and ultimate independence for Jamaica were sped up by the intricate events and forces that arose during and after World War II. Many historians argue that the rejection of Nazi anti-Semitism and Aryan superiority by the British led the country to see that “the concepts of empire and of the trusteeship of a superior race" were simply untenable in the modern age.[x] One result of this change in philosophy was the revision of the Jamaican Constitution in 1944, which granted voting rights to all adults. The British additionally started the process of concluding its colonial economic exploitation by setting up a colonial development fund.
The conclusions of Lord Moyne’s report regarding Jamaican education were many, including that a lack of central control over the island’s primary schools had for years resulted in inefficient administration. Moyne also pointed out that there was a lack of correspondence between the schools' curricula and the primary needs of those living in Jamaica. The report recommended, among other things, that the curriculum at the nation’s primary schools be modified to include courses in health and hygiene, that preschools be established, that schools be organized into levels (Primary for six- to twelve-year-olds, and Junior for twelve- to-fifteen-year-olds), and that schools be brought up to modern standards with respect to buildings, sanitation, water purity, and school equipment. It is generally agreed that the Moyne Report also contributed impetus toward the granting of universal adult suffrage and (limited) self-rule in the colony.[xi]
Education System in Jamaica: Facts
The structure and content of the education system in Jamaica has gone through several stages of development over the years. As mentioned in the section above, the former education system was established in an agrarian society, intended to maintain and reinforce a social structure characterized by a small white elite and a largely black laboring class. Today, however, education has gotten in step with the Industrial and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Age. This has contributed to shaping a system which is dynamic in nature, preparing students who are literate and numerate, and who realize and explore their full potential, all while responding to national and global demands.[xii]
The Education Act of 1965 further regulated the system as a way to “ meet the needs for greater self-financing capability, a better definition of Jamaica’s educational goals and the expansion of the system to meet both individual and national needs."[xiii] Further development in the system saw it evolving not only in terms of its structure but also in terms of its management and performance.
Education in Jamaica is overseen by the country’s Ministry of Culture and Education and administered at the local level by municipal school districts. The system is closely modeled after that of the British, and public schooling is free and compulsory for all children between the ages of 6 and 16.
The Ministry of Culture and Education in Jamaica executes the Government’s mandate of ensuring a system which secures quality education and training for all persons in Jamaica in order to optimize individual and national development. As such, the Ministry of Education is the driving force for change, growth and development in education, providing the legislative framework, policies, strategies, plans, and resources to enable institutions, agencies and other bodies to achieve their agreed mandates.[xiv]
The Ministry is guided by the philosophy that “Every Child Can Learn, Every Child Must Learn,” the vision, “A customer- centered, performance oriented education system producing globally competitive, socially conscious Jamaican citizens,” and the mission “to provide strategic leadership and policy direction for quality education for all Jamaicans to maximize their potential, contribute to national development and compete effectively in the global economy, as it pursues its developmental goals for the nation .”[xv]
The Ministry is headed by the Honorable Minister of Education who has the ultimate policy responsibility and authority for the development of education for the Jamaican citizens. Assisting and reporting directly to the Minister is the Permanent Secretary who is seen as the Accountability Officer, with responsibility for the daily operations of the Ministry as it carries out its mandate. The Permanent Secretary is supported by a Chief Education Officer (CEO) and several Divisional Heads.[xvi]
According to the Education Act (1980), the school year extends from the beginning of September to the end of August of the following year. It is divided into three terms and every public educational institution shall meet for classes not less than 190 days of each school year. The number of instructional hours per school day as stipulated by the Regulations should be no less than four and a half hours at the primary, all-age and secondary schools on a shift system, and five hours for whole-day schools. ‘Instructional hours’ refer to the hours that a teacher and students are present together imparting and receiving educational instruction respectively.[xvii]
Education in Jamaica: Structure
Formal education in Jamaica is provided mainly by the government solely or in partnership with churches or private trusts. The Education Act of 1980 stipulates that the public education system should consist of the following four levels: early childhood education (pre-school), primary education, secondary education and tertiary or higher education. Both public and private schools exist at all four levels of education.[xviii]
Early Childhood (Preschool) Education
Early Childhood education, also known as Preschool, is a non-compulsory level of education offered at both public and private institutions to children between the ages of 3-5. In terms of public schooling, Early Childhood education is provided in Infant Schools and in Infant departments of some of the country’s primary-level schools. Nursery and Kindergarten departments of Independent Preparatory (private primary) schools also accept students at age 3.[xix]
Independent/Private schools are largely confined to the main urban centers. In addition, there are a number of community operated Basic schools. These cater to the largest number of students at the Early Childhood level. Basic schools that meet certain minimum requirements are eligible for government subsidies and are called Recognized Basic Schools.
Towards the conclusion of their Early Childhood education, children must sit for a “Grade One Individual Learning Profile (GOILP),” a battery that ascertains their capabilities and their ability to master skills and concepts taught at the Early Childhood level. This helps instructors tailor the curriculum to meet the needs of all students. The GOILP measures the proficiency level of students in six subtests, namely general knowledge, number concepts, oral language, reading, writing and drawing, work habits and classroom behavior.[xx]
The Early Childhood Commission, an agency affiliated with the Ministry of Education, is currently responsible for the regulation and supervision of Basic Schools and the training of Early Childhood practitioners.
The curriculum in Jamaica’s preschools is much more socially-based than it is academic. Students are provided instruction in pre-reading and pre-writing, basic counting, personal hygiene and safety, art and music. Perhaps more importantly, preschools serve as a setting at which students can hone their cooperativeness, learn to socialize with others, follow directions and just generally get along with other classmates.[xxi] This helps them prepare for their primary education in the year(s) to come.
Primary education in Jamaica spans six years—grades one through six—and serves children from 6 to 11 years of age. Primary education is offered in Grades 1-6 of Primary Schools, Primary and Junior High (combination) Schools, and All-Age schools. It is also offered in Grades 1-6 of Preparatory schools.[xxii]
In Jamaica, as in most countries, students are admitted to into the primary level of education at age 6. Primary schools are therefore designated feeder schools for all secondary schools in the country.
The basic curriculum in primary schools includes the following subjects, with the content matter becoming more advanced with every passing year: reading, Language Arts (English), Mathematics, Social Science, Science, Art, Music and Physical Education.
At the conclusion of Grade 6, all primary school students must sit for the Grade Six Achievement Examination (GSAT)—a requirement for advancing on to secondary education. Nearly 15 years ago, the GSAT replaced the Common Entrance Examination, which was phased out in 1999. The GSAT is the primary assessment instrument that is used by the Ministry of Education to place students into Grade Seven of Junior High/High School. The test is administered annually during March. The GSAT is a part of the National Assessment Program, an exam which assesses performance of students at the Primary school level. Other components of this National Assessment Program are the Grade One Individual Learning Profile, the Grade Three Diagnostic Test and the Grade Four Literacy Examination.[xxiii]
Based on the grade a student earns on the GSAT they are placed into High schools or the Secondary department of All Age and Primary and Junior High Schools. At the All-Age and Junior High Schools they can continue to Grades 7, 8 or 9, where they are allowed to sit the Technical Entrance Examination (in grade 8) for entry to Technical schools, and the Grade Nine Achievement Test (in Grade 9) to other types of High schools. These will give students another opportunity to gain entrance into the High school they desire to attend.[xxiv]
The Secondary or High school system consists of two cycles. The first cycle commences in Grades 7-9 of All Age, Primary and Junior High schools, and High schools, including Technical High and Independent/Private High schools. The second cycle is provided in Grades 10 and 11 of these schools (with the exception of All Age and Primary and Junior High schools) and in the Agricultural, Technical and Vocational schools. At the end of Grade 11, students sit for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC), with subjects administered by the Caribbean Examinations Councils (CXC). Some High schools have a continuing education program, provided under the Career Advancement Program and the Sixth Form/Pre-university program (Grades 12 and 13), where students are prepared for entry into tertiary or higher education institutions. Students who are in Sixth Form sit for the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) at the end of Grades 12 and 13.[xxv]
The curriculum at Jamaican secondary schools includes all of the following:[xxvi]
- Language Arts and Literature
- Mathematics—Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, etc.
- Earth Sciences
- Health Sciences
- History—World History and Jamaican History
- Foreign Language(s)
- Physical Education
Towards the latter half of their secondary education, students can elect to pursue an educational track that is more vocational in nature, helping them to learn a skill or trade through which they can land employment following graduation.[xxvii]
High schools also offer the first opportunity for extra-curricular activities, ranging anywhere from student government to performance arts to team sports.
Tertiary or Higher Education in Jamaica
Postsecondary and tertiary-level programs in Jamaica are offered by a wide variety of institutions, including teacher training colleges, community colleges, vocational training centers and institutes, the Vocational Training Development Institute, schools of midwifery and nursing (offering three-year program leading to a diploma), the University of the West Indies (a regional institution), and the University of Technology.[xxviii] Each of these differs somewhat in history, mission, philosophy, and to a lesser extent, in the programs they offer and structure.
In the teacher training colleges, a teaching certificate (for primary education) usually takes roughly two years of study plus an additional year of internship for holders of the Jamaica School Certificate; programs leading to a teaching certificate/diploma (primary and secondary education) usually last three years for holders of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate.
Multi-disciplinary community colleges in Jamaica offer pre-university, professional, commercial, and upper-level vocational training in a variety of fields, as well as community-oriented courses; most of the programs offered in community colleges lead to the conferment of diplomas, certificates and associate degrees. Some of the community colleges have satellite campuses, and they can also offer bachelors and postgraduate degrees in affiliation with local or foreign universities. Associate degree programs typically span two years beyond the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC), administered by the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC). They represent two years of a four-year degree program; in some cases an associate degree is accepted for admission to a bachelor’s degree program. while in others it is only considered a first-year credential of a three-year bachelor’s degree program.[xxix]
At Jamaican universities, bachelor’s degrees normally take three years of study to complete (five years in the case of medicine and surgery) for holders of GCE A-level qualifications, and four years for holders of the CSEC. Master’s degree programs normally require two additional years of study beyond the bachelor’s degree and the submission of a thesis or a research paper. Doctoral degree programs, although not very prevalent in the country, generally last three more years (full-time) or five years (part-time) beyond the master’s degree.[xxx] Higher certificates and diploma courses are also available.
Many students may opt to pursue their tertiary studies through off-shore institutions. The offshore institutions’ main campuses are located outside of Jamaica, but they offer programs through various departments located in Jamaica.
All tertiary or higher education institutions were established in response to educational needs at different times and offer not just degrees, but also certificates and diplomas. The main accreditation body for tertiary institutions and their programs is the University Council of Jamaica.[xxxi]
[vii] “Education in Jamaica - A Background To Jamaica's Education System.” My-island-Jamaica.com. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
[x] “Education in Jamaica - A Background To Jamaica's Education System.” My-island-Jamaica.com. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
[xvii] “Jamaica: Educational System Overview.” Education.stateuniversity.com. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
[xix] “The Importance of Early Childhood Education in Jamaica.” Jamaicaobserver.com. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
[xxi] “The Jamaica Early Childhood Curriculum Guide.” Ecc.gov.jm. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
[xxv] Robotham, Don. “Secondary Education: Our Main Challenge.” Jamaica-gleaner.com. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
[xxviii] “Caribbean Discourse: Discussing Higher Education in Jamaica.” Voices.merlot.org. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
[xxix] Henry, Ben. “The Importance of Higher Education in Jamaica.” Jamaica-gleaner.com. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
[xxx] Walker, GG. “The Democratization of Higher Education in Jamaica.” Digitalcommons.fiu.edu. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
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