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Official Country Name: Commonwealth of the Bahamas
Region: North & Central America
Population: 294,982
Language(s): English, Creole
Literacy Rate: 98.2%

The independent Commonwealth of the Bahamas, a group of about 700 islands totaling 3,400 square miles, is headed by the Prime Minister; the British monarchy, represented by a local governor-general, is the honorary head of state. Literacy in the Bahamas is estimated as ranging from as low as 85 percent (functional literacy, as defined by the National Literacy Project) to as high as 98 percent.

Educational direction and oversight is centralized in the Bahamas under the Ministry of Education, as defined by the Education Act of 1962. This appointed minister directly controls all publicly funded education and supervises private education at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Education, the largest single appropriation in the national budget, is compulsory from age 5 through 16 (attendance is 95 percent). In 2000 more than 64,000 students attended the 210 primary (ages 5 to 11) and secondary (ages 11 to 16) schools—three-fourths (158 schools) were public and free and one-fourth (52 schools) were private. Where the distance from home to school is burdensome—for example, in the Family Islands—students attend all-age schools.

The Bahamian school system is based on the British model. In the primary (the first six) grades, students advance depending on their performance on examinations administered at the end of each academic year. In the secondary grades, they take their first major external examination, the National Junior Certificate Examination. To graduate, they must pass the Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE).

In the mid-1980s, teacher shortages, substandard equipment and supplies, deteriorating school buildings, and deficient results on national tests led to dramatic educational reform in the 1990s. In 1993 a governmentappointed National Task Force evaluated the entire educational system and formulated, in 1994, a Five-Year Plan that established interrelated goals for preschool, primary, secondary, and higher education. Curricula at all levels have undergone development with special reference to the focus of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) for emphasizing language arts and mathematics. In the Bahamas, social and academic education are inextricably intertwined—multicultural values and attitudes are taught across the curriculum.

The standards for high school graduation, normally verified externally by nationwide testing, changed in the 1990s. Before 1993 high school students had graduated with a General Certificate of Education (GCE) from the University of London. After 1993 they received a Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE), which reflected their standing on a seven-point scale of grades ranging from A to G. Educational reform has been controversial. Critics claimed that the new certificate watered down the higher standards of the GCE; supporters applauded the modifications for recognizing that students have a wider range of abilities than had been tested by the GCE. The Ministry of Education also focused on educational outreach by creating the National Literacy Project "Let's Read Bahamas" to improve functional literacy within the entire population. And, as part of a continuing effort to reduce widespread unemployment among the young, education at all levels includes vocational training.

Higher education is offered by the College of The Bahamas (formerly a two-year but now a four-year institution), the regional University of The West Indies, the Bahamas Hotel Training College, and the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (formerly Industrial Training Centre). In addition students can take classes in the Bahamas offered by the University of Miami, Nova Southeastern University, and other universities in the United States.


Bahamas Two Thousand, Co. Ltd. "TheBahamasGuide.com," 1998. Available from http://www.thebahamasguide.com/.

International Bureau of Education, UNESCO. "Analysis of the Questionnaire of May 1999 on Curriculum Developments Needs at Primary and Secondary Education Levels in Caribbean Member States and Associate Member States of UNESCO," September 2000. Available from http://www.ibe.unesco.org/.

Lonergan, Patricia. "Other Side of Paradise: Patricia Lonergan Describes Life in a Bahamian Classroom." The London Times Educational Supplement, 19 (September 1986): 18.

Miller, Errol. "The Last Word: UWI Professor Applauds Bahamas Education." Jamaica Daily Gleaner, 8 April 1999.

McCulla, Patricia E. Places and People of the World: Bahamas. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

U.S. Department of State. Background Notes: The Bahamas. Washington, DC: Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, 2000. Available from http://www.state.gov/www/background_notes/.

—Stephen Curley

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