6 minute read

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Official Country Name: Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Region: Puerto Rico & Lesser Antilles
Population: 115,461
Language(s): English, French patois
Literacy Rate: 96%

After the arrival of the white man, the history of education in St. Vincent and the Grenadines was inextricably bound up with the other Anglophonic people of the Caribbean region—including the Bahamas (where Christopher Columbus first made landfall), Trinidad, Jamaica, and Tobago—and England herself. This still holds true; in the year 2000, Queen Elizabeth II was the nominal head of state and English was the official language of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Prior to Columbus, the aboriginal Carib and Arawak peoples regarded education as the inculcation in their young of tribal values such as courage in adversity and skill in tracking game. The earliest attempts at European education in the area took the form of missionaries attempting to convert the Indians to Christianity, almost totally unsuccessfully. However, with the coming of the British and the advent of plantation society and slavery, the aboriginals virtually disappeared (only 2 percent of the population of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was Amerind in 1999) and, by the end of the seventeenth century, the population of the West Indies consisted of five major elements: whites from Europe, whites born locally, locals of mixed blood, free native blacks, and black slaves. Non-whites were overwhelmingly in the numerical, but not political, majority. Since Caucasian blood was considered the defining hallmark of true humanity, little attempt was made to educate the non-white population.

Great Britain abolished slavery in 1833 and, in 1835, the Negro Education Grant was established to educate the former slaves by creating primary and secondary schools in the West Indies, a plan that had the backing of colonial officials and clergy. Funds calculated in ratio to the number of ex-slaves on each island were supplied through the grant and charitable donations.

The Negro Education Grant was terminated in 1845, and its role was taken by the governments of the various islands, although clerical support continued throughout all the West Indies until 1914 when among the more Protestant populations (Barbados or Antigua, for example) it was ended and the responsibility devolved completely upon the legislatures. In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, however, there were many more Roman Catholics, so the church continued its educational involvement, funding its schools unilaterally, while the public schools relied solely upon governmental funding—not unlike the system that developed in the United States of America. Gradually, government support for nongovernmental education evolved. In the decades following, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines followed the lead of other Commonwealth members by replacing the secondary school examinations sent from the United Kingdom with the Caribbean Council Secondary School Examination. The language of instruction was and remains English.

By 1970, about 96 percent of the total population was literate, as defined by the percentage of those citizens aged 15 and over who had ever attended school. Twenty years later, 55 percent of the total population had achieved both the primary and secondary level of education; another 49 percent qualified for the primary only. In 1990, there were 100 private preprimary schools on the islands; in the same year, there were 1,119 teachers engaged in primary education. In 1997, there were 60 primary schools, with approximately one-third being denominational or private. Whether they were from secular or non-secular primary schools, upon completion of schooling, all students who wished to go on to secondary schools (of which in 1997 there were 21 with a student/teacher ratio of 15.5:1) had to take and pass the yearly Common Entrance Examination administered by the Ministry of Education. Students who passed moved on to an academic secondary school. Students who failed were permitted to attend a "junior" secondary school, which was less prestigious. Students who did not wish to attend any secondary school were tested by the Primary School Leaving Certificate Examination (50 percent English, 20 percent mathematics) and, if they passed, were given a certificate of graduation that allowed them egress into entry level jobs. Government secondary schools of both classes were free; the private schools charged a nominal fee, primarily because of government assistance.

By 1987, several true colleges and universities also existed, both on Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and other West Indian principalities. The University of West Indies offered a three-year degree program, with a first-year site on Saint Vincent, while Saint Vincent Teachers College prepared primary school teachers. For the mechanically-minded, Saint Vincent Technical College offered the equivalent of what would be a two-year Associate's Degree from a community college in the United States in vocational fields, such as air conditioning. Additionally, Kingstown Technical Centre proffered a popular tertiary education in such things as woodworking and mechanics.

However, in an increasingly technology-and computer-driven twenty-first century, educators throughout the world have needed to rethink their missions, and the governments of the West Indies, including Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, have taken several approaches to educate their workforces and prepare for the future. Additional help has been forthcoming from the European Union and United States. The educational policies once dictated by a plantation economy, one not particularly conducive to higher and more sophisticated education, are being refocused on producing people skilled in the new industries of tourism, hospitality, information technology, and the ubiquitous computer. These governments, including that of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, have now moved to refocus and retool their workforces at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. The Community College of Saint Vincent has been added to Saint Vincent Technical College, as well as a number of tertiary schools on neighboring Saint Lucia, Grenada, and Dominica. There is additional government money for higher education and training programs for young people who are not going to college or for scholarships to those wanting to attend universities in various countries outside of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, such as Cuba.

The European Union is assisting economically in the upgrading of teaching staff, while the United States has provided funds through its USAID/UWI Windward Islands Training Project to develop specialists to train farmers to produce bananas of the highest quality, said fruit being a major part of the Vincentian economy, as well as to train agricultural assistance officers in the best methods of managing a farm in the coming decade and decades.

In order for the Windward Islands in general, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in particular, to remain competitive in the emerging sectors of Caribbean economy such as tourism, information processing, and banking, retraining is and must continue to be conducted through a well-structured and coherent approach. Planning will be required for the year 2010 and beyond.


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook 2000. Directorate of Intelligence, 1 January 2000. Available from http:www.cia.gov/.

Figueroa, John J. Society, Schools, and Progress in the West Indies. New York: Pergamon Press, 1971.

Kurian, George Thomas. Illustrated Book of World Rankings. Sharpe Reference, 1997.

Mukweyi, Alison Isaack. "The West Indies College and Its Educational Activities in Jamaica, 1961-1987." Ph.D. diss. Ann Arbor: UMI Press, 1988.

Rubenstein, Hymie. Coping with Poverty: Adaptive Strategies in a Caribbean Village. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987.

Statistical Yearbook (43rd Issue). New York: United Nations, 1999.

Statistical Yearbook for Latin America. Comision Economica. Chile: Para America Latina, 2000.

Whittington, L. Alfons. "Workforce Development for Communities in Crisis and Transition: A Case Study of the Windward Islands." Paper presented at the Africa-America Institute's Advanced Training for Leadership and Skills Conference (Zimbabwe, September 21-25, 1998).

—Ronald E. Sheasby

Additional topics

Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineGlobal Education Reference