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British Virgin Islands

Official Country Name: Virgin Islands (British)
Region: Puerto Rico & Lesser Antilles
Population: 19,615
Language(s): English
Literacy Rate: 97.8%

The territory of the British Virgin Islands (GBVI or BVI), an archipelago comprising 36 islands, lies east of Puerto Rico and immediately northwest of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), its culturally dominant neighbor. Under British rule from the seventeenth century onward, the BVI has been a crown colony with a ministerial government since 1960. In 1990 its mainly black population was about 18,000 people, one-sixth that of the USVI.

Nominally, BVI schools still follow British models, with uneven results. Proposed reforms in 2001 aimed at improvements that would stress business and vocationaltechnical studies geared to the tourist economy. Development of native resources through better education is officially a priority in the territory in the new millennium.

Education is compulsory and free, and 97 percent of children stay in school through age sixteen. Instruction is in English—a British variety with the regional inflection. The published literacy rate is 98 percent, but in 1991, for example, more than 70 percent of all high school graduates in the BVI were immigrants, not natives.

In 1991, some 15 private (but no public) preprimary facilities enrolled 635 children. In 1998, some 16 public and 5 private primary schools enrolled nearly 3000 students aged five through twelve, with most students attending the free, public facilities. Seventy percent of the primary teachers had formal training, an improved record aided partly by a Hull University in-service program. (In 1988, when one in three primary students failed to pass the terminal Primary V assessment examination, just 35 percent of the teachers had training. Success rates on the test have remained disappointing, and some students persist at the primary level until age fifteen.) Expenditures per student for education in 1997 was $3584, almost tripled since 1985. A five-year program of reform was under way in 2001.

Of the three BVI high schools, one enrolls 80 percent of all students; among 85 BVI high school teachers in 1990, 80 percent had formal training. Form I of secondary school is unofficially "streamed." Examinations in Form II officially track students, beginning at age thirteen, into divergent academic and non-academic curricula, with some of the latter programs occurring off-campus. At the end of Form V, students can take the CXC proficiency test. Of the 180 BVI high school graduates in 1997, about 72 sat for the CXC; only two passed all subjects. Most students, upon completion of the CXC, received the basic (and not the general) proficiency diploma. Because achievements of BVI students are roughly on par with their Caribbean neighbors, studies in 2001 have questioned the testing system itself and the prevalent methods of teacher training and classroom delivery and have proposed remediation and intervention methods to improve student achievement.

With the founding of H. L. Stoutt Community College, the BVI inaugurated a modest tertiary education program in 1991. From 1994 to 1997, the college awarded 158 associate degrees and training certificates. The University of the Virgin Islands (in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which is contiguous) offers the nearest senior-college options.


The British Virgin Islands Government, 18 January 2001. Available from http://www.bvigovernment.org./.

Development Planning Unit of the British Virgin Islands, 10 February 2001. Available from http://www.dpu.org.

Peterson's Register of Higher Education, 1995: The Sourcebook for Higher Education, 8th ed. Princeton, NJ: Peterson's, 1995.

—Roy Neil Graves

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