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Constitutional & Legal Foundations

A bipartisan commission of the Jamaica Legislature drafted Jamaica's constitution during 1961-1962. It was approved in Great Britain and went into effect when Jamaica achieved full independence on August 6, 1962. It provides for a parliamentary/ministerial form of government. The Governor-General, who serves as the Queen's representative, has the authority to appoint ministers and to call elections, among other powers. The Governor-General is appointed by the Queen upon the Prime Minister's recommendation. The constitution stipulates that there be a minimum of eleven ministries; ministers are appointed and assigned their portfolios by the Governor-General in consultation with the Prime Minister. The constitutional head of each ministry is the minister, and the executive head is the Permanent Secretary, who provides continuity despite changes of government and sees to the day-to-day operations of the ministry. Ministers can introduce bills in Parliament. Bills become law once they have been approved by Parliament and have received the Governor-General's approval.

The education system in Jamaica falls under the purview of the Ministry of Education and Culture (MOE&C). The MOE&C administers the Education Regulations which govern the operation and management of schools at all levels. These include such things as the dissemination of the results of school assessments, the licensing and employment of teachers, the establishment of standards and requirements for continuing professional development of teachers, development of curricula, and the setting of the minimum number of school days. The ministry also oversees the activities of a variety of agencies that intersect with its educational mission and programs: the Jamaica Library Service, Nutrition Products Limited (in-school feeding programs), the Human Employment & Resources Training trust/National Training Agency (HEART/NTA), the Jamaica Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL), the National Heritage Trust, the Institute of Jamaica, and the University Council of Jamaica.

The activities of various private and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in projects for improving education in the country are coordinated and administered through the MOE&C. The ministry also serves as liaison between the government and such world-wide and regional agencies as UNESCO and CARICOM, preparing necessary reports on education and implementing reforms and initiatives emanating from those organizations.

Since Jamaica became an independent nation in 1962 there have been a number of cycles of reform and one major period of retrenchment in education. The first set of reforms took place as part of the Independence Plan of 1963. The plan set forth the goal of increasing the number of teachers at both the primary and secondary levels. Expansion of teacher training facilities was directed toward increasing the annual output of primary teachers to over 500 by 1972; and an increase in the number of teachers' scholarships to UWI was intended to increase the number of qualified secondary school teachers (Miller 1992). The selection process for admission to secondary schools was also a target of reform. Admission to secondary schools was determined by either a child's parents' ability to pay fees or the child's ability to gain a free place on the basis of his/her performance on the Common Entrance (CE) Examination. The overwhelming number of free places in secondary schools had been going to children from private or church-sponsored primary preparatory schools, while children from government primary schools, who were almost entirely from the lower social strata, qualified for only a few. This resulted in the "70/30 Plan" in which the Ministry of Education decided to allocate free places on the basis of a child's performance on the CE exam and the type of primary school she/he attended. Because 70 percent of children on the island attended government primary schools, 70 percent of the free places were reserved for children from these schools. The idea was that this scheme would result in increased opportunities for a secondary education for poor children and that this, in turn, would ameliorate some of the socioeconomic, racial, and class inequities that persisted in the former colony.

The Independence Plan was superceded by the New Deal for Education in Independent Jamaica (generally referred to as the "New Deal") in 1966. This effort was funded by the World Bank, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). It was, according to Cogan and Thompson (1988) "the first comprehensive and systematic attempt by the government to formulate long-range planning in education that would result in a unified system open to all." Specific proposals were designed to restructure the education system in order to encourage and enable all students to get a secondary-school education. In fact, the primary motivation behind these reforms was the idea that education should break down class and racial boundaries that it should be a unifying rather than a stratifying force in Jamaican society.

Under the New Deal the number of primary teachers being trained reached almost 1,000 per annum in 1969; however, this was partly accomplished by reducing the teacher training program from three years in college to two years in college plus one year of internship in local schools. All teachers' colleges were expanded, one new teachers' college was established in rural Jamaica, and for the first time all teachers' colleges were equipped and staffed for training secondary-school teachers. The number of scholarships to UWI was further increased, and in-service training for teachers was expanded and intensified.

The New Deal gave way to the Education Thrust in 1973. The formulation of this program began after the election of the People's National Party (PNP) in 1972. The Education Thrust was formulated coincident with the completion of the Jamaica Education Sector Survey, a comprehensive look at the whole educational system that included specialists from various external agencies, including USAID and CIDA, along with members of the Jamaican Ministry of Education. The Survey was meant to provide the basis for educational planning in the future.

The Education Thrust was intended to be a comprehensive program for dealing with education at all levels. In order to ensure that reforms were working, the plan included rolling three-year qualitative and quantitative assessments of the various programs implemented under the plan. A complete reorganization of the Ministry of Education was to result in improved planning and administration that would filter down to all levels of the education system. Free and compulsory education was to be made available to all children up to age 14, that is, up to the secondary school level. The newly established Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) was to set the standards for the school examination system. And, in order to promote social (including educational development) and public works programs, students who had been educated at government expense were to take part in a proposed "National Service Corps of Graduates."

The Education Thrust also sought to increase the number of teachers produced by the colleges to 1,700 per year. (The target year was 1975, but the goal was not reached until 1979.) An effort to provide in-service training for primary school teachers led to the establishment of the In-service Teacher Education Thrust in 1973 and to the In-service Diploma in Education in 1975. Additional teacher education training programs were set up at the College of Arts, Science, and Technology (CAST) and the Jamaica School of Agriculture (JSA) in 1975, a goal that was originally part of the New Deal program.

Cogan and Thompson (1988) argued that the three major reform programs described above "had a negligible effect on the eradication of class stratification within the larger society;" they argued further that primary education was "largely inefficient under the sheer numbers of the system" (1988). Miller (1992), however, points out that there were quite a few positive results that grew out of these programs. He observes that teacher education was expanded and reformed in accordance with set development targets. The number of and types of teachers to be trained, the modalities to be employed, and the number and location of training institutions were all carefully planned. Each plan built upon the achievements and targets previously set, despite the fact that different governments of different political parties and ideologies were involved. One result of all this was that Jamaica's capacity to train teachers had developed to the point that the government was able in 1976 to phase out recruitment of secondary school teachers from abroad. More importantly, Miller argues, the efforts to improve the number and quality of teachers at both the primary and secondary levels had paid off in terms of student performance. The 70/30 Plan, which was established because private preparatory students were winning the bulk of the free places awarded for high school, was abolished in 1974 because public primary school students' performance on entrance exams now resulted in their obtaining more than 70 percent of those places based strictly on merit (1992). The period from 1977-1987, however, marked a period of retrenchment. During this decade Jamaica and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) entered into a series of austerity agreements that implemented IMF strictures requiring adjustments to the Jamaican economy. During this period expenditure on education (expressed in 1974 dollars) declined by 33.8 percent (Miller 1992). The student-teacher ratio for primary schools was increased by the Ministry of Education from 40:1 to 55:1. Two teachers' colleges were closed, and the In-service Education Thrust and the In-service Diploma programs were done away with. Teacher education was hardest hit, experiencing a decline in real expenditure of 66.2 percent between 1977 and 1987 (Miller 1992). Miller also states that one result of all these cut-backs was "a fracturing of the relationship between the major stakeholders" in the education process and the growth of "skepticism and suspicion concerning planned developments in the sector" which left managers of the sector "with the major problem of motivating and inspiring effort, even among themselves."

Jamaica's financial difficulties have not abated. Debt service continues to consume a larger and larger portion of the government's budget, rising from 45.3 percent of the budget (25.9 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product or GDP) in 1996 to 58.2 percent (38.4 percent of GDP) in 1999 (Ministry of Education and Culture 2001). However, the government continues to place a high priority on educational development.

Jamaica participated in the 1990 World Conference on Education for All (EFA) and formulated a pair of five-year educational development plans during the 1990s that coincided with the goals and targets defined by the EFA program. These plans focused on improving access to and the quality of early childhood education, providing universal access to basic/primary education, improving attendance and completion rates at the primary level, improving curricula and instruction at the primary level, reducing the adult illiteracy rate, and establishing a variety of media outlets for disseminating information for the public good.

These efforts have paid off in some areas. Participation in early childhood programs has increased, and instruction has been improved through the development of curriculum guides. The national curricula for grades 1-9 have been revised, and the National Assessment Programme has resulted in the development of a battery of standardized tests that will enable officials to monitor performance at the primary level. The government now provides free textbooks in Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies to all pupils in grades 1-6; and a textbook rental program has begun for students in grades 7-9 (UNESCO 2000).

There has been some improvement in providing teacher training, but the percentage of primary teachers with certification has dropped during the 1990s. Economic difficulties continue to result in inadequate facilities and in major inequalities in education at the secondary level. And, while enrollment rates at the preprimary and primary school levels have been boosted, attendance rates are disappointing and many children exit the system without being literate and/or numerate (UNESCO 2000). A series of new initiatives that will address these and other problems have been proposed in two recent Ministry of Education and Culture policy statements: Education: the Way Upward, A Green Paper for the Year 2000 (1999) and White Paper I: A Path for Jamaica's Education at the start of the new Millennium (2001).

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceJamaica - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education