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Jamaica - Educational System—overview

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


The educational system in Jamaica is outlined below and described in more detail in the following sections. Education through the six years of primary school is compulsory and is free in government-sponsored schools. The age of entry into primary school is six years, and children generally complete primary school at age twelve. The academic year runs from September to July (with some local variation), and the Education Regulations prescribe a minimum of 195 days of instruction in the school year. The language of instruction is English.

The Ministry has pushed for the remodeling and construction of school buildings and has paid particular attention to library facilities. By the end of the 1990s a little over one hundred school libraries had been refurbished and their stocks of books increased. The Ministry has also set the goal of placing at least one computer with Internet access (where available) in every school on the island by the end of the year 2002. As of 1999, the Ministry had supplied more than 100 schools with computers and had trained almost 350 teachers in the use of computer systems and the Internet. Funding for these initiatives is uncertain, however, because the national debt continues to consume a larger portion of the government's budget each year. Success in these areas may depend on the success of the Ministry's efforts to form partnerships with businesses and manufacturers and on the largesse of foreign governments, granting agencies, and foundations.

Curriculum: Up until independence, the curriculum in Jamaica's schools mirrored that of schools in Great Britain. Curricular development since then has focused on fashioning a better fit between the educational system and the development needs of the ex-colony. This has been looked upon as both a local and a regional imperative, since many of the ex-colonies in the Caribbean Basin have experienced similar problems with educational systems that were "not geared towards enhancing the knowledge, skills, and values which helped students live more productive lives in their own societies" (Whiteman 1994). One criticism of the system was that it seemed that education at each level was primarily geared to preparing students for entry to the next level; that is, "[u]sefulness or relevance of curriculum content was seen in terms of its value in helping students pass the examinations which lead to the next stage up the educational ladder" (Whiteman 1994). Many of the earlier reforms in curriculum content were directed toward doing such things as making primary school education clearly useful in itself and not simply a means to getting into secondary school.

Such concerns are still addressed, but curricular development increasingly has been driven by economic and development pressures that require higher levels and standards of literacy and mathematical skills among the citizenry. In recent years the government has attempted to rationalize the curriculum at both primary and secondary levels in order to respond to social and manpower needs and to improve access to and encourage enrollment in secondary-level schools.

A major part of curricular reform since the 1990s has been related to the provision of textbooks. Textbooks are the main teaching materials used in the schools, and until fairly recently most of these texts were produced in other countries, primarily Great Britain and North America. This presented a number of problems. The first is that these texts were written from the perspective of the highly industrialized societies that produced them and did not reflect many aspects of the life and values of Jamaicans or West Indians. Another factor was cost. As the value of the Jamaican Dollar declined in relation to U.S. and Canadian Dollars and the British Pound, procurement of textbooks put quite a strain on government foreign currency reserves; and, because parents were required to buy these increasingly expensive textbooks for their children, many children ended up without textbooks. This resulted in a decline in children's performance and achievement in school, an increase in absentee and dropout rates, and a decline in literacy.

The MOE&C now produces textbooks for all subjects taught in grades one through six. The content in these books is linked directly to the cultural and historical development of Jamaica and reflects the experience of Jamaican children. More importantly, these texts are reprinted every year and presented free of cost to each child in the primary grades. This not only gives all children access to needed textbooks, but officials also see other benefits. They argue that the children's ownership of books will lead them to value literacy and learning more and that the continued presence of books in children's homes will generate more interest in education among younger siblings and even parents and other adults.

MOE&C has also developed and distributed textbooks for secondary-level subjects and has implemented a textbook rental program at all secondary schools. The curriculum at the secondary level has been "caribbeanized" and made more responsive to regional concerns through Jamaica's participation in the Caribbean Examinations Council programs.

Special Education: The government defines special education programs as those programs "designed to meet the educational needs of children (4-18 years) who are identified as having mental, physical, and intellectual capabilities which deviate significantly from the norm expected of their age cohort" (Ministry of Education and Culture 2001). In 2000 there were 2,200 students aged four through eighteen and a little over 300 special education teachers in government-run and government-aided special schools and units. About 300 learning disabled, hearing impaired, and other disabled students are in privately run schools.

Prior to the 1970s Jamaica's capabilities to identify and manage learning disabilities in children was very limited. The educational system as a whole was also unable to deal with the special education needs of physically and mentally exceptional children. Most special education services were provided by voluntary organizations until the government in 1974 took financial responsibility for the care of exceptional children. These children now have access to special education programs in many government schools, often aided greatly by the activities and support of a number of voluntary agencies. Mico Teachers' College runs a program that provides clinical assessments and diagnostic and prescriptive teaching services. The Lister-Mair-Gilby High School, the Jamaica Association for the Deaf, and the School of Hope provide vocational training for students with disabilities within the formal school system.

The government intends to continue to appoint special education teachers to primary and all-age schools until all students who need such services have access to them. The idea is to mainstream as many students as possible, but the special education program suffers from insufficient numbers of appropriately trained teachers and inadequate facilities and equipment. The MOE&C (2001) notes that the demand for special education services "far outstrips" its ability to meet them.

Vocational training for young adults with disabilities is provided by private voluntary organizations and NGOs, including the Jamaica Association for the deaf, Woodside Clarendon School for the Deaf, School of Hope, the 3D Projects Private Voluntary Organization Limited (PVO), and the Abilities Foundation. The PVO provides home-based training with a parent education component; another program with a parent education component is run by the Clarendon Group for the Disabled, funded by Lilianne Fone of the Netherlands. The PVO also runs community-based projects which provide training in horticulture, paper making, and other skills.

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