Secondary education covers five years (grades seven to eleven) with an additional two years (grades twelve and thirteen) for those who want to move on to higher education. The years in secondary school are divided into two cycles: first-cycle (grades seven and eight) and second cycle (grades nine through eleven). The five-year program leads to the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) Secondary Education Certificate after grade 11. Upon completion of an additional two years (grade thirteen) students may take the General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced A levels. The A-level exam is terminal and is the standard criterion used for entry into university-level studies.
Secondary education in Jamaica has been quite complex, in large part because the system originally was extremely selective and elitist. As demand for secondary education grew over the years, a variety of institutions evolved to meet varying and changing needs. At the beginning of the 1990s there were seven different types of secondary schools. Each type of school had a program of instruction, and levels of accomplishment and academic and vocational skills varied among graduates. One of the objectives of the MOE&C during the 1990s was to develop some sort of curricular uniformity across the different types in order to ensure equity and quality. The Reform of Secondary Education (ROSE) project resulted in the construction of a common curriculum for grades seven through nine in all schools. It is hoped that the introduction of this junior high school curriculum will equalize educational opportunities for secondary students. The MOE&C is also developing and distributing secondary school textbooks.
Traditional high schools and comprehensive high schools both have offered five years of secondary education, and admission to both types was selective, determined by performance on the GSAT. Comprehensive schools, however, also accepted students from local primary feeder schools. There was a perception that the comprehensive high schools were inferior to the high schools even though the curricula in the two were virtually identical. In May of 2000 the category comprehensive high school was abolished, and all of these institutions are now simply called high schools. The feeder system has been done away with, and all students must meet minimum scores on the GSAT in order to gain admission. Students who fail to gain admission to high school may gain admission after they complete grade nine (and the new standardized junior high curriculum) by performing satisfactorily on the Junior High School Examination.
The curriculum in the high schools is primarily academic and is intended to prepare students for the CXC (after grade eleven) and GCE exams (after grade thirteen). New secondary schools have a two-track system, offering continuing and vocational courses of study. Students in the academically-centered continuing course pursue a curriculum leading to the CXC examination, and many go on to enter teachers' colleges. Vocational students concentrate on technical and vocational courses in addition to the common junior high school curriculum. Curricula vary quite a bit in the other secondary schools, but all students in all schools now take the junior high school curriculum. A small percentage of students attend independent high schools (which also must offer the junior high curriculum); most of these schools are sponsored by religious organizations.
In 1999-2000 approximately 42 percent of teachers in high schools were university graduates and 20 percent of comprehensive high school teachers had university degrees; other secondary-school teachers usually have a certificate or diploma granted by a teachers' college. Government figures (MOE&C 2001) indicate that 81 percent of high-school-age children have access to five years of secondary-level schooling, a level which the MOE&C would like to see increased. Note that this does not mean that all of the 81 percent have access to five years of high-school level education; the 2001-2002 budget, however, includes money for the construction of three new high schools (Ministry of Finance 2001), which will provide additional spaces in high school. The MOE&C reports that Jamaican students' performance on the CXC exams is "satisfactory" in a range of subjects, particularly in technologies, business, and social science subjects. However, performance on English and mathematics is still "below desirable levels." Scores have increased in these areas over the years 1996-2000, and the Ministry expects the trend to continue as students who have benefited from the new primary curriculum and the NAP make their way into the secondary system.
As mentioned above, the MOE&C has developed and distributed textbooks for use in secondary schools, but it does not have the resources to dispense them free of charge as it does in the primary schools. A textbook rental program does operate in all secondary schools, however. Education at this level is not free. The government has introduced "cost sharing" at this level, and most students and/or their parents are expected to contribute at least a nominal amount toward the cost of their education. Fees are set by each school, but all fees must be approved by the MOE&C. The Ministry has a program that helps needy students with all or a portion of their fees so that no child misses out on an education because of financial hardship. Ministry funding for secondary schools covers teachers' salaries and related expenses, but little else. The cost-sharing program has resulted in a significant increase in the amount of money that schools have for instructional materials and equipment.
The Ministry also started the Income Generating Project in 1993. This is a revolving loan system that helps individual schools to develop and implement projects that will generate additional income. Profits from the ventures that have been funded so far have been used for such things as subsidizing examination fees and providing uniforms for poorer students.
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