By TBY | Jamaica | May 17, 2018
Jamaica is a regional leader in education spending. With the Ministry of Education renewing its focus, the island's education sector is set to be one of the region's best.
In November 2017, Jamaica hosted the third annual Caribbean Technical Vocational Education and Training Conference, where Floyd Green, the Minister of Education, Youth, and Information, emphasized the ministry’s continued dedication to transforming itself and the sector. In recent years, the island has been working to overhaul its education system, increasing the offerings of its universities, extending more assistance to high schools, and working to improve the country’s vocational training system.
There are over 2,500 early childhood care centers on the island for children up to the age of six. These facilities are diverse and include day care centers and special education schools. Among children between the ages of four and six, Jamaica has one of the Caribbean’s highest literacy rates, at 62%.
Children then receive six years of primary education, which is free and compulsory. Primary education in the country changed significantly in 1999, when the government got rid of the Common Entrance Examination, which was completed at the end of primary education and generally led to automatic promotion to secondary school. The National Assessment Program came in as the replacement to the Common Entrance Examination and uses a greater variety of teaching strategies to promote a more student-centered and broad-based curriculum. Students are now tested on a series of subjects such as math, language, and social studies and are placed, hopefully, in a secondary school of their choosing.
Secondary education is broken down into a lower and upper school, which represent grades seven through nine, and 10 and 11, respectively. In the lower school, students are introduced to foreign languages and integrated sciences. In some cases, students are grouped together or placed into classes that depend on their academic achievements from the previous year. At upper school, students are granted more control over their own curriculum, given the option to add courses such as principles of business, religious education, and theater arts, in addition to the still compulsory math and English courses.
In order to better prepare for the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE), which are generally required to enter one of the island’s universities, students can take the optional two-year sixth form. Entry into these programs is highly competitive, especially in rural areas, where many secondary schools do not have sixth form programs.
For tertiary education, Jamaicans have the option of attending either college or university, their difference being, generally, that colleges do not grant at least a bachelor’s degree. In hopes of increasing the number enrolled in tertiary education, the government announced in early 2017 plans to alter funding schemes to colleges and universities, potentially moving and increasing subsidies to make higher education more affordable and accessible for Jamaicans.
Compared to other upper middle-income countries, Jamaica tends to place higher expenditures on education, according to UNESCO. Jamaica’s per pupil expenditure (PPE) in primary education as a percentage of GDP per capita is approximately 22%, eight points higher than the average of other middle-income countries. In secondary education the country is nearly 10 points higher than the average, with a PPE of 26% compared to other upper middle-income countries’ 17%.
Despite a greater PPE, Jamaica falls behind other upper middle-income countries in terms of pupil-teacher ratio (PTE). For primary education, Jamaica has a PTE of 23, meaning there is roughly one teacher per 23 students, compared to the median of 17. In both lower secondary and upper secondary school, Jamaica has a PTE of 19, compared to the median of other upper middle-income countries at 15 and 14, respectively.
According to UNICEF, the literacy rate among males aged 15-24 is 92.9%, and for females that figure is 98.5%. The primary school participation rate among males and females is 90.8% and 86.6%, respectively. UNICEF reports that primary schools in Jamaica have a retention rate of over 95% to the last primary grade. Among secondary schools, net attendance stands at 88.5% for men and 92.9% for women.