The Next 50 Years - Build The Education System We Need
Patrick R. Smith, Contributor
On August 6, 1962, when Jamaica became an independent nation within the British Commonwealth, it inherited an education system with an infrastructure largely locally determined by our elected representatives.
Apart from the political changes of 1944, which brought the suffrage to adult Jamaicans 21 years and over, our progress in political development was rapid, lasting 18 years.
By 1953, a Ministry of Education was among the eight ministries established and ministers assumed administrative duties.
By 1957, Jamaica received full internal self-government with all internal matters of government vested in an Executive Council of 19 ministers headed by a premier.
The nascent Ministry of Education turned its attention towards the development of a general national policy for education from infant to higher education. This movement from colonial to a national focus covered access to education as well as curriculum development. It was also during this period that the statutory and administrative foundations for the education systems and the powers and responsibilities of the minister were shaped and developed.
With Independence in 1962, the new political order enacted the legal underpinnings of the system, passing the Education Act (1965) and the accompanying regulations.
Notwithstanding the changes brought about in the 18 years before Independence, the education system inherited in 1962 was a colonial one. Primary education had been largely neglected. Teachers were largely unqualified, classrooms were overcrowded, buildings were derelict, and support services were woefully inadequate.
Secondary education was extremely limited in access, quantity, and range, being largely concentrated in the Corporate Area of Kingston and St Andrew.
Table 1: Ownership of Primary Schools
The institutions were distributed in the 14 parishes:
Table 2: Distribution of Primary Schools by Parish
The Common Entrance Examination, which was introduced in 1957, made 1,500 free places available to children of primary schools. This was the first serious attempt to give access to secondary education to children of the lower socio-economic stratum. This policy change in education has to be seen against the background of political change. It was also in 1957 that the final Federation Conference, which decided on an independent federal West Indian state, took place in Jamaica. Greater access to quality education at all levels was, therefore, a priority.
This new method of selection of children age 11+ was aimed at providing a better opportunity for children of primary schools to enter the few high and technical schools that there were. The number of places in these schools was to be increased to allow for an increased enrolment of 160 per cent over the next 10-year period. This would bring the number of pupils in high and technical schools to 26,000. Even so, this would only provide for 10 per cent of the school-age population of the 11+ cohort.
This meant that the vast majority of this age cohort would have to continue in the upper grades of the all-age schools.
The Common Entrance Examination did not guarantee places to children of
the poorly equipped primary schools; however, to address this, a system
aimed at skewing the selection towards these graduates was initiated in
1962. This was the 70:30 system aimed at setting aside 70 per cent of
the available places in secondary schools to primary-school graduates as
against 30 per cent to graduates of preparatory schools.
did not achieve the desired objective, however, as grade six children in
preparatory schools were often enrolled in primary school to be entered
for the examination. The end result was that such a child would benefit
from the 70 per cent given his better
access to secondary education, additional places would have to be
provided either by building more institutions, or by extending the
capacity of the existing 41. In an effort to address the educational
needs of the nation, in 1964, the Government, with the assistance of
UNESCO, conducted a survey, and in 1966, prepared the New Deal for
The aims of the New Deal
- 1) To provide greater post-primary opportunities
for the population both in numbers and quality of
- 2) To provide a place in school for
every student at the primary age.
A loan from the
Canadian International Development Agency was made available for the
building of 40 primary schools to accommodate 16,800
For the expansion of the secondary system, a
loan from the World Bank expanded education in grades seven to nine.
Fifty schools, to accommodate 37,530 students, were provided under this
A second World Bank loan in 1970 provided
for 12 new schools, accommodating a further 6,700 students in Grades
seven to 11. Grades seven to nine were funded by the World Bank while
Grades seven to 11 were funded by the Government of Jamaica. This
agreement provided for the expansion of 10 high schools to provide 4,894
additional places and seven junior secondary schools converted to
five-year secondary schools, with 3,344 places provided for grades 10
and 11. Additionally, five technical high schools were expanded and a
new one built to provide 2,930 new places. One vocational school was
converted to a trade/vocational school, adding 225 places and a
By 1974, junior secondary schools
were upgraded to full secondary status by adding grades 10 and 11
programmes. These schools were renamed New Secondary
Thus, the period since 1966 has seen
quantitative and qualitative changes to all levels of the education
In 1966, the Project for Early Childhood
Education was founded by the Bernard Van Leer Foundation. More emphasis
was placed on the establishment of basic and infant schools throughout
In 1973, the Ministry of Education invited a
joint USAID-World Bank-CIDA Education Sector Assessment Team to work
with the Educational Planning Unit of the ministry to prepare a
systematic analysis of the current problem in the educational and
training systems and to recommend project alternatives for consideration
by the minister and other key policymakers. The result was the Jamaican
Education Sector Survey, completed in late 1973. This report led to the
Government of Jamaica-USAID Rural Education Programme, which began in
Under this project, five projects were
i) Primary - To
establish six experimental primary schools to test and modify curricula
relevant to rural experience;
- To establish three agricultural vocational schools to
provide initial preparation of students for careers in
iii) Teacher training
- To establish a teacher-training institution which would
emphasise rural development in its training
iv) Continuing education
- To develop a programme which would provide opportunity for
training and education as a strategy for individual and community
v) Management - To
provide the ministry with the capability for effectively managing the
The programme not only included improvement
in infrastructure, but great emphasis was also placed on delivery. The
Curriculum Development Thrust began in 1972 and was not only a major
effort to reform the content of curriculum in all subject areas, but was
also a measure to introduce methodologies for teaching an integrated
curriculum. This was introduced instantly nationwide to all grade
By 1975, the ministry was reorganised and the
Functional Education Section of the Core Curriculum Unit was created to
carry out the work of the Curriculum Development Thrust. All of this was
encapsulated in the Curriculum Thrust of the '70s.
the two academic years 1974-75 and 1975-76, approximately
38,000 places were added to junior secondary schools, with emphasis on
vocational programmes in the curriculum offerings and options for these
grades 10 and 11 students.
Despite these developments,
many schools still had inadequate facilities. All the necessary
buildings and equipment were not provided then - or
To address this, many schools were placed on a
shift system, a move aimed at maximising the use of existing buildings.
This move was aimed at being short term; however, after more than a
generation, the system still provides a means of compensating for
Distribution of Students in Secondary Schools -
(Gr 7 -
4: Distribution of Students in Infant and Primary Schools -
The 2012-2013 academic year
begins with the following school types on the shift system and in the
absence of no timeframe for its removal (See Table
Interspersing these well-orchestrated
programmes and policies were local efforts to improve infrastructure.
The period 2003-2007 saw the North-West Jamaica Project in which seven
new secondary schools were built in St James, Hanover, and Trelawny,
providing over 6,000 places. Infant and primary schools were also
Currently, 50 basic schools are being built
under a programme by Food For The Poor and the Government. Also, the
Government, in partnership with a religious denomination, is currently
constructing a secondary institution in St Catherine to accommodate 800
Despite all these infrastructural
developments at all levels of the education system, between 12,000 and
15,000 Jamaicans annually complete their education at grade
There are currently 158 all-age and 87 primary
and junior high schools distributed as follows:
6: Distribution of Primary and Junior High Schools by
small quantity of graduates find places in the high schools through the
Grade Nine Achievement Test; however, the bulk of these students are
not provided for by the current system and many enter the few
skills-training facilities that exist, or undertake some form of
To provide places for all students at the
secondary-school level, some 40 secondary schools need to be built, with
a considerable number of these needing to be located in the corridor
between St Catherine and Manchester. All six regions of the ministry
will need places. Primary places are also needed as there are currently
26 on the shift system.
Despite our resource
limitations, we have made some strides in the 50 years since
Independence; however, we are some way away from the target of providing
every Jamaican child with the opportunity of quality education to the
secondary level. Even where we have provided the physical infrastructure
of a school building, the facilities and equipment are still basic,
especially at the primary level. (See Table
Libraries, laboratories, sanitary
facilities, gymnasiums, canteens, and dining facilities are scarce at
the secondary level and virtually lacking at the primary level. All of
these are essential in enhancing the school's role in the socialisation
Physical infrastructure aside, there is the
matter of maintenance and security. The annual ritual of preparing the
institutions for readiness based on the allocation of funds to the
schools continues. Utilities, especially water, still pose a challenge
for many rural schools, and the haggling by politicians as to whether
fees should be charged or not goes on unabated. Fifty-five years after
we assumed full responsibility for our internal affairs, we do not yet
have the wherewithal to provide adequately for our children's
Jamaica hopes to achieve the objectives set out in the well-vaunted 2030
Vision, we will have to not just think First World, but act
accordingly. There is no such thing as a Third World education system in
a global economy. We must, therefore, build the education system we
need rather than the one we think we can afford. To this
- All our schools must be equipped to world-class
standards and teachers adequately trained to address the educational
needs of learners.
- We must discontinue the project
approach to addressing the perceived needs of the education
- Programmes must be evaluated for
- The 2004 Transformation Report, which
had bipartisan support, must be fully implemented.
- Research must inform policy development.
- No housing
development of over 500 units should be approved without provision for a
school. Ensure that urban renewal and redevelopment resuscitate some of
the institutions in the inner city which are currently underpopulated
due to internecine violence and poverty.
- Revive the
historical role of the Church in education in the provision of classroom
Patrick Smith is a past president of the
Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA). He currently serves as the senior
secretary, Member Services Unit,
Table 5: Schools on
Shift by Parish and Type
7: Distribution of Public Educational Institutions by Type and Parish