The World Bank says despite spending nearly 11 years acquiring an education, school leavers in the Caribbean often struggle to find formal employment.
The Washington-based financial institution has released a new report titled 'Quality Education Counts for Skills and Growth' and offers some suggestions why it is difficult for Caribbean students to obtain employment, highlighting key areas where system-wide changes are needed.
It said while early-childhood education is essential to a child's development as it builds the foundation for primary schooling, unlike primary and secondary education, "there has been no national push for preschool education.
"This has resulted in huge variations to education services and often meaning children from rural areas or lower-income families miss out," according to the report, which noted that, currently, less than 15 per cent of school leavers in the subregional Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) move on to further education.
"Consequently, boosting tertiary education attendance is key," the report said, adding that attracting qualified teachers is a "chronic challenge" for the Caribbean, and is particularly pronounced within the core subjects - English, maths and science.
With such a predominance of unqualified teachers, the report says the pass rates for these subjects in particular have suffered.
In 2009, the report said, less than 50 per cent of students region-wide passed CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate) exams in English and maths.
With a highly centralised system, the report said there is little decision-making authority within the schools themselves in the Caribbean, stating that inter-national studies have shown that giving schools the ability to make certain decisions themselves is closely linked to education quality.
The World Bank report also indicated that closing the digital skills gap would be key if graduates were to flourish in the quickly evolving Caribbean labour market.
It said as traditional trades and sources of employment disappear, 21st century technology is taking their place, "but employers regularly complain that school leavers do not have the appropriate skills for a digital workplace".
Bernadette Lewis of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) said it was vital that the region's youth were sufficiently supported to realise the potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs).
"It calls for a certain amount of education and awareness. We have seen tremendous talent in the area of young people making innovative use of ICTs, but there's little support."
Noting that critical soft skills such as ICT are best taught within a formal education setting, the World Bank report highlights a need for them to be maintained within the private sector.
"Learning is a lifelong activity and, as such, both public and private sector involvement is needed to support learners throughout their career."
The report notes that the unemployment rates for 15-19 year olds in the Caribbean are between two and four times the adult average.
"School leavers struggle to find formal employment because their education doesn't sufficiently prepare them for the job market and employers are then left to train up those who they do hire.
"Systemic changes with the education sector are therefore needed if learners in the Caribbean are to be given the opportunity to realise their potential," it adds.