THE WORLD BANK GROUP A World Free of Poverty

A Caribbean Education Strategy

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Executive Summary

Rapid and continuous technological change is accepted as a feature of the twenty-first century: its impact is felt globally. Labor intensive technologies are on the decline; scientific knowledge and technological principles are now considered key to increase productivity and wealth. The concomitant transformations in the global economy, international relations, and social institutions require a constant re-conceptualization and re-formulation of systems to steer and manage this process of change. Reform of education and training systems is therefore pivotal in preparing people to address the new market demands and to capitalize on emerging opportunities. Over the past two decades industrialized countries as well as the developing world have been engaged in a process of education reform.

The twenty member countries of the CGCED share with the rest of the world the common goals of reforming their education systems to equip Caribbean people for productivity, wealth creation, and social and personal development, and have participated in several regional and global initiatives. Despite the linguistic and economic diversity amongst the group, there are certain features which make the Caribbean region sufficiently similar, but distinct from the rest of Latin America to seek to formulate a common Caribbean Education Strategy. These include their primarily small population (21 million ) and land area; relatively new states, except for Haiti and the Dominican Republic; limited natural resources; a high level of dependency on international forces; economic vulnerability; fragile ecosystems; and frequent natural disasters. These characteristics, specifically “smallness” “limited resources”, “economic vulnerability “ translate inter alia into strong external influences on policy formulation, fairly restrictive opportunities for economic growth, limited markets, difficulties in achieving economies of scale, and considerable resource constraints- human and financial.

With respect to education, these limitations are reflected in current staff inadequacies, quantitative and qualitative, a need for administration and teaching staff to be multi-functional, limitations in curricular offerings, and constraints in development of post-secondary education, particularly in the smaller territories. At the same time, “smallness” makes management of the systems and participation in the formulation and dissemination of reform measures at the national level easier. It is against this backdrop and the economic and social context that education reform must be formulated.

The Socio-Economic Context

It takes sustained macro-economic growth to finance the necessary education reforms and build the infrastructure to foster a knowledge society. Conversely, rapid and sustained economic growth will not be realized where education systems are ineffective and capacities remain limited. Gross Development Product (GDP) growth patterns vary by country. Over the past decade, economic growth in the region as a whole has been relatively slow, averaging approximately 2%, with some countries experiencing negative growth. Attempts by governments to counteract this and spur GDP growth have resulted in heavy indebtedness. The countries are adopting measures to move away from the predominantly mono-agriculture-based economies towards economic diversification. Diminishing preferential market access, the need to generate employment and stem unemployment in the face of a burgeoning labor force (which is expected to increase significantly by over 50% by 2020) are conditions which call for attention. Tourism, construction, and the services sector have been the major growth areas, and efforts are afoot to expand these areas further. However, the strategies (increasingly reliant on higher levels of education, skills and technology), intended to promote development, often pose threats to the environment and societal values and institutions.

Widening disparities in educational attainment among the different socioeconomic groups reinforce and contribute to the increasing stratification in the societies with the attendant social ills. Today, Caribbean countries are grappling with high levels of crime and delinquency, some of this associated with narco-trafficking, large numbers of out-of-school under-educated youth, growing social and economic inequities, and high unemployment. This is testimony to the weak economies. In addition, there are concerns regarding the rapid spread of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) virus, as well as health and nutritional issues particularly amongst the lower socioeconomic groups.

Despite adverse conditions, there are significant opportunities on the horizon, which have positive implications for education:

Characteristics of the Education Sector

Significant and consistent public investment in education, in relation to their economic status, is being made in most countries in the region. Except for Haiti, more than 85% of total investment in education is derived from the public sector. Education expenditure as a percentage of GDP ranges from approximately 2% in the Dominican Republic to 7% in Jamaica. The regional average is approximately 4%, compared with 3.3% for low and middle-income countries, and 5% in high-income countries.

Undoubtedly, (again with the exception of Haiti), and relative to middle income countries with which they are classified, tremendous strides have been made particularly with respect to access to basic education over the past thirty years. Virtually all countries provide some form of basic education for all students up to the age of 14. Most countries offer pre-primary education to approximately 80% of the age cohort, but in general, (Guyana being a noteworthy exception), this is privately funded. Steady progress is being made towards attaining the goal of universal secondary education. This has already been achieved in the Bahamas, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, and in the dependent countries – British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. The larger territories – Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago- and the OECS have transition rates ranging from 50-70%.

Besides giving emphasis to increasing access, attention is being made to improving quality. There have been collaborative efforts in areas such as curriculum development, and teacher training, and CARICOM countries have established a regional examinations body – The Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) for testing at the secondary level. Enrollment at the tertiary level has been growing; however, it is relatively low ,ranging from less than 2% in Turks and Caicos Islands to 22% in the Dominican Republic with a regional average of 9%. Cuba stands at 13%; the global average is 18% and 10% in low and middle-income countries. In the OECD countries, the enrollment rate is 51%, and in other Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) countries, the rate ranges from 10 to 25%. The goal of CARICOM countries is to provide for 15% of the age cohort by 2005. With respect to all CGCED member countries, the Bahamas, Barbados, and the Dominican Republic now exceed that target.

The Shortfall

Despite the progress being made, there are several deficiencies to be addressed, particularly in the face of new demands. They largely pertain to:

Access and Coverage

Need for Expansion of Secondary Education. Successful completion of secondary level education is important for employment in a modern economy and building the foundation for an expanded and diversified tertiary level sub-sector. Although there has been progress in expanding access to these levels of schooling, the challenge remains. Most governments need to continue to focus on achieving the goal of universal secondary level education. Some countries have been attempting to accelerate the process through the conversion of schools, as well as new construction. The provision of places, however, must be viewed as part of a comprehensive reform effort. The process requires attention not only to the design of the physical infrastructure, but to the need to deliver a broad-based curricula geared to the total development of students, and to equip them for the world of work. In addition, the systems must provide the necessary student support services to promote higher levels of achievement and well being. In the smaller countries in particular, there will be a need to search for creative approaches to offer the diversified curriculum and services in a cost-effective way.

At the same time, there is increasing demand for post secondary education, particularly in the areas of science, technology and management. This is critical if the region is to steer its development and be equipped to address the challenges ahead.


Low School Achievement. At the primary level, repetition rates are low and completion rates are close to 100% in most of the English-speaking countries which is largely due to a policy of automatic promotion. Based on the proportion of students placed in remedial classes at the secondary level, however, approximately 25 to 30% do not acquire the basic cognitive skills to benefit from education at that level. Some of this under-achievement is due to poor attendance, particularly in remote communities; some to failure of the school system to diagnose learning difficulties, and some to inadequacies in the teaching and learning process. In the Dominican Republic, 49% of students complete the primary level, while in Haiti the figure is 40%. Although transition to the secondary level is somewhat higher in the CARICOM countries, ranging from approximately 50 to 100%, the under-preparedness of students is a major problem as noted above. Attrition is high (approximately 50%) after age 15 - the end of compulsory education in most countries, and the dropout rate is decidedly higher among males. Of the students who complete the secondary cycle in the CARICOM countries, only approximately 30% qualify to receive certification which would enable them to gain admission to a tertiary level institution. It should be borne in mind that students who attempt the examination at the General/Technical level represent about 50% of the secondary level intake and about 25% of the age cohort Students may write examinations at the general/technical level or the basic level. The latter is not widely accepted for employment in the public sector or for admission to post-secondary education institutions.. Students show severe deficiencies in mathematics . On average, approximately 35% receive an acceptable grade. Furthermore, an analysis of subject areas being pursued raises questions as to whether a sufficiently large number of students are acquiring competencies in areas which would enable them to function effectively in the twenty-first century, where the knowledge and skills derived from study of sciences, technology, mathematics, foreign languages, and social studies would be important. An analysis of students writing CXC examinations in 1998 shows that less than 20% take science subjects, fewer than 15% foreign languages; just 10% in food and nutrition, and 7% in information technology, an area of importance in the services sector.

Labor Force Competitiveness. A burning issue relates therefore to the level of competitiveness of the labor force. While an assessment of their educational status reveals generally high literacy rates, except for Haiti, where 60% of the population is illiterate, the knowledge and skills in demand in the labor market go beyond the traditional literacy assessments Recent International Adult Literacy Surveys attempt to measure the more sophisticated skills required. No Caribbean country has participated in these surveys, so it is difficult to assess where they rank on an international scale. If secondary completion is used as the yardstick for assessing the competitiveness of the labor force, based on household surveys, less than 20% boast this attainment, compared with 70% in the OECD countries, and over 60% in Singapore. An increase in the number of persons with secondary qualifications is clearly imperative. Besides the cognitive skills, today’s worker must possess appropriate attitudes to the world of work, and sound communication skills. A recent study conducted in the Region by Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) identified attitudinal and communication deficiencies in employees in the industrial sector. D. Bhajan et al. Report on Preparatory Assistance for Strengthening of Training Capability of the Caribbean Sub-Region for Human Resources Development,UNIDO.


Social Equity. When the education systems are assessed in terms of social equity, several concerns come to the fore. Students from lower socioeconomic groups tend not to survive the process of schooling. What is not now clear is the extent to which education systems are exacerbating the problem of social inequity. There is evidence to suggest that there is considerable stratification of schools and variability of inputs. In general, poorer students in urban as well as in rural areas attend schools which receive fewer and lesser quality resources. In terms of the curricula and learning materials, teaching staff and their families cannot afford the supplementary resources which the more well- to- do can provide when school resources are limited. In some remote communities, there is inadequate access to education services beyond the primary level. This, compounded with a home environment, which, in most cases, does not reinforce skills being taught at school, may account for the high level of underachievement and attrition amongst the economically and socially disadvantaged groups. The most glaring inequities are at the upper secondary and tertiary levels where the lowest quintiles are under-represented. These inequities are not only manifest as under-achievement but also in the rapidly rising juvenile delinquency and crime rates; reduced productivity and lower incomes of the population affected. As countries continue to conduct poverty assessments, become more adept at sector analysis, and more specifically disaggregate the costs and financing of education, the inequities in the education systems will become more apparent.

Gender Equity. In terms of gender equity, both boys and girls have equal access, but there is growing disparity in participation rates between boys and girls at the secondary and tertiary levels. Fewer boys gain a place at secondary level where there is competition for places. They perform less well and there is a higher attrition rate than girls. As a consequence, they are outnumbered by girls at the tertiary levels. The ratio at the University of the West Indies (UWI) is 67: 33 in favor of females. Recent studies on gender emphasize the need for measures to be taken to promote the motivation of boys and higher levels of performance. It should be noted that although participation rates and achievement are higher for girls, there is still the tendency for girls to pursue the traditional “female” subjects and avoid technical subjects. Although the trend is changing, as yet, not all girls are choosing to study non-traditional subjects.

Reform Initiatives

All countries in the region are aware of the shortcomings in the education system, and many are undertaking comprehensive education reform. Within the broad framework of a number of global, regional and sub-regional initiatives: EFA, Summit of the Americas Education Agenda, CARICOM Education Strategy, OECS Education Reform Strategy. Major objectives include increased access to secondary and post secondary education, improved quality at all levels, and improved management. These strategies have spawned a plethora of projects, which receive support including policy advice from a wide range of multilateral and bilateral partners. They include the World Bank; the Inter- American Development Bank (IDB); Caribbean Development Bank (CDB); the European Union (EU); UNESCO; United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); Department for International Development (DFID) and German Development Agency (GTZ).

The previous and current reform initiatives provide the platform for the Strategy proposed. It underscores, as a prerequisite, the need for stocktaking at the national and regional levels to determine the areas of convergence with respect to objectives and reform activities. It advocates that each country thoroughly review, consolidate and accelerate these reform initiatives as appropriate to the respective national circumstances. Particularly in the larger countries where there are multiple partners, there is need to critically assess areas where there may be duplication and consequent inefficiencies in the use of staff. This includes the need to stream-line activities to reduce the effects of “project fatigue,” which result from the varying guidelines and reporting demands of different agencies. There is also need to expedite implementation to achieve agreed targets, and assess impact to date. Importantly, current initiatives to strengthen management in areas such as data collection and analysis, to undertake sector analyses, policy formulation, and program development, should be accelerated since these are important to the reform process, and are all essential skills for effective project design, negotiation, project implementation, management and evaluation. Furthermore, enhanced financial management capabilities are critical to improving the efficiency of the system.

The Strategy

The Strategy emphasizes the need to remodel the education systems to cope with a future whose only certainty is change. It pre-supposes an integrated approach to Human Resource Development, and calls for focus on some fundamental questions:


The strategic objectives are:

The above-mentioned objectives will be realized through the following strategies:

A. Narrowing the Knowledge Gap

In order to address the knowledge and skills gap identified in the present labor force, as well as to ensure increased access and improved learning outcomes in the school age population, measures to acquire, generate, apply and disseminate knowledge must be put in place. Based on a clearly articulated life-long learning policy, countries will need to promote continual learning with a view to raising the mean educational level of the population to 50% with secondary level certification, and 25% with tertiary level qualifications by 2020. It will be important to:

B. Making the School the Focus of the Learning Community

At the center of knowledge acquisition, absorption, and transmission is the School. There will be need to:

C. Reducing Inequities in the School Systems

There is need to:

D. Strengthening Regional Cooperation for Global Competitiveness and a Goal of Educational Reform

Regional cooperation is deemed essential for the achievement of economic competitiveness. There are various mechanisms already in place. They do not, however, all operate effectively. The promotion of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes appropriate for regional integration must , therefore, be a major goal of the education system. Furthermore, the exigencies of size make collaboration mandatory if the ambitious educational objectives are to be realized. The region must:

E. Improving Education Financing and Management

All countries must focus attention on mechanisms to:

Caribbean Education Strategy Matrix
Developmental Objectives: An internationally competitive labor force and more effective and equitable education systems
Key StrategiesProcesses/ActivitiesOutcomesIndicators
Narrowing the knowledge gap· Universalize secondary education and improve completion rates for school age and out of school populations
  • Diversify tertiary level programs to meet market needs
  • Institute innovative measures to increase tertiary level participation and completion, including distance learning technologies, cooperative programs, student exchange etc.
  • Establish international standards for measuring the attainment of knowledge and skills
  • Establish measures to enhance research capacities- twinning arrangements, exchanges etc·
  • Diversified and flexible secondary and tertiary education delivery systems which provide various pathways to obtain required knowledge, skills and certification
  • Increase in the pool of persons with internationally acceptable skills
  • Greater knowledge available of key issues in education and major productive sectors..·
  • By 2020, a minimum of 60% of population possess upper secondary skills or higher
  • By 2020, the Region will have a 30% increase in persons with qualifications in science and technology at the post secondary level
  • By 2002 Caribbean Region will begin participation in IALS, PISA, and similar international surveys
  • By 2010 research output in key sectors including education increased by 30%
  • 30% of population have a working knowledge of at least one foreign language
  • Making the school and the classroom the center of focus of the education system.
  • Prepare and implement individual school development plans based on identified needs
  • Enhance the capacity of all principals and teachers to effectively manage the schools.
  • Allocate resources to schools in accordance with identified needs
  • Establish minimum standards for the effective delivery of education from pre-school to tertiary level
  • Qualitative improvements in student performance at all schools in accordance with agreed targets
  • More efficient management of educational institutions at all levels and increased capacity to develop and implement reform measures
  • By 2005, 30% increase in number of students attaining 5 CXC or equivalent passes in core subject areas
  • School plans, targets, performance data, quantitative and qualitative- available to the public
  • By 2010, 100% of all teachers and principals qualified and trained to implement reform programs;
  • By 2005, in-service programs for regular upgrade of teachers and principals developed and commenced implementation
  • Reducing inequities in the school system
  • Ensure equitable distribution of educational resources, and provision for special needs based on established regional standards
  • Develop and implement compensatory education, programs which emphasize the early acquisition of literacy skills, and the retention of poor students in school
  • Increase opportunities for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds to access tertiary and higher education
  • All schools have at least the minimum resources required in accordance with standards established
  • Increased percentage of children from lower socio-economic groups, and males successfully complete secondary and post secondary education
  • Analysis of Per capita distribution of resources to schools within each country
  • By 2005, 50% decrease in attrition of students from lower socio-economic groups
  • By 2005, opportunities for pre-school education made available to all children in lower-socio-economic groups
  • By 2010, 50% increase in completion of secondary level education of children at risk, including male students
  • By 2020, 30% increase in enrolment of students from lower socio-economic groups at post-secondary level
  • Strengthening regional collaboration
  • Document and disseminate information on available educational resources including regional expertise within and outside the Region
  • Enhance distance education methodologies·
  • Regional expertise (resident and non-resident) deployed to accelerate reform efforts
  • Educational resources shared across the Region
  • By 2005, Caribbean TV channels and web sites provide opportunities for interactive programs on educational issues, and sharing of resources
  • By 2005 Virtual Caribbean Institute for Educational Research and Planning in operation
  • 50% increase in programs for the promotion of Caribbean integration implemented by 2010
  • Enhancing educational financing
  • Strengthen the capacities within the entire education system from central level to the school, to conduct financial analyses, develop cost effective programs and manage the systems more efficiently.
  • Allocate more resources to the sector through mobilization of resources from private sector partnerships, and support from the international community
  • Develop a culture of accountability from Ministry to classroom level.
  • More efficient use of available resources
  • Links established between educational institutions and private sector
  • Greater financial resources made available to the sector from diversified sources·
  • Policies and practices regarding financial management in accordance with reform targets
  • Multilateral, bilateral and local contributions
  • Financial records from Ministries indicate equitable and efficient distribution and use of resources
  • Each Ministry has staff fully trained in financial management