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Education Structure in Jamaica

Formal education in Jamaica is provided mainly by the government solely or in partnership with churches or private trusts. The Education Act of 1980 stipulates that the public education system should consist of the following four levels: early childhood education (pre-school), primary education, secondary education and tertiary or higher education. Both public and private schools exist at all four levels of education.

Early Childhood (Preschool) Education

Early Childhood education, also known as Preschool, is a non-compulsory level of education offered at both public and private institutions to children between the ages of 3-5. In terms of public schooling, Early Childhood education is provided in Infant Schools and in Infant departments of some of the country’s primary-level schools. Nursery and Kindergarten departments of Independent Preparatory (private primary) schools also accept students at age 3.

Independent/Private schools are largely confined to the main urban centers. In addition, there are a number of community operated Basic schools. These cater to the largest number of students at the Early Childhood level. Basic schools that meet certain minimum requirements are eligible for government subsidies and are called Recognized Basic Schools.

Towards the conclusion of their Early Childhood education, children must sit for a “Grade One Individual Learning Profile (GOILP),” a battery that ascertains their capabilities and their ability to master skills and concepts taught at the Early Childhood level. This helps instructors tailor the curriculum to meet the needs of all students. The GOILP measures the proficiency level of students in six subtests, namely general knowledge, number concepts, oral language, reading, writing and drawing, work habits and classroom behavior.

The Early Childhood Commission, an agency affiliated with the Ministry of Education, is currently responsible for the regulation and supervision of Basic Schools and the training of Early Childhood practitioners.

The curriculum in Jamaica’s preschools is much more socially-based than it is academic. Students are provided instruction in pre-reading and pre-writing, basic counting, personal hygiene and safety, art and music. Perhaps more importantly, preschools serve as a setting at which students can hone their cooperativeness, learn to socialize with others, follow directions and just generally get along with other classmates. This helps them prepare for their primary education in the year(s) to come.

Primary Education

Primary education in Jamaica spans six years—grades one through six—and serves children from 6 to 11 years of age. Primary education is offered in Grades 1-6 of Primary Schools, Primary and Junior High (combination) Schools, and All-Age schools. It is also offered in Grades 1-6 of Preparatory schools.

In Jamaica, as in most countries, students are admitted to into the primary level of education at age 6. Primary schools are therefore designated feeder schools for all secondary schools in the country.

The basic curriculum in primary schools includes the following subjects, with the content matter becoming more advanced with every passing year: reading, Language Arts (English), Mathematics, Social Science, Science, Art, Music and Physical Education.

At the conclusion of Grade 6, all primary school students must sit for the Grade Six Achievement Examination (GSAT)—a requirement for advancing on to secondary education. Nearly 15 years ago, the GSAT replaced the Common Entrance Examination, which was phased out in 1999. The GSAT is the primary assessment instrument that is used by the Ministry of Education to place students into Grade Seven of Junior High/High School. The test is administered annually during March. The GSAT is a part of the National Assessment Program, an exam which assesses performance of students at the Primary school level. Other components of this National Assessment Program are the Grade One Individual Learning Profile, the Grade Three Diagnostic Test and the Grade Four Literacy Examination.

Based on the grade a student earns on the GSAT they are placed into High schools or the Secondary department of All Age and Primary and Junior High Schools. At the All-Age and Junior High Schools they can continue to Grades 7, 8 or 9, where they are allowed to sit the Technical Entrance Examination (in grade 8) for entry to Technical schools, and the Grade Nine Achievement Test (in Grade 9) to other types of High schools. These will give students another opportunity to gain entrance into the High school they desire to attend.

Secondary Education

The Secondary or High school system consists of two cycles. The first cycle commences in Grades 7-9 of All Age, Primary and Junior High schools, and High schools, including Technical High and Independent/Private High schools. The second cycle is provided in Grades 10 and 11 of these schools (with the exception of All Age and Primary and Junior High schools) and in the Agricultural, Technical and Vocational schools. At the end of Grade 11, students sit for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC), with subjects administered by the Caribbean Examinations Councils (CXC). Some High schools have a continuing education program, provided under the Career Advancement Program and the Sixth Form/Pre-university program (Grades 12 and 13), where students are prepared for entry into tertiary or higher education institutions. Students who are in Sixth Form sit for the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) at the end of Grades 12 and 13.

The curriculum at Jamaican secondary schools includes all of the following:

  • Language Arts and Literature
  • Mathematics—Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, etc.
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Earth Sciences
  • Health Sciences
  • History—World History and Jamaican History
  • Geography
  • IT
  • Foreign Language(s)
  • Art
  • Music
  • Physical Educatio

Towards the latter half of their secondary education, students can elect to pursue an educational track that is more vocational in nature, helping them to learn a skill or trade through which they can land employment following graduation.

High schools also offer the first opportunity for extra-curricular activities, ranging anywhere from student government to performance arts to team sports.

Tertiary or Higher Education in Jamaica

Post-secondary and tertiary-level programs in Jamaica are offered by a wide variety of institutions, including teacher training colleges, community colleges, vocational training centers and institutes, the Vocational Training Development Institute, schools of midwifery and nursing (offering three-year program leading to a diploma), the University of the West Indies (a regional institution), and the University of Technology.  Each of these differs somewhat in history, mission, philosophy, and to a lesser extent, in the programs they offer and structure.

In the teacher training colleges, a teaching certificate (for primary education) usually takes roughly two years of study plus an additional year of internship for holders of the Jamaica School Certificate; programs leading to a teaching certificate/diploma (primary and secondary education) usually last three years for holders of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate.

Multi-disciplinary community colleges in Jamaica offer pre-university, professional, commercial, and upper-level vocational training in a variety of fields, as well as community-oriented courses; most of the programs offered in community colleges lead to the conferment of diplomas, certificates and associate degrees. Some of the community colleges have satellite campuses, and they can also offer bachelors and postgraduate degrees in affiliation with local or foreign universities. Associate degree programs typically span two years beyond the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC), administered by the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC). They represent two years of a four-year degree program; in some cases an associate degree is accepted for admission to a bachelor’s degree program. while in others it is only considered a first-year credential of a three-year bachelor’s degree program.

At Jamaican universities, bachelor’s degrees normally take three years of study to complete (five years in the case of medicine and surgery) for holders of GCE A-level qualifications, and four years for holders of the CSEC. Master’s degree programs normally require two additional years of study beyond the bachelor’s degree and the submission of a thesis or a research paper. Doctoral degree programs, although not very prevalent in the country, generally last three more years (full-time) or five years (part-time) beyond the master’s degree. Higher certificates and diploma courses are also available.

Many students may opt to pursue their tertiary studies through off-shore institutions. The offshore institutions’ main campuses are located outside of Jamaica, but they offer programs through various departments located in Jamaica.

All tertiary or higher education institutions were established in response to educational needs at different times and offer not just degrees, but also certificates and diplomas. The main accreditation body for tertiary institutions and their programs is the University Council of Jamaica.

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