Educating the Educators: The World Bank and the Jamaican School System

One of Jamaica’s greatest assets is its educated population and improving school system. Jamaica based its educational system off of that of the United Kingdom, its former colonist. Primary education is free and compulsory for the first 6 years. Secondary education and beyond is not free, and attendance is lower. Jamaica has, however, made great improvements in its secondary education in recent years, as part of the focus of a recent program supported by the World Bank.

The recent effort with the World Bank to improve education identified several key challenges. These include “shortcomings in teaching and learning quality, equitable access, and enrollment at the higher levels of the secondary system.” Jamaican early childhood education has an enrollment rate of 62.7%, much higher than any of its neighbors in the Caribbean. Early childhood education, coupled with a net enrollment rate of 90.6% in primary school has led to Jamaica’s literacy rate improving from 50% in 1974 to 87% in 2016. As demonstrated by the graph, gross enrollment is actually declining, as students in the past all took advantage of the primary education system. Now more people get through primary education and have begun to enroll in age-appropriate schooling.

To improve enrollment at higher levels, Jamaica embarked on a program of both investing in facilities, as well as training faculty and staff. From the World Bank report, 90% of schools have instituted improvement plans focused on improving student learning, and new school buildings have gone up all across the country, leading to an end in the “double-shift,” where schools would have two separate sessions a day. Jamaican schools now offer classes focused on tourism and hospitality, demonstrating the awareness of Jamaican education officials to the economic needs of the country. Furthermore, 95% of teachers in Jamaica have met the requisite standard and are registered in Jamaica. However, there is still much room to grow, as only about half of teachers and administrators are licensed at a rigorous and professional level.

The combination of World Bank advice and a variety of public and private organizations has led to a comprehensive program for reforming many facets of the Jamaican education system. Jamaica is an excellent example of the importance of developed nations assisting less developed countries in expanding their education systems. The guidance from the world bank has helped reenergize a stagnating school system. Coupled with a dedicated Ministry of Education, Jamaica has begun to see its educational system improve beyond the primary years.


To what extent is World Bank involvement beneficial? Or should Jamaica be solving its problems independently?

Is education investment enough? Are there reforms in other areas that will also help to improve human capital growth?

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16 Responses to Educating the Educators: The World Bank and the Jamaican School System

  1. the prof says:

    Or (to link to a previous blog post) is there too much investment in education? Why pay for schools if those who finish move out? [I’ve heard this logic here in Rockbridge County, too: other locations poach our graduates, so why should we pay taxes to fund schools? [And among retirees: I don’t have any kids/grandkids here, I don’t want higher taxes.]

    • inglism18 says:

      Good schools, at least in our developed country, attract parents who wish good education on their children. These parents are likely of working age given the typical fertility ages, and hence, these parents can contribute to the local work force. As a result, housing prices are driven up and more stores are opened. The resulting town improvements ensue.

      • ferrise20 says:

        I agree – It seems like school district lines in the US can be a big factor for families deciding between different neighborhoods. If certain parishes and cities in Jamaica have better education systems than others, wouldn’t they attract families with educated parents (and therefore higher human capital), because they want their kids in good schools? Also, isn’t the goal of classes geared toward the tourism and hospitality industries to retain workers who can be productive in the Jamaican economy (since tourism & service account for such a large portion of GDP)?

        • the prof says:

          This is the Tiebout Hypothesis. But it’s a weak force, it’s much harder for an average person to move.
          My hunch, though, is that entrance to high schools is by competitive exam. So where you live is less of an issue.

  2. inglism18 says:

    What strikes me most about the Jamaican case here is the lack of just foreign aid money. Too often does it seem like a developed country can only aid a developing country through monetary investment (whether it is cash, arms, or food). However, the developed world has tools and systems in place that can be applied to institutions in developing countries, aiding them through advice. This is the case here, and it appears to have been successful – sometimes throwing money at something isn’t the answer. I don’t believe we should leave developing countries like Jamaica to their own devices, as it costs developed countries relatively little to lift them up. We can all benefit from an advanced world.

    • nutiw18 says:

      I fully agree. Dumping money into unestablished systems often results in major failures. Advice from a country where school systems are established and running well could help set the framework for better education. However, if Jamaica does not begin to retain their best and brightest students, then this issue becomes irrelevant.

  3. shelbyc18 says:

    The World Bank’s involvement is good here, but more needs to be done to encourage kids to stay in Jamaica after their schooling. Tourism and hospitality classes help some, but kids with higher aspirations will still go elsewhere for work. This issue isn’t one for Jamaica to handle alone because they need more investment and guidance. Further development of their service sector will entice more citizens to stay in the country and help grow the economy, but this requires more aid.

  4. wheelers19 says:

    I believe that Jamaica’s investment in the education of its youth is a great one. However, to prevent the educated from leaving the island in search of jobs due to the island’s limited job market, the country should be making at least an equal investment in entrepreneurship to encourage new or existing companies to locate here and hire these graduates. This will also raise the enrollment rates by providing jobs as enticement for students to go to school. The service sector is already expanded so the focus should be on upper level science and technology or even industry as to decrease imports through domestic production.

  5. khanm18 says:

    Its a great sight to see the focus by the Jamaican government on the education of its youth. However, Im curious to know the percentage of foreign aid in regards to the education system in Jamaica. In addition to that, what is the retention rate of Jamaican high schools. In other words, do students typically look to leave Jamaican in search for higher education at all?

    As time goes, I think it is very important that Jamaica helps to develop enough resources in order to increase the level of professionals that are able to teach on a professional level.

  6. willinghamt19 says:

    It seems like education policy in Jamaica has been fairly successful. Interestingly, you all credit some of this success to the world bank. Perhaps continued work from the world bank could lead to significantly improved development prospects in many nations?

    I do wonder how much education outcomes in Jamaica are related to the Jamaican diaspora you all wrote about previously. Maybe offering a primary education to its population creates an increased desire for higher education in the Jamaican population. Jamaica may not possess sufficient capacity regarding higher education. Therefore, many Jamaicans look elsewhere for education. Essentially, Jamaica is educating its citizens just enough so that they may leave the country, seeking education elsewhere.

  7. platerb18 says:

    It would be interesting to see if there was any correlation between the new classes and diaspora. I would think educating kids about culture of tourists (British, Americans, Australians, etc.) may expose them to what life is like in those areas. In many cases, the lives of tourists would appear preferable to an ambitious student. The education focus on service industries may improve aspects of the industry, but is it really a good tool for furthering development in the long-run?
    The World Bank has certainly played a significant role in Jamaica’s education system, but it goes to show that Jamaica faces larger issues when talent is leaving the country to go elsewhere.

  8. lencionik19 says:

    Educational improvements are a great place to start increasing human capital. Providing basic education is much easier than secondary education. The World Bank’s involvement appears to be necessary for these educational reforms and unless Jamaica transitions to a more self sufficient system, the help of the World Bank will continues to be needed. Providing more opportunities for teachers to get proper licenses will make education more beneficial for students. Hopefully Jamaica’s good example of educational reform will be recognized and adapted by its fellow Caribbean countries.

  9. the prof says:

    Is it better to educate the many, knowing that some will move out? Would it be ethical, or feasible, to force high school graduates to stay in the country?

    • bryantc18 says:

      This is a difficult question. I don’t think there is a feasible or ethical way to force graduates to stay; their own investment in education is based on their desire to flourish and pursue opportunity wherever it may be. Perhaps Jamaica could offer incentives for people to stay, such as offering to subsidize college abroad if they promise to return for a few years. Such a program would be expensive and possibly ineffective, however.

      Thinking long-term, a better education system, leading to a stronger, more advanced economy may entice talented Jamaicans to stay, but the transition from the economy’s current state to a state where people actually want to stay is likely long, and difficult for policymakers to realize the benefits of.

      Also, a more educated population, even if moving abroad, can lead to remittance transfer or investment in the country years down the road. I know an earlier post referenced Jamaica’s large diaspora in the UK and US, and how it’s becoming more active in sending money for economic development in Jamaica. An indirect means of development, of course, but still valuable nonetheless.

      Education is expensive, and the benefits are not always clear if people leave. But a long-run view of education is to Jamaica’s benefit.

  10. Mac Zheng says:

    It is pretty clear that the main focal point of the Jamaican government is to invest in human capital. A clear way to do that is through educational investments. The stats have shown that investments in education has improved literacy rate in Jamaica. A solid strategy that Jamaica has pursued is investing in teacher requirements.

    • inglism18 says:

      Good points, Mac. Are there other ways that the Jamaican government can invest in human capital? One way I immediately think of is the alternative to formal education: work experience. The government could create an apprenticeship program that gives professional students a way to learn about existing industries, providing immediate support to the industry rather than down the line. While I do not believe this approach is independently a long-term approach, I do believe a mix of this and investment in education should allow for all citizens to take the path best for them.

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