Errol Miller


Madam Chairman Mrs Esther Tyson, Custos the Honourable R.O. C.Walters, Minister of Education the Honourable Andrew Holness, Rev. Dr Gordon Cowans Principal of Knox College, Mrs Sharon Reid President of the Caribbean Association of Secondary School Principals, Dr Dicadus Jules Registrar of the Caribbean Examinations Council, Mrs. Margaret Campbell Principal of St Georges College, Deacon Ronald Thwaites Opposition Spokesman on Education, Mr Rhuel Reid Chairman of the National Council on Education, distinguished Principals of Secondary Schools of the Caribbean, and Guests I am delighted to share in this conference and highly privileged to be asked to give this keynote address. I must immediately confess that I am in the process of writing a book on Universal Secondary Education in the Caribbean and therefore have more than a passing interest in the topic. Then again, I am a parent of a daughter who will enter Grade 11/Fifth Form in September and whose education to date includes schooling in Jamaica, Barbados and the Bahamas. Therefore, I have had some small parental taste of schooling in the Caribbean. Equally informative are the insights gained from a granddaughter who having completed secondary schooling in the United States, done very well and obtained a scholarship to a highly reputed US University, but considered too young to enter university at age 16 years, came to Jamaica and did CAPE 1 at St Andrews High School. Her view was that CAPE made her much better prepared to enter university. Further, in recent years under the auspices of the Caribbean Development Bank I have done evaluations of secondary schools in Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines and under different auspices looked at secondary education in Belize. So, I come to this Topic as a parent, grandparent, consultant and researcher with a keen desire to contribute to this most important dialogue on the future of Caribbean secondary education.

I am acutely aware that the Caribbean Association of Principals of Secondary Schools represents the body with the most up-to-date knowledge and experience of Caribbean Secondary Education. Hence, what I have to say will be extremely familiar to all present. My goal therefore is to present the familiar in a manner that will provoke fresh thinking. Further, the geography of our region often constrains our knowledge of phenomena within national borders. Therefore, another of my goals is to stimulate the pooling of this vast knowledge that you have, so that it crosses these political and geographical borders.

In this presentation I wish to do the following

  1. Locate the 21st Century in the history of human civilisation.
  2. Briefly outline the four technological revolutions in the human history and the tectonic changes in governance, economy and beliefs that are correlates of these technological revolutions and some of the evolutionary changes that follow.
  3. Trace the invention of schooling as single-tier institution and its subsequent differentiation into a two-tier and then three-tier structure.  
  4. Define the Caribbean and briefly describe Caribbean diversity
  5. Briefly outline the history of Caribbean Secondary Education and survey its current status, strengths and concerns.
  6. Identify contemporary imperatives confronting Caribbean countries in a regionalizing and globalizing world.
  7. Highlight the need for conceptual clarity and the necessity to develop a Caribbean Philosophy of Secondary Education
  8. Stress the strategic importance of Caribbean Secondary Education to the future of Caribbean civilisation and society in the twenty-first century


The 21st Century has begun, and we happen to be living, at the beginning of the fourth major technological revolution in the history of human civilisation. Digital technology, the microprocessor and fibre optics have combined to create this revolution. It has started to affect and change communication, entertainment, factories, offices, schools, libraries, transportation, warfare and just above every facet of society. This pervasive impact is one of the marks of a major technological revolution. The hallmark of this revolution is that ‘things’ are becoming smart. Cars can talk. Lights can switch themselves on and off. Trains can run, and planes can fly by remote control.

Judging by the other three such revolutions, what is to follow are evolutionary changes as human creativity applies itself to the working out and working through of applications of the new technologies. In this regard we are at the beginning of the revolution called the information revolution.

It is important to note that technological revolutions are not restricted only to technological transformation. Correlated to technological revolutions are tectonic shifts in governance, in economic activity, in wealth creation, in belief systems, in social systems and in schooling. It is therefore instructive to look back at the other three technological revolutions and the tectonic shifts that occurred to glean some inkling of the broad contours of the nature of period we have entered, the twenty-first century.


There have been three technological revolutions prior to the current information revolution. The first was the agricultural revolution, the second the revolution in agricultural productivity and the third the industrial revolution. Each will be discussed in turn, with reference to tectonic shifts and the invention and evolution of secondary schooling.

The Agricultural Revolution

The agricultural revolution was the first technological revolution. It is estimated to have begun around 10,000 BCE. Its genius was in the cultivation of crops and the domestication of animals. This allowed some nomadic lineages and clans to settle in small villages and to engage in subsistent farming. Autonomous lineages and clans began to settle places and to live in these places on a continuing yearlong basis.  Subsistent agriculture became the new engine of wealth creation. The temple became the first public space to be established, somewhere around 5300 BCE. The temple was not only housing for the gods and the centre of ritual observances and worship of the gods but also common space at the elders of autonomous lineages and clans sought to make collective decisions and resolve differences. The temple was also the centre of economic exchange in the form of agricultural surplus produced by different lineages and clans required. Such exchanges required divine sanction and had to be seal with sacred vows. The priesthood was the first non-manual occupation. Priests were there involved in ritual observances, collective decision-making by the group and presided over economic exchange

The Revolution in Agricultural Productivity and the Invention Writing and Schooling

The second major technological revolution was in agricultural productivity. It came about in first in Sumer during the fourth millennium BCE with the invention sophisticated systems of irrigation, the metal plough, the wheel, and the harness which allowed domesticated animals such as the ox, and later the horse, to provide the energy to draw the plough. These technological inventions revolutionised agricultural productivity by allowing much larger areas of land to be cultivated. These inventions also transformed transportation, communication, warfare, residence and governance. By 3500 BCE walled cities, entered by gates, arose in Sumer first at Ur, Nippur and Kish. Each city was surrounded by a necklace of small towns, villages and hamlets and separated from other cities by large stretches of un-irrigated lands which allowed nomadic lineages space to continue to roam. A warrior class arose to provide the protection for cities. The greatest warriors became the kings of cities. Temple centred democracy gave way to autocratic city states ruled by kings.

One or more priests of the Sumerian civilisation first invented writing between 3300 and 3100 BCE. Writing was invented by priests as a means of improving accountability and enhancing public trust in light of the substantial increase in the agricultural surplus that were exchanged and the increasing numbers of groups involved in those exchanges. The scribal art became an occupation of some priests within the temple.

The palace of kings was the new public space created by the revolution in agricultural productivity.

Schools were the creation of the palace as ancient cities emerged and kings desired to have their own scribes to keep the accounts that were needed to levy taxes. The first evidence of schools dates to about 2500 BCE. The eduba of Sumer was a school, scriptorium and library. Teachers, publishers and librarians have a common origin. In a nutshell, teaching and learning; writing and producing texts; and the storage of those texts originated together.

At the dawn of formal schooling, students entered the academy as children and left as adults. These first schools were single-tier integrated institutions. The curriculum covered the entire spectrum of instruction from basic skills to specialised knowledge. The academy provided vocational training for scribes. The academy prepared scribes for the task of public administration in temples and palaces. Schools operated for centuries in the ancient civilisation as a single-tier integrated institution.

The first differentiation of schooling was into a two-tiered structure. There is generally agreement that this took place first in ancient Greece. Several factors seemed to have influenced this development including the fact that several prominent citizens including Plato advocated education for all freed men. Hence, a lower tier of elementary schools was introduced to promote education and literacy among certain men. Kings and important members of their courts and priests, who were not going to be scribes, needed to be able to read what the scribes wrote. They also needed to learn to write for themselves. Schooling at this elementary level included the basic skills of reading, writing and religious instruction. It omitted the specialised knowledge of public administration. It was therefore of a lower level but parallel of schooling to the academy. Schooling operated for a few thousand years with these two tiers, elementary and academy. The terminology varied in cultures and civilisations.

Secondary Schooling as a Stage on the Education Ladder

The emergency of schooling as a three-tier structure consisting of elementary, grammar and university is neither standard across the world, nor logical, nor linear, nor neat. Given the fact that our focus is Caribbean, it is most economical to refer to the emergence of the secondary tier in the three-tier structure of schooling in England.

By the end of the twelfth century the town of Oxford had already become a centre of learning. A Chancellor was named in 1201 and by 1231 the masters were recognised as a universitas. In 1209 a dispute arose between students of the University and town’s folk of Oxford led to some masters leaving to form their universitas in the town of Cambridge. In other words, by the end of the first decade of the Thirteenth century, the two universities that formed the English university system, until the eighteenth century, had been established.  The founding of Oxford and Cambridge came shortly after the establishment of the University of Paris, the first University in Western Europe.

Generally speaking, up to the point of the founding of Oxford and Cambridge, and indeed the University of Paris, the pattern in England and Western Europe was for bishops and abbots to found schools in cathedrals and monasteries. In the cathedral the bishop appointed the Chancellor who was responsible for the education programme of the cathedral and the parish churches in that jurisdiction. This system produced scholar priests that were engaged in various aspects of the work of the church. It is somewhat of a simplification, but reasonably accurate, to say that in the formation of the universitas, corporations of scholars with their own chancellors, was independent collective action by scholars among the clergy to serve the common and greater good of the church. Essentially what this arrangement allowed was for monks, friars and priests of different orders, and from different regions of the realm, through the establishment of colleges and foundations within the university, to co-exist and corporate without losing their identities. Clearly, this had the blessing of the hierarchy of the church, since the chancellors were appointed by the Archbishop and the mission of the university was to better educate the clergy.

The creation of the university meant in reality that education for the clergy was at two levels: that of the monastery and the cathedral and that of the university. It took over three hundred years before this structure of education of the clergy was rationalised.

During the period in which the education of the clergy was rationalised, between the beginning of the thirteenth century and the middle of the sixteenth century, there were five developments that were of significant importance to this rationalisation. These can be summarised briefly as follows:

  • The establishment of minimum ages at which youth could take the vows as monks, friars and nuns and the raising of that age to somewhere between eighteen and twenty years.
  • The differentiation of the upper stage of the curriculum of the trivium, quadrivium and liberal arts such that these were done at the university along with those specialised areas such as medicine.
  • The creation of grammar schools to teach the lower level of the trivium, quadrivium, and liberal arts but were also open to boys wishing to pursue careers in commerce and the courts.
  • The closure of most monasteries in the 1540s by Henry VIII and the assignment of their schools to cathedrals.
  • The metamorphosis of cathedral schools into grammar schools.


The three-tier structure of schooling that emerged in England by the middle of the sixteenth century was for the training the clergy and for boys pursuing careers in commerce and in the courts. It consisted of the preparatory school, the grammar school and the university. Grammar schools admitted students at twelve or thirteen years and prepared them for entry to university.

The philosophy of secondary education emerging from this history is secondary schooling as a stage or level of education. In other words, secondary education is the second stage or level of the education ladder.  The three basic premises of this philosophy of secondary education are follows:

  1. Entry to secondary education is predicated on mastery of the first stage, that is, of foundations: literacy, numeracy and basic understandings of the physical and social environments.
  2. The purpose of this secondary education is to prepare students for tertiary education. Hence success at the secondary level is assessed in relation to fulfilling the matriculation requirements of tertiary education.
  3. Students of the first stage that do not master the foundations are excluded. Also, to move on the higher education students from this second stage, students must successfully meet the matriculation standards or be excluded from entry to university. In other words, secondary education is a filter for higher education.

This philosophy of secondary education highlights it intermediary status in the education system and its dependent relationships on both primary and tertiary education. Non-mastery of the prerequisites virtually excludes students from the secondary level. On the other hand, the standard and content of secondary education evolves and changes with the evolution of tertiary or university education.

The point that must not be missed is that this philosophy of secondary education as the second stage of education has a history of six to seven hundred years whether such history is traced through the grammar school of England or the lyceum of France of the gymnasium of Germany. This rationale of secondary education is linked directly to the mainstream of the history of schooling, itself. It is part of the ladder and logic of education. Further, it is intimately related to vocational training for priests and public administrators. Interestingly this stream of education has been labelled academic or classical. The occupations coming from this stream include priests, lawyers, doctors, scientists and civil servants.

The Industrial Revolution and Secondary Education for the World of Work

The industrial revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is the third great revolution in human civilisation. In a nutshell if someone left the world in 1500 BCE and returned in 1500 CE they could still recognise the world that they had left. However, if someone left the world in 1500 CE and returned in 1900 CE they would no longer recognise the world they had left. Then again if someone left the world in 1900 and returned in 2000 they would be totally lost.

Like the revolution in agricultural productivity the impact of the industrial revolution was pervasive. It changed economies, transportation, communication, recreation, warfare, schooling and led to greater degrees of urbanisation. The Industrial revolution demanded education and training in skills that were outside those required by the clergy and public administration. While it demanded that persons trained in these technical skills be literate and numerate it also demanded education and training beyond the primary level. The Industrial revolution had very limited impact of elementary education but profound impact of secondary and higher education.

Historically technical skills were acquired through apprenticeship to a master craftsman. Over time each technical skill area organised itself by Guilds. These Guilds set performance standards, governed the gradation and relation between master craftsman and novice apprentice, established rates of compensation for skill levels and moderated the relationship between artisans and clients.

Evans (2006) traced the development of technical and vocational education in Britain through the creation of Mechanics Institutes by various Guilds, followed by Working Men Colleges, and then the creation of Technical Colleges, the Trade School Movement, Technical Schools, the City and Guild of London Institute and its examinations, and the emergence of Polytechnics as different stages in what first emerged as a parallel stream of education to the classical or academic stream.

This second philosophy of secondary education is that of education beyond the primary level, but which is directed to preparation for work in occupations outside the church and public administration. In other words, it is secondary schooling that provides skills and training to support an industrial economy. This philosophy emerged over time as craft guilds gave way to schools in the training of apprentices. A good example of this transition was the German Berufschule which admitted apprentices thus allowing them to combine formal education with training on the job. Trade schools, as they were called in the nineteenth century, became the precursors of technical and vocational secondary schools which became common place in the latter half of the twentieth century.

There are five important characteristics of this philosophy of secondary education that must be noted. These are:

  • It is practical skills oriented and geared to the world of work.
  • It is work oriented and therefore considered to be terminal education for a large segment of its students although some are expected to continue to higher education.
  • It is second choice secondary education geared largely to those who had not sufficiently excelled at the primary level to be selected for the more academic curriculum.
  • It is a stage of education following primary level although parallel to the academic stream of education.
  • It is provided in technical or vocational schools different from the grammar school.


Secondary Education and the Nation State

The middle of the seventeenth century witnessed the beginning of the formation of nation-states from within the religious empires that had dominated the world for at least 1000 years. The nation-state is premised on the rights of all nationals enshrined in constitutional law. By the end of the eighteenth century the notion had emerged that all children of the nation had the right to primary or first stage education. Indeed, the spread of primary education became a principal means of mobilising the polity for nationhood. By the end of the nineteenth century universal primary education had become the policy of most countries of Western Europe.

The election of Andrew Jackson as president of the United States in 1828 highlighted the power of manhood suffrage, where all men over the age of 21 years, who were not slaves, had the right to vote. To this point leadership in the United States was drawn from the college educated elite. Jackson was a man of people. Allied to this was massive immigration into the United States following opportunities that developed through industrialisation, especially in the North East. This spurred the common school movement, started in New England states and which spread across all states by the end of the nineteenth century. The mission and thrust of the common school movement was to create Americans. This meant providing all nationals with both primary and secondary education. In a nutshell universal secondary education had its origin in the United States and became a reality in the first decades of the 20th century. This created a third philosophy of secondary education based on rights of nationals of particular age cohorts.

The common school movement provided elementary and secondary education. Both the elementary school and the high school were a single type of public school to which all students went. Both the elementary school and the high school were located in the neighbourhood. Progression from elementary school to high school was automatic. There were no performance standards set. Exit from high school was by graduation which was neighbourhood or district determined.

In addition to its nationalistic goal, this third philosophy of secondary education is that it is education for a stage of human development, adolescence. As such secondary education is education for an intermediary stage in human development. Hence, secondary schooling should begin for students of about 12 years old and end at about 18 years old. In other words, entry marked the end of childhood and exit marked the end of adolescence. The goal of secondary education is to produce nationals with wholesome values irrespective of their level of intellectual achievement.

In this philosophy secondary education is offered in one type of school, the public or common or comprehensive school. These secondary schools are by and large located in the neighbourhoods in which students live. The curriculum in the early grades of the secondary school is common to all students who are exposed to virtually all subjects. The curriculum of the later grades of the secondary school usually includes a common core which includes at a minimum the official language and mathematics and electives chosen from among foreign languages, sciences, history, geography, social studies, technical subjects, vocational subjects, the visual and performing arts and physical education. The school caters to students of varying abilities, aptitudes and interests.

From this perspective secondary education is the right of all students and must cater for students of different capabilities, levels of attainment, aptitudes and rates of development within the same institutional framework. The main pitfall of this approach is that by not requiring the attainment of standards as the basis of promotion from one grade to the next or from primary to secondary school, performance and merit as the bases of progress are either undermined or compromised. Further, illiterate students are automatically transferred from primary to secondary school.

This view of secondary education is inclusive and adopts as its modus operandi universal design education, which manifest flexibility in designing instruction appropriate to the varying needs of students in the societies in which they are located. However, it leaves many of the included students behind in relation to norms required of successful secondary education.


The information revolution is the fourth major technological revolution in the history of human civilisation. We trace its beginning to the latter half of the twentieth century. Like the other great technological revolutions its impact is pervasive. It has affected communication, work, entertainment, warfare, recreation, transportation and education.

From the lessons learned from previous technological revolutions the impact on education and schooling will be profound. The exact direction and nature of the impact are in their very early stages. Some pundits and advocates predict the end of schooling as we know it and point to the emergence of new learning systems involving centres, on-line instruction and management and provision mainly by the private sector and not the state. This perspective is essentially radical.

The applications of the new technologies within established school systems have been more evolutionary. These can be listed mainly as follows:

  1. Making information more readily available to teachers and students through searches on the Internet.
  2. Publicising information about schools through web-sites and emails.
  3. Enhancing instruction
  4. Improving management
  5. Enhancing communication among teachers, students and with parents.
  6. Augmenting preparation for examinations.
  7. Increasing access to underserved segments of populations, this is mainly at the tertiary level.
  8. Creating communities of collaboration among principals, teachers and some categories of students.

The focus of this presentation is Caribbean secondary education in the twenty first century. Further comments on the information revolution and schooling are best reserved for after the discussion of the Caribbean context.


One of the great developments in education in the twentieth century was the expansion of secondary education to the extent that some countries, particularly of the Western World, achieved universal provision for secondary schooling. However, countries differed in the institutional arrangements made for expanded secondary schooling based upon their history and philosophy. In the United States, for example, secondary education was provided in the public or private high school, which was a common school. However, there have been three different segmentations of the twelve years of primary and secondary schooling: eight years of elementary schooling followed by four years of high schooling; six years of elementary schooling followed by three years of junior high school and then three years of senior high school; and four years of elementary school followed by four years of middle school and then four years of high school.

In Western European tradition and philosophies secondary education has been provided in different types of secondary schools, with a selection mechanism governing the transition from elementary to the different types of secondary schools. In England, over time, the types of secondary schools have been grammar schools, secondary modern schools, technical schools, vocational schools and comprehensive schools. Entry from the elementary school, of nine years duration, to the grammar school was at age 11+ via the Common Entrance Examination. Entrance to technical school was one year later via the Technical Entrance Examination. Those not making it to the grammar or technical schools remained in the elementary or the secondary modern school. The Comprehensive School mirrored the American common school. No entrance examination was required. Grammar, Comprehensive and Technical Schools have been parallel types of secondary school within the same system of secondary schooling.


The UNESCO 2005 Paper “Towards a Convergence of Knowledge Acquisition and Skills Development” adopts the view of secondary education as education designed for adolescents, and therefore for a stage of human development but at the same time seeks to map the processes and efforts being made to merge and reconcile the knowledge or academic education with skills and technical education. The paper specifically addresses issues related to merging the so-called academic and technical vocation streams that are characteristic of the philosophies of secondary education which regard the latter as a stage of education above the elementary level. Accordingly, the paper documents attempts being made, and models being adopted in Western European countries, and some other countries that had adopted the Western European philosophy, to move away from the dichotomy of different types of secondary schools or streams of secondary education which compartmentalised knowledge acquisition and skills development.


The English language, British colonial history and shores being washed by the Caribbean Sea define the Commonwealth Caribbean. Within these three common criteria resides a great deal of diversity.

Geographic Location and Size of Land Mass

Physical geography is at the root of the definition and diversity of the Commonwealth Caribbean. If one ignores the fact that Bermuda only meets two of the three defining characteristics, in that none of its shores are not washed by the Caribbean Sea, in geographical terms the Commonwealth Caribbean is comprised of sixteen island and two continental countries. These eighteen countries stretch from Bermuda in the North to Trinidad and Tobago in the South and from Belize in the West to Guyana in the East. The sub-region spans three time zones and thousands of miles of sea and ocean.

Guyana is a continental country with an area of 93,000 square miles, that is, bigger is size than Great Brittan. On the other hand, Montserrat is a single island of approximately 40 square miles. Belize the other continental country is twice the size of Jamaica, which is the largest of the islands with a large area of approximately 4244 square miles. Barbados, Dominica and St Lucia which are also single island states, like Anguilla, Jamaica and Montserrat, are all less than 400 square miles in land area.

The Bahamas is an archipelago covering over 100,000 square miles in which there are 700 islands with a total land area of 5382 square miles. However, only about 20 of the islands are permanently inhabited. On the other hand, Bermuda consists of 138 islands with a total land mass of 20.6 square miles. Between these limits of the Bahamas and Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, British Virgin Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago are all multi-island states.

The physical geography of the Commonwealth Caribbean almost presents a recipe for the development of mentalities of isolationism. The history of the Commonwealth Caribbean placed the unifying centre in England, that is, outside the Caribbean.


Demographic composition is another root of Commonwealth Caribbean definition and diversity. Invariably Commonwealth Caribbean populations are comprised of ethnic groups having their ancestry in Europe, Africa, India and the Middle East. Some countries like Belize and Guyana and to a much less extent Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines have groups of Amerindian origins. While the proportions of these groups vary from country to country it is accurate to say that with the exception of Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago where persons of Indian ancestry constitute the majority, and in Belize where persons of Mestizo backgrounds are the majority, in all other countries it is persons of African ancestry that constitutes the majority with the other groups being in the minority, to varying degrees.

The analysis of Commonwealth Caribbean social diversity has long been a part of historical and sociological studies. However, demographic features such as size of population, birth rates, death rates, population growth and migration patterns should not be, but are often, ignored in education policy discussion. Accordingly, the diversity highlighted here relates to the sizes of the populations, migration patterns and growth rates. Table 1 below shows some of these aspects of Commonwealth Caribbean countries.

Table 1

Commonwealth Caribbean Populations: Estimated in July 2007

CountriesPopulationLife Expect at BirthTotal Fertility RateBirths per 1000Death Rate per 1000Net

Immigration per 1000

Pop Growth


Antigua & Barbuda69,48172.422.2316.625.30-6.020.527
British Virgin Is.23,55276.861.7214.824.428.831.923
Cayman Islands46,60080.21.8912.64.9817.342.496
St Kitts and Nevis39,34972.662.2917.898.16-3.510.623
St Lucia170,64974.082.1519.288.16-1.281.297
St Vincent & the Grend.118,14974.091.8116.025.97-7.580.248
Trinidad and Tobago1,056, 60866.851.7413.0710.76-11.13-0.883
Turks & Caicos  Is21,74674.953.0221.484.239.982.722

Source: Compiled from the World Fact Book 2008

From Table 1 it can be seen that the estimates of the population of Commonwealth Caribbean countries in 2007 indicate that the sub-region had an overall population of just under 6,000,000 persons. The sizes of the population of the 18 countries ranged from a low of 9538 in Montserrat to a high of 2,780,132 in Jamaica. Apart from Jamaica only Trinidad and Tobago had a population of over 1,000,000 followed by Guyana with 789,286 persons. All other countries had populations of less than 400,000 persons with 10 of the 18 countries having populations less than 100,000 persons. In a nutshell, irrespective of the land mass of the 18 countries all Commonwealth Caribbean countries are small or micro states.

Table 1 also shows the following patterns:

  • Commonwealth Caribbean countries all enjoy good to excellent life expectancy at birth ranging from a low of 65.21 years in Grenada to 80.2 years in the Cayman Islands.
  • Death rates are low to moderate ranging from 4.23 per thousand in the Turks and Caicos Islands to 10.76 per thousand in Trinidad and Tobago.
  • The total fertility rate as an average of the number of children born per woman in the population is below the replacement rate of 2.0 in eight of the countries, at the replacement rate in Guyana, and just slightly above the replacement rate in seven of the other countries.
  • Only in Belize and the Turks and Caicos island is the total fertility rate above 2.5 children per woman in the population.
  • The number of birth per thousand range from 11.26 in Bermuda and 28.34 in Belize.
  • Belize is the only population that is growing as a result of natural increase in the number of births in the population, while the Turks and Caicos is growing both as a result of natural increase in births and net immigration.
  • With the exception of Montserrat, the British Dependencies are all experiencing positive immigration.
  • Among the twelve independent countries, with the exception of Belize, all are experiencing negative net immigration with Trinidad and Tobago having the highest rate at 11.13 persons per 1000.
  • Only three countries have population growth rates greater than 2.00 per cent. These are Belize, Cayman Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands with the growth rate in the latter being 2.722 per cent.
  • Four countries: St Lucia, Anguilla, British Virgin Islands and Montserrat have population growth rates greater than 1.00 per cent but less than 1.5 per cent.
  • Eight countries have population growth rates greater than 0.0 per cent but below 1.00 per cent.
  • Trinidad and Tobago has negative population growth.


Linguistic Traditions

While all countries have English as their official language, there is great diversity with respect to other languages spoken in the different countries. These language differences largely reflect colonial history and to a lesser extent geographic location.

In the Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, Bahamas, Cayman, the Turks and Caicos Islands and Jamaica the other language spoken is an African dialect with a largely English vocabulary which has a distinctive accent which varies from country to country. This linguistic pattern reflects the fact that for almost all of their colonial history these countries were British colonies. The Bahamaian and Turks and Caicos linguistic reality has become more diverse in recent decades with a significant number of Haitian immigrants into these countries and the inclusion of their children in the school system.

In Dominica and St Lucia the African dialect has a largely French vocabulary which allows Dominicans and St Lucians to converse and communicate with people from Martinique, Guadeloupe and Haiti. In both Dominica and St Lucia the French Creole is widely spoken and is in reality the lingua franca of these countries. This stems from the fact that for a significant part of their history Dominica and St Lucia were colonies of France

In Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines English and a Creole with a largely English vocabulary is widely spoken. However, among some members of the older population a Creole with a largely French vocabulary is spoken. In Grenada there are many French phrases that are integrated into the English based Creole representing an integration of their linguistic past. The linguistic tradition of Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines reflects the fact that they too were once French colonies, but became British colonies at an earlier time than Dominica and St Lucia.

In the twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago the languages spoken are English, a Trinidad Creole with a largely English vocabulary, a Tobagonian Creole with a largely English Creole, Hinduistani Caribbean, Spanish and a French Creole. While Spanish and the French Creole are spoken by a small minority of persons within particular parts of the country, the other languages are spoken by a large number of adherents and reflect the ethnic composition of the country.

Guyana and Belize, the two continental Commonwealth Caribbean countries are the most linguistically complex countries in the sub-region. In Belize on a daily basis at least eight different languages are spoken by Belizeans living in distinct communities scattered across the country. While English is the official language seven other languages are spoken in the country. These include Creole with a largely English vocabulary, Spanish, Garifuna, Ketchi, Mayan Mopan, Mayan Yucatan and Plautdietsch, a German dialect. The linguistic complexity of Belize reflects the diverse ethnic groups that comprise its population.

In Guyana while there are some retentions of a Dutch Creole linguistic past, the languages spoken daily in the country includes: English, a Guyanese Creole with a largely English vocabulary, Hinduistani Caribbean and twelve Amerindian languages. While English, the Guyanese Creole and Hinduistani Caribbean are spoken by a large number of adherents across the country the different Amerindian languages are spoken by relatively small Amerindian groups in different parts of the country.

Given the fact that language manifest in large measure how a people or groups of people perceive, conceptualise and articulate their understanding of reality as well as outlook on life, the linguistic diversity of the Caribbean should be a matter of particular interest and importance to teachers and educators. The language that children bring to school represents the cognitive apparatus with which teachers begin the task of education which takes children from the known to the unknown.

Functional Cooperation

Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, St Kitts and Nevis and the British Virgin Islands have a history of relationship under the rubric of the label the Leeward Islands that goes back more than 300 years. Likewise, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines have related to each other for a similar period as the Windward Islands. Dominica at some points in history has been part of the Leeward Islands and at other times part of the Windward Islands. Essentially, the small size of these islands dictated colonial administrative arrangements that linked them together and by so doing fostered both identity and different levels of cooperative relationships.

It is by no means surprising that in contemporary times these nine countries have formed the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, OECS, with a Secretariat headquartered in St Lucia, that fosters and facilitates functional cooperation with the countries notwithstanding the fact that six of the states are politically independent and three are not. Building on the foundation of a common currency, the Eastern Caribbean dollar, the OECS seeks to harmonise and standardise various systems, including the education system, such that the nine countries operate as a confederation with the Commonwealth Caribbean.

In the Western Caribbean during colonial times Jamaica served as the administrative centre for Belize, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Unlike the Eastern Caribbean, no semblance of these administrative arrangements has survived in contemporary times. That is not to say that some links at the level of people relationships have not survived.

Historically Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago did not have administrative linkages with other Commonwealth Caribbean countries. They were always independently administered by Britain.

Commonwealth Caribbean Integration

The essence of the colonial relationship placed the integrating centre of the Commonwealth of the Commonwealth Caribbean in England. While the administrative arrangements created grouping of colonies in some areas, these groups as well as the independently administered colonies had bilateral relationships, so to speak, with the imperial centre in England. The most significant integrating aspect of the colonial arrangement was that people within the Caribbean colonies could move freely between the colonies, and many did. This created links at the level of personal relationships involving families, friends and work colleagues.

The English brought several sports to the sub-region, chief among these was cricket. Inter-colony matches lead eventually to the formation of the West Indies Cricket team by the end of the 19th century. Competition between cricket teams from the various colonies and the formation of West Indies Cricket Team comprised of players from the different colonies, presented the first foci of Commonwealth Caribbean integration as players and fans united in competitions involving Teams from outside of the sub-region. From these beginnings cricket became and remains a major focus and locus of Commonwealth Caribbean integration.

When the issue of self-government of the colonies loomed large in the after-math of World War II, there was no question that more leaders and professionals within the sub-region had to come from the ranks of the people within the region. The establishment of university education within the sub-region, which had been advocated for more than a century, finally received imperial blessing and sponsorship with the establishment of the University College of the West Indies, UCWI, in 1948 which became the University of the West Indies in 1963. The University of the West Indies became and remains another major focus and locus of Commonwealth Caribbean integration. Supported by 15 governments within the sub-region UWI is one of only two regional universities in the world, the other being the University of the South Pacific.

When faced with the demand for political independence from the colonies in the Commonwealth Caribbean British wisdom was that these small mini and micro states could best survive as a federation. The Federation of the West Indies came into being on January 3, 1958. It was comprised on 13 of the 18 Commonwealth Caribbean countries. The five that did not join the federation were the Bahamas, Belize, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands and Guyana.  The Federation was short lived. It dissolved on May 31, 1962 after Jamaica held a Referendum which ended in a vote for withdrawal from the Federation. Following the failure of the Federation, in a moment of apparent despair and frustration, mixed with a generous dose of Caribbean humour, the late Eric Williams then Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago is reported to have remarked, “What God has put asunder let not man try to bring together.”

Attempts and efforts to bring about some measure of Commonwealth Caribbean integration did not end with the failure of the federal experiment. On December 15, 1965 Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago signed the Dickenson Bay Agreement which brought the Caribbean Free Trade Association, CARIFA, into being. The purpose of the agreement was to expand and diversify free and fair trade among the member countries. In 1968 Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla, and St Vincent and the Grenadines joined the Association followed by Belize in 1971.

On July 4, 1973 with the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, CARIFTA was transformed into the Caribbean Community, CARICOM. CARITA essentially created a free trade area among the Commonwealth Caribbean states that were its members. CARICOM expanded the free trade concept to include a common market with the free movement of labour and capital as well as the coordination of agricultural, industrial and foreign policies. Currently, CARICOM is comprised of all Commonwealth Caribbean countries. The twelve independent countries and Montserrat are full members, while Anguilla, Bermuda, BVI, Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands are associated members. In addition to the 18 countries of the Commonwealth Caribbean CARICOM membership now includes Haiti and Surinam.

The most recent initiatives of the Caribbean Community are the launching of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy, CSME, and the Caribbean Court of Justice, which would be the final appellant court for countries of the sub-region. Both of these initiatives are in the early stages of implementation.

The above measures to achieve some measure of Caribbean integration have succeeded in creating a Caribbean identity in addition to national identity. It is very common in many discourses for discussants to talk and write about Barbados and the Caribbean, Jamaica and the Caribbean, Grenada and the Caribbean, St Lucia and the Caribbean, the Bahamas and the Caribbean etc. However, the notion of the Caribbean is much more of a prejudice than a principle. In other words, it is invoked with respect to the promise of benefit to the nation, but reneged upon or rejected when national interests or benefits are perceived to be a risk. The notion of the notion is not yet a principle that is adhered to ever when it is not to the benefit of a particular nation at some particular time.


Formal secondary education in the Commonwealth Caribbean dates back to the mid 19th century. However, several secondary schools in the Commonwealth Caribbean began to operate as educational institutions long before 1850. For example, schools such as Combermere, Queens, Foundation, Harrison, and Lodge in Barbados and Wolmers, Mannings, St Jago, Titchfield and Rusea in Jamaica have operated continuously as schools for more than 250 years, Miller (1990) and Newton and Sandiford (1995). The explanation for this seeming inconsistency is that these schools were founded as elementary schools but were later transformed into secondary schools in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

It is important to note that most secondary schools that were founded before the 1850s were operated by religious bodies and charitable trusts. Indeed, up till the beginning of the twentieth century very few secondary schools in the Commonwealth Caribbean were founded and operated by Governments. Governments’ history as a major provider of secondary education through the building and operation of secondary schools began in the 1950s and 1960s. Invariably these Governments built secondary schools were part of loan funds from various donor institutions such as the World Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank and marked the period when Governments’ policies were to significantly expand access to secondary education.

Between the 1850s and the 1950s secondary education in the sub-region was restricted to less than 3 per cent of the school age population and was accessed also entirely by the middle and upper classes. Adult suffrage and representative government in the 1940s and 1950s resulted in significant expansion of secondary education as the people elected their political representatives with mandates for fundamental change for the colonial past. Merit replaced parents’ ability to pay as the criterion for entry into public secondary schools. Merit was determined by performance in Common Entrance Examinations which were instituted across the region.

When Governments entered directly and fully into the secondary sector in the 1950s and 1960s, with the exception of Guyana, they came to accommodation with the religious bodies and charitable trusts to incorporate the secondary schools those bodies had founded into the public secondary system. In Trinidad and Tobago this accommodation came to be known as the Concordat. Government paid the recurrent cost of operating the schools although the religious bodies or charitable trusts continued to retain ownership. Essentially, Governments assumed the responsibility for operating secondary schools with the caveat that access to these schools would be open to all who qualified to attend.

Probably the most fundamental aspect of Governments’ direct involvement with secondary education was the formal integration of public elementary schools with the secondary schools that had been founded by the religious bodies and charitable trusts. When the secondary school system was established in the latter half of the 19th century their students came almost entirely from private preparatory schools. In the last decade of the 19th century Governments took over the elementary school system from religious denominations and introduced free elementary education. In each country the Government established a few scholarships that allowed a very limited number of elementary school students to attend secondary school. This number gradually increased over the first half of the twentieth century. With the introduction of Common Entrance Examinations in the 1960s and 1970s Governments also introduced free secondary education hence public elementary education became fully integrated with public secondary education as merit and economic assistance through free education removed the main barriers that had constrained children from poor homes from gaining access to secondary education.

While Governments did build a few secondary schools, or bought a few from private individuals or religious bodies that could no longer afford to operate them, Governments main efforts to increase the number of secondary schools came through loan programmes beginning in the 1960s. The schools build by Governments departed from the pattern that had operated for the previous 100 plus years. Beginning with the World Bank programmes Governments built Junior Secondary Schools providing lower secondary education in Grades 7 to 9. The plan was for students who attended Junior Secondary or High Schools to go unto Senior Secondary of High Schools to complete their secondary education. Only the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago was able to fully implement the plan. The Junior and Senior Secondary or High Schools offered an alternative form of secondary education to that offered in grammar schools.

The three defining features of this alternative form of secondary education could be summarised as follows:

  • Students entering Junior Secondary or Junior High Schools were drawn from the pool of students who did not gain places into the traditional high schools through the Common Entrance Examinations.
  • Junior Secondary or Junior High Schools were linked to designated primary schools, which became their feeder schools.
  • The Junior and Senior Secondary or the Junior and Senior High School System had a distinct vocational bias, especially in the curriculum of the Senior Secondary or Senior High School.


By the 1980s three characteristic features of Commonwealth Caribbean secondary education resulted from this history. First, the most sort after and prestigious secondary schools were those founded and operated by religious bodies and charitable trusts that traced their beginning as secondary schools to the 19th and first half of the twentieth century. For ease of references these can be labelled the traditional or older high schools. Second, was the Junior/Senior Secondary School system which offered education to students who had not passed, or had not done well in, the common entrance examination. In addition, the curriculum of these schools had strong elements of pre-vocational and vocational education. This type of secondary education was seen as an option for students who did not have the ability to benefit from traditional grammar secondary education. Third, private secondary school system became the option for children who did not gain a place in the traditional high schools but whose parents did not accepted the Junior/Senior Secondary School system and could afford to pay for secondary education offered in private schools along the lines of the traditional high schools. The exception to this third observation is the Bahamas where the denominational high schools have remained private schools and are the most sought after secondary schools. The Bahamian public secondary system is organised on the basis of junior and senior high schools.

From the inception of the creation of a secondary school system in the second half of the nineteenth century, secondary education programmes in the Commonwealth Caribbean countries had been externally assessed and certified by bodies in England. In 1974 sixteen of the eighteen Commonwealth Caribbean countries established the Caribbean Examination Council, CXC, which has replaced examining bodies in England including London University, Cambridge University and City and Guilds, London. CXC has replaced the external examining bodies and has become the sub-regional examining body, which has won for itself international recognition. The two Commonwealth Caribbean countries that are not part of CXC are the Bahamas and Bermuda.

Philosophies Guiding Caribbean Secondary Education

Commonwealth Caribbean secondary education has adopted and adapted the three philosophies of secondary education. Traditional high schools were patterned on the Western European philosophy of secondary education as a stage or level of the education. The Junior/Senior Secondary School system introduced in the 1960s and 1970s was premised on Comprehensive or Common School, philosophy as education for a stage of human development but it also had elements of pre-vocational and technical education. However, it was implemented in the context of education for those who had failed the Common Entrance Examination and therefore perceived to be less able intellectually. Technical high schools followed the philosophy to prepare students for the world of work. Hence, while the three philosophies became embedded in Commonwealth Caribbean secondary education in some form, they were embedded in circumstances in which secondary education as the second stage of education was generally perceived to be superior to secondary education as a stage of human development or preparation for the world of work.

There is, however, one impact that the expansion of secondary education generally and the introduction of technical and Junior/Secondary or High Schools had on traditional high schools. That impact was the diversification of the curriculum of traditional high schools. Up to the 1950s the curriculum of traditional high schools was largely restricted to the classics, foreign languages, humanities and sciences, in other words to so-called academic content. By the 1960s traditional high schools began to diversify their curriculum to include subjects such as Woodwork, Metalwork, Technical Drawing, and Home Economics. Benavot (2006) points to the fact that this has become the trend in secondary education across the world. Put another way, the foundation of convergence of knowledge and skill began to take place in Caribbean secondary education in the by the 1970s.

Convergence in curriculum and the mixing and match of the three philosophies of secondary education occurred as the Western European philosophies of grammar school and technical schools for the world of work was augmented by the American philosophy of secondary education as a stage of human development has resulted in at least a lack of conceptual clarity, or even confusion, in Caribbean secondary education.

At the theoretical level the universal set in the grammar school and technical school philosophies of secondary education, is all who have mastered the fundamentals of primary education. In the third philosophy of secondary education begin for a stage of human development the universal set is all adolescents regardless of mastery of the fundamentals of primary education. The only basis on which these three philosophies can be reconciled is if all adolescents mastered the fundamentals of primary education. Given what is known about variations in human endowment and development, given the present state of technology of learning and given the current structure of schooling it is unlikely that all adolescents in any society will master the fundamentals of primary schooling by age 11 or 12 years, the time-frame specified for primary schooling.

At the practical level placing students into secondary schools at age 11 or 12 years who have not mastered the fundamentals of primary education, compromises the philosophies of secondary education as that level or stage of education beyond primary education, whether the purpose is to prepare students for higher education or the word of work. Further, it poses almost impossible demands on the organisation of secondary schooling if the expectation remains that at the end of the secondary cycle all students are to the benchmarks moving onto higher education or into the world of work.


The first Commonwealth Caribbean country to implement universal secondary education (USE) was St Kitts and Nevis, which did so in 1966. Barbados followed in the late 1970s. The Bahamas and the British Dependencies of Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and Turks and Caicos Islands followed in the mid to late 1980s. Trinidad and Tobago implemented USE in 2000. In this first decade of the 21 century Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines implemented universal secondary education in September 2005 and St Lucia followed in September 2006. Antigua and Barbuda admits into secondary schools all students who pass the Common Entrance at Grade 6 or the examination at end of Grade 9.  

If universal secondary education is defined in terms of providing school places for all students of secondary school age in schools designated to be secondary schools, then thirteen of the 18 Commonwealth Caribbean countries have achieved USE. If universal secondary education is defined in terms of providing school places in secondary schools for all students who have mastered the fundamentals of the primary curriculum then fourteen countries have achieved USE. Antigua and Barbuda offers secondary education to all students who have mastered the primary curriculum.  The four countries that have not achieved USE in 2008, by whatever definition that is used, are: Belize, Grenada, Guyana and Jamaica.


When one looks at the development of secondary education in the Commonwealth Caribbean since attaining full internal self government after 1950, the achievements are remarkable by any standards. At the same time concern and criticism of Commonwealth Caribbean secondary education is very high both in the public discourse and within the teaching profession.


The main achievements can be listed as follows:

  1. As a sub-region the Commonwealth Caribbean is close to achieving USE however, USE is defined. In other words, the Commonwealth Caribbean is close to achieving the so-called developed or industrialized world standard for USE. Consequently, large proportions of persons under 50 years of the Commonwealth Caribbean have been the recipient of at least five years of secondary schooling.
  2. This substantial expansion of access to secondary education in the Commonwealth Caribbean over the last 60 years means that all segments of Commonwealth Caribbean society now have access to secondary schooling.
  3. Over the last 60 years the Commonwealth Caribbean has created its own indigenous capacity to produce secondary school teachers and no longer depend on importing secondary school teachers for Britain and other Commonwealth Countries.
  4. Starting in 1974 the Commonwealth Caribbean has created its own capacity to assess achievement at the secondary level and the Caribbean Examination Council has won for itself international acceptance as a competent source of rigorous assessment of standards at the secondary level.
  5. St Kitts and Nevis and Barbados, Commonwealth Caribbean countries that embarked upon USE 30 to 40 years ago have adult literacy rates that are of the same standards as the industrialized world and the other countries of the sub-region are not far behind.
  6. Large numbers of the out of school population are now seeking to upgrade their formal certification secondary school education. There is a high demand for evening classes and private candidates constitute a significant proportion of CSEC candidates.
  7. The trend is that of improved performance levels of achievement of secondary school leavers with respect to the standards and benchmarks set for successful completion of secondary schooling.
  8. Caribbean secondary school leavers who migrate or access higher education outside the region have been able to hold their own and oftentimes excel in the colleges and universities in which they enrol.

While these are impressive achievements by any standard, the discourse on secondary education in the sub-region is marked by little if any celebration, except among the schools themselves and at local functions honouring teachers.

Concerns in Commonwealth Caribbean Secondary Education

There are at least six major concerns that dominate the current discourse on secondary education in the Commonwealth Caribbean. These are the basis of determining access to the older secondary schools; students who have not mastered the basic of primary education being transferred to the secondary level; a significant proportion of students leaving secondary schools without any certification, limited access to tertiary education, high levels of youth unemployment and violence in schools. Each of these will be discussed in turn.

The Basis of Access to the Older Secondary Schools

The point has already been made that in all Commonwealth Caribbean countries those secondary schools that were established by churches and trusts in the 19th century or before, enjoy high status and are among the most desired by parents and students. Prior to the late 1950s these schools were fee-paying institutions and the fees were sufficiently high to prevent students from socio-economic backgrounds of modest means from gaining access to such schools even where they had mastered the fundamental of primary education.

The primary focus of the Common Entrance Examination and Free Place policies that were implemented, by governments elected on the basis of adult suffrage and representative government, was to establish merit as the basis for gaining access to secondary schools. Merit replaced parents’ ability to pay as the basis of access to secondary schooling in all countries of the Commonwealth Caribbean except Bahamas and Bermuda. However, because there were not enough high school places not all students who mastered the primary education curriculum were able to gain access to secondary schooling. The Common Entrance Examinations became the means of selecting the number of children who would gain access to secondary schools, irrespective of parents’ ability to pay.

The Common Entrance and Free Place policies found favour with the groups that were previously denied access to secondary schooling due to economic circumstances. The same was not true about those groups who previously had unimpeded access based on their ability to pay the requisite school fees. However, merit as the basis of access to places in these traditional high schools could not be faulted.

Providing school places for all students of secondary school age to enter secondary schools virtually eliminates merit as the basis of selecting the number of students who would gain access to secondary schooling. Notwithstanding this fact several countries, that have assured all students of placing in secondary schools, have retained the Common Entrance or some equivalent means of assessing merit.

The rationale for retaining selection examinations for entry to secondary school is not to determine who should gains access to secondary schooling, but rather who should gain access to particular schools, especially the older secondary schools. The case of Barbados is instructive. Students who did not reach this level of achievement were retained in senior schools and given remedial instruction. Where they attained the required standards they were then placed in secondary schools and if they did not do so by age 15 years then they would leave the senior school without having attended secondary school.

By the end of the 1990s Barbados had implicitly shifted its philosophy of secondary education from being a level of education to a stage of human development, in that all students of eleven years from the primary system were placed in secondary schools irrespective of their performance in the Common Entrance Examinations. A special school, with an alternative curriculum, was established to enrol students who had performed particularly poorly in the CEE.

Notwithstanding this shift in philosophy and policy, Barbados retained the Common Entrance. The examination was not retained to determine who should attend secondary schools but what particular secondary school each child should attend. The essential elements of the new policy are as follows:

  • The 22 secondary schools in Barbados are placed into four zones.
  • In applying to sit the CEE students can place in rank order two schools in any zone of the country.
  • Student in applying to sit the CEE can choose, in rank order up to five schools within the zone in which they reside.
  • Students are placed in the school of their choice based on their scores in the CEE.

Despite considerable criticism from several influential quarters this policy has been retained as the only fair basis on which to place students, especially in the eleven older secondary schools that exist in the country. Available empirical evidence as well as anecdotal testimonies would seem to suggest that these older secondary schools are now admitting many more students from the lower socioeconomic strata of Barbadian society than previously. However, it has to be acknowledged that the middle and upper social strata still enjoy disproportionate access to these schools, although not to the same degree as in the past, Griffith-Watson (2007)

All Commonwealth Caribbean countries are relatively small. It is therefore possible for arrangements to be made for students to commute to secondary schools outside of the areas in which they live or for boarding accommodation to be arranged through friends and relatives. Prior to the commencement of the expansion of secondary in the late 1950s, all secondary schools admitted students from across the respective countries. Indeed, many secondary schools were boarding institutions. The point being made is that neighbourhood secondary schools do not have either historical or geographical pedigree in the Commonwealth Caribbean.

All Commonwealth countries are representative democracies that change governments regularly. Secondary education is highly prized in the sub-region. Merit and parental choice as the bases of access to the preferred older secondary school constitute powerful arguments on the side of fairness and impartiality which to date has foiled all other arguments to the contrary. Accordingly, selection by performance in some examination at the end of primary schooling, variously labelled in different Commonwealth Countries, still mark the transfer from primary to secondary schools.

The Transfer of Poor-performing Students to Secondary Schools

Thirteen of the fourteen Commonwealth Caribbean countries that have achieved USE, transfer all students of secondary school age to secondary schools without regard to the standard of achievement of students at the primary level. When this is combined with the fact that students obtain their choice of secondary school based on performance in some examination at the end of primary schooling, several deeply problematic issues emerge. These can be listed as follows:

  1. The placement of students who are not functionally literate and numerate into secondary school contravene the historically practice in the Commonwealth Caribbean of secondary education as a level of education requiring mastery of the primary level. This gives rise to the view that these students do not deserve or merit placement in secondary schools. It also invites a negative comparison of secondary education in contemporary times with secondary education of past eras.
  2. Invariably most of these poor-performing students are congregated in secondary schools that they did not choose. In most instances these are some of the newer secondary schools built over the last three or so decades through World Bank and other loan programmes. The combination of previous history and present placement of students combined to bequeath to these schools largely negative social perception and psychology on the part of teachers, parents and students leading in many instances to low morale among students and teachers. While there is no contradiction of the fact that many students graduating from these schools have gone on to do very well in all spheres of life, nevertheless, these students are regarded as the exceptions rather than the rule.
  3. Many principals and teachers of schools in which poor performing students are congregated, joined in many instances by community advocates, charge that the current system of placement of students in secondary schools is blatantly unfair and unjust because it does not share students of high and low performance on an equitable basis across all schools. St Kitts and Nevis is the exception to this policy. Students across the entire spectrum of achievement are share equitable among all secondary schools.
  4. The congregation of poor performing students in particular secondary schools highlights the disparity and deficiencies primary education. The leads to blame being put on primary education for the challenges faced those secondary schools in which poor performing students are congregated.

A Significant Proportion of Secondary School Leavers without Certification

The Caribbean Examination Council is the organisation established by the Commonwealth Caribbean to assess and evaluate achievement at the end of secondary schooling. Successful completion of secondary school is now widely accepted as four CSEC subjects at Grades 1 to 3 at the General Proficiency Level. Using this as the standard of certification less than half the students sitting the CSEC each year, actually achieve this standard. Further, given the fact that several students drop out of secondary school before the sit the CSEC, the proportion is even less if it is assess against the number in the particular age cohort that entered secondary school in Grade 7. If certification is judged in relation to the labour force, the proportion of persons with secondary school certification is even less. Large numbers of secondary school leaving failing to achieve the sub-regional standard set for successful completion of secondary schooling has been the subject of much and sometimes heated public debate. One charge is that there has been deterioration in the quality of secondary education consequent upon the expansion of secondary schooling.

It is necessary to put the matter into some context by stating that this is by no means a new phenomenon. In this regard, the case of Barbados is both instructive and illustrative of the entire Commonwealth Caribbean. Hayden (1947) Director of Education in Barbados reported that Barbados led the English-speaking colonies in the proportion of students between the ages of 12 and 18 years who were enrolled in secondary schools. Barbados had 7.7 students per 1000 of the population enrolled in secondary schools compared to 2.1 in Jamaica, 4.7 in Trinidad, 3.7 in Antigua and 6.3 in British Honduras, now Belize. He lamented, however, that of the 281 students leaving secondary school in Barbados in 1942 only 125 had passed any examination. In 1943 of 216 students leaving only 122 passed any examination and in 1944 it was 226 students leaving school and 126 passing any examinations. Hayden commented on the fact that more than half the students leaving secondary schools failed to sit or pass any examination. He further lamented that several of those passing examinations were unable to find employment. Hayden also stated that there many students in secondary schools who were not capable of benefiting from any form of academic secondary education and therefore did not remain in school to sit any examination.

When the state of secondary education in Barbados in the first decade of the 21st century is compared with Hayden’s data from the 1940s no charge of deterioration in the standard of secondary schooling can be sustained. For at least the last 15 years Barbados has been placing well over 80 percent of students of 12 to 18 years in secondary school. Almost all of the students of secondary school age have been remaining in school to age 16 years, which marks the end of compulsory education. Over 4000 school candidates from Barbados have sat the CSEC examinations each year. Better than 40 percent of the students sitting the CSEC obtained four or more passes. The quantitative improvement in secondary school enrolment between the 1940s and the 2000s in Barbados is substantial, to say the least. Further, a far greater proportion is now remaining in secondary school for at least four years compared to the 1940s. That the proportion leaving school without certification of successful completion is about the same, would not suggest that there is any deterioration in quality. It would only mean that while the proportion is about the same, the number of persons affected in the 2000s is larger because secondary education is now available to much larger numbers than in the 1940s.

A common assumption of secondary schooling is that all students ought to achieve the exit standards set for secondary schooling in five years of secondary schooling. This has not been achieved in any secondary school system in the world, even where exist standards are school determined and not by external assessment.

High Unemployment among Youths

Paradoxically, where there is strident criticism of secondary schools for the high proportion of school leavers with no CSEC passes, there is high youth unemployment including among high school leavers with 4 or more CSEC passes. This fact is well documented and largely ignored in all Surveys of Living Conditions done and published for countries in the Commonwealth Caribbean. In a nutshell Commonwealth Caribbean labour markets have not been able to employ many of the secondary school leavers with the prescribed passes regarded as successful completion of high schooling. This is particularly so for school leavers from the lower strata of Commonwealth Caribbean societies who have limited personal connections in the places where such connections matter. Further, high school leavers that reside in urban communities marked by high levels of violence find it even harder to secure employment. Indeed, this is particularly marked among males.

High unemployment among secondary school leavers who have done well in CSEC has several important implications. First, it defaults on an important promise of secondary education. Second, it defer on the dream of upward social mobility. Third, it leaves these young people essentially idle and vulnerable to unwholesome inducements Fourth, it is discouraging to their younger friends and relatives who are still in school.

Limited Availability of Tertiary Education Places

There are not enough tertiary education places for secondary school leavers who obtain the matriculation requirements for admission. Commonwealth Caribbean systems have an unusual deformity. Early childhood and primary education are universal. The sub-region is on the cusp of universal secondary education. However, tertiary education places are less than 20 per cent of the 18 to 24 years old cohort. The result very strong is competition for the available the places and escalation of qualifications of those who are actually admitted. Further, the safety valve of migrating in search of higher education opportunity, which has been a Commonwealth Caribbean practice, is now constricted because of high costs and immigration barriers.

Some of the conditions of the Arab spring are very evident among Commonwealth Caribbean youth. These are high unemployment, low wages for those who are employed, limited access to tertiary education and a high degree of frustration. The main difference is Commonwealth Caribbean democracy. However, voter apathy among youths is worrying sign.

Violence in Secondary Schools

Violence in schools in the Commonwealth Caribbean has become a matter of great concern, particularly over the last decade. The CARICOM Ministers of Education in the COHSOD Meeting in Georgetown, Guyana October, 2004 discussed the subject of school violence. Chevannes (2004) surveyed nine countries of the Eastern Caribbean and reported widespread anxiety and serious efforts to address the matter of school violence, especially at the secondary level.

No attempt is being made here to diagnose the causes of violence in secondary schools. However, it is necessary to make two observations. The first observation is that over the last twenty to thirty years there has been a marked increase in violence in Commonwealth Caribbean societies. Much of that violence is committed by youths between the ages of 15 and 30 years old. It is therefore not entirely surprising that as access to secondary education has expanded to the point of being universal in most Commonwealth Caribbean societies that some of the violence occurring in the general society will also be manifest in secondary schools, since enrolment in secondary schools now include youths among whom violence is prevalent. At the same time secondary schools would hardly be prepared for this occurrence, since it is not within their history and culture.

The second observation is that the policy of expanded access to secondary education in the Commonwealth Caribbean has been predicated largely on the grounds of social justice and equal opportunity for social mobility for all, especially with respect to those segments of the society that were previously excluded. Social justice, equal opportunity and merit regardless of social background and ability to pay should be purveyors of peace. Yet at the same time that access to secondary education has been expanded on the grounds outlined, violence among youths, especially those who were supposed to be the main beneficiaries has escalated to an alarming extent. While the issues raised by first observation could be addressed through the preparation and training of teachers and principals and other related measures, this second observation raises more fundamental questions.


There are at least six major lessons that can be learned from the previous eras of fundamental technological change. These can be listed briefly as follows:

  1. Major technological, political, economic and belief changes seem to be correlated and associated in bringing about profound transformation in civilisation. However, one cannot say with certainty which, if any, is the primordial causal source of transformation. Yet one notes the progressive transformation in human civilisation from nomad to villager to citizen to believer to national to global consumer.
  2. The new technologies supersede but do not completely eliminate the technologies that previously existed. Hence in the twenty first century world there are still a small number of hunter gathering communities. They are many communities that are still engaged mainly in subsistent agriculture. Mechanised agriculture is still the major means of many communities. Industrial societies are still the most prosperous although the information revolution is on the way. That is to say that Information and communication technologies are still in their infancy. There are only a few communities that are principally knowledge and information communities.
  3. Revolutionary technological, political, economic and belief changes that bring about profound transformation in civilisation are followed by evolutionary changes as peoples apply and work through the revolutionary changes in their particular situations.
  4. New technologies offer significant opportunities for marginalised communities and polities to advance and even displace centralised entities, as they embrace and become constructively and creatively engaged in seizing the opportunities to advance their positions and prospects.
  5. The advancement of marginalised peoples, communities and polities is not automatic. Advance is a matter of deliberate choice and effort either to secure inclusion or resist exclusion.
  6. Schooling was created by, evolves and is transformed by the technological and civilisation changes that occur in society. The school is a critical element and agent consolidating the technological revolution by spreading the needed knowledge and skills and mobilising the communities or polities to apply and sustain the transformation across successive generations.


It must be noted, although the scope of this presentation does not allow any detailed treatment, that demographics and ecology are other critical drivers of fundamental change in society. Throughout history the growth in human populations has had profound implications for human social formations. At the dawn of agricultural revolution human social organisations took the form of small scattered autonomous patriarch lineages and clans living in virtual isolation or with only periodic contact. In 1960 the world population was three billion. Currently it is 7 billion. The projection is that it will reach nine billion by 2050. This has huge implication for water, food and fuel. While none of these need be the victim of Malthusian pessimism, they constitute significant challenges that must be address immediately and in the near future.

At the same time, these increases are not evenly distributed across all countries and all ethnicities. One of the factors that featured in the break-up of the Soviet Union was referred to as it demographic problem where certain ethnic groups were increasing fast rate while others were in virtual decline. The similar problem has begun to manifest itself in the United States. The implications for power relations within and among societies are far reaching.

I have chosen to use the term ecology rather than environment because the latter has become so cliché. By ecology I mean that complex web of relationship between flora, fauna and climate. Climate change is a fact whether it is manmade, cyclical or a combination of both. The positive and negative implications for different countries are still to be assessed specifically.


Probably for a combination of the factors outlined above, the following geopolitical trends are evident at the inception of this era of fundamental technological change.

  • Western nations that have dominated the constellation of nation-states are now in decline. At the end of the fifteenth century, the Western Roman Empire was the least among the religious empires that had come to dominate different regions of the world during the epoch of the when agriculture was the chief engine of wealth creation. By the middle of the eighteenth century, Western European nations had stated to emerge as the imperial nations among the nation states that had emerged from the religious empires. The industrial revolution cemented their dominant position for the next two centuries.
  • Western nations are now raising immigration barriers as unemployment rises in their countries and fears emerge concerning changes in the ethnic compositions of their countries.
  • Western nations are becoming debtor nations that must now cut back on expenditure.
  • China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Australia, South Africa, and Nigeria are on the rise in a world that is regionalising with the decline of global imperial powers.
  • The G-20 is in the process of replacing the G-7 as the body regulating global finance.
  • Fuel, water and food are becoming contentions issues among nations.

The implications of these geopolitical trends for the Commonwealth Caribbean are profound. From its inception the Commonwealth Caribbean has been part of the West. This is manifested in trade, financial arrangements, education, migration, and culture including dress. Our relations with the rising powers have been at best tangential. The Caribbean is the only region of the world not represented in the G-20. In short it is not automatic or guaranteed that the status quo will continue to prevail in the sub-region.

Commonwealth Caribbean Imperatives

Geopolitical trends are imposing a common destiny on the Commonwealth Caribbean along with Haiti and Suriname. These fourteen politically independent, mostly middle income, countries invariably are put together on most occasions when the term Caribbean is invoked. Cuba and the Dominican Republic are invariably joined with Latin America. Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are part of the United States. Bermuda, Turks and Caicos, Cayman, Anguilla, British Virgin Islands and Montserrat are British Dependencies. The Dutch Islands are part of the Netherlands. While all of those entities have ties external to the region are Caribbean these are largely with respect to location and sentiment. Links to powers external to the region exempt them from many of the exegesis faced by the twelve politically independent Commonwealth Caribbean countries, Haiti and Suriname. These fourteen independent Caribbean countries need to act as a collective to ensure their survival. This is an enormous task that can only be achieved over several generations.

By world standards these fourteen states are small, mini and micro entities. Their combined populations number no more than 17 million. Hence even as a region the Caribbean so defined is small. It survival in the regionalising world will is unlikely to be sustained either by military might of economic power, in terms of size of markets. The future of the Caribbean resides in exertions of the mind and spirit.

Caribbean peoples have always been ahead of their governments. They have therefore sought opportunities in international labour markets in addition to national and regional labour markets. In these regard, they have used Caribbean education to leverage opportunities in international labour markets. The Caribbean therefore is not only a place and a people but also a civilisation. Indeed, it is Caribbean people living outside the region that have the most acute understanding of being Caribbean. At the same time there are strong connections and also tensions between Caribbean people living in the Caribbean and those living in abroad.

The responses to the imperatives facing the Caribbean in the twenty first century can listed succinctly as follows:

  1. Explicitly fostering Caribbean civilisation, identity and solidarity through formal and non-formal means
  2. Developing structures and functional cooperation that transforms the Caribbean into a viable a region that can effectively relate to the rest of the world. It could be said that the Caribbean Single Market and Economy already exists. However, the mechanisms that have been put in place to secure it, is a recipe for failure.
  3. Ensuring the viability, well being and prosperity of Caribbean people through exertions of the mind and spirit.
  4. Fostering Caribbean solidarity among Caribbean people irrespective of residence in the world and heightening commitment to build the Caribbean as a place and as a civilisation
  5. Seizing and creating opportunities through constructive engagement with the new information and communication technologies.

Education is critical to all of the above.


Caribbean secondary education has many strengths. Many of these are the result of achievements and developments over the last 60 years. However, there is one legacy of its history that must be addressed and overcome. That is, the mixing and matching of the three philosophies of secondary education such that the result is conceptual confusion among professional educators, policy makers and populace. At the same time secondary schooling in the information and knowledge society ought not to continue as it has existed up to the period of the industrial society. Caribbean secondary education in the twenty first century must follow three general directions. First, it must address the imperatives of the information revolution and the implications for transformation. In a nutshell it must include universal elements, shared with the respect to the world. Second, it must conserve those elements from previous eras that continue to be essential and relevant even in the information age, because of their proven soundness and wisdom. Third it must assist and enable Caribbean peoples and societies to address the imperatives that are central to their common destiny as this unfolds in the context of global developments in the information era. In following these directions Caribbean secondary education must build on its strengths and address its legacy of conceptual confusion by constructing its own philosophy of secondary education.

Towards a Philosophy of Caribbean Secondary Education

Every forward leap must include a backward reach that embraces the most salient, sensible and proven ideas of the past. This prevents starting from scratch but allows unnecessary elements from the past to be left behind. The notion that secondary education is education for the second step on the educational ladder is not only logical and rational but it has been tested and proven to be valid over the last 700 years. Further, it was found to be sufficiently robust to be applied to technical education, when this type of education was established in the industrial age. The essence is that secondary education requires mastery of the fundamentals of primary education and should end with mastery of the general requirements to proceed with higher education. The point to note is that higher education is no longer limited to the humanities and the sciences but covers the entire range of knowledge and skills, technical and vocational.

What must be left behind are the age parameters of both entry to and exit from secondary education. Age by itself contributes nothing to secondary education. Freeing secondary education from age limits opens the door to address three matters. First, how to provide secondary education to precocious children, that is, to those who master the fundamentals of primary education much before their peers. Second, how to vary the instruction of adolescents who require different lengths of treatment in order to master the instruction offered at the secondary level. Third, how to provide secondary education to adults who missed out on secondary education through shortages in school supply or their own failure to benefit from the opportunity provided. In a nutshell the secondary school should offer secondary education to all, irrespective of age.

From this perspective the curriculum of secondary level should be taken as a given. The genius of the school ought to reside it is ability to deliver this curriculum to children, adolescents and adults in rural and urban settings such that they master curriculum and meet the exit standards. For example, secondary education offered to precocious children may require greater emphasis of the emotional and social maturities that are required to moderate their exceptional intellectual talents. Similarly, appropriate adjustments must be made for adults who missed out of secondary education opportunities, for whatever reason. Hence the secondary school teacher ought not only to master subject knowledge but also pedagogic content knowledge and models of instruction that can be tailored to the instructional and maturational needs of students of all ages and stages of human development.

Other tenets of the philosophy ought to be that the content of Caribbean secondary education should match international standards, ought to embody the essence of Caribbean civilisation and ought to be accessible to students living outside the region. Yet another tenet of that philosophy ought to be that secondary schools should be of a size that allows teachers to know students, hence no secondary school would be large enough to make the teaching the entire range of subjects economically viable. In that regard, Secondary schools should collaborate on a cluster basis in the delivery of the full range of subjects to their students whether this is offered face-to-face or on-line or by mixed mode.

Goals to be achieved in Secondary Education in the Twenty-First Century

The goals to be achieved by Caribbean secondary education in the twenty-first century can be listed briefly as follows:

  1. Achieving conceptual clarity by developing and following a coherent Caribbean philosophy of secondary education.
  2. Achieving universal secondary education defined to include both adolescent and adults, that is, both students defined traditionally as being of secondary school age as well as the persons in the out-of-school population.
  3. Achieving a fully professionally trained teaching force
  4. Including Haiti and Suriname in all structures of Secondary education including CXC.
  5. Building the on-line modality of instruction to include the delivery of at least some of Caribbean secondary education to people of Caribbean origins residing elsewhere in the world.
  6. Building virtual communities of practice and collaboration among principals, teachers, students and support staff within the region to create the social capital needed for the Caribbean to function as a region.
  7. Applying information and communication technologies to all aspects of secondary education


The only level of Caribbean education that has a strong regional orientation, focus and organisational structure is secondary education. This is largely because of CXC through its mission, mechanisms and modus operandi.

Except for Haiti primary education is predominantly conducted under the auspices of the nation-state with respect to its funding, curriculum, teaching staff, evaluation mechanism and not to speak of students. Tertiary education is becoming increasingly a national enterprise. This is from four directions. First, as secondary education has produced more qualified students and as competitive advantage in the world resides primarily in tertiary education it has become both feasible and strategic for countries to establish national colleges. Second, except for medicine, the accreditation mechanism being considered is predicated on strong national bodies and weak regional coordination. Third, UWI which is the regional university is becoming increasingly dilute in its regional focus as campuses increasingly become more national. Fourth, there is no regional regulation of tertiary education. Given the plethora of foreign institutions with Caribbean offshore operations, one keen foreign observer with expertise in this area, recently remarked that in tertiary education the Caribbean is back to the days of the ‘pirates and the Buccaneers’.

Bilateral arrangements prevail in donor agency grants and loans to countries. CARICOM with its member country modus operandi, functions within the national-state paradigm. In a nutshell the nation-state paradigm of action dominates education in the region.

However, secondary education through CXC and its council and Secretariat, its common curriculum for CSEC and now CAPE, and its use of Caribbean professionals in its assessment of curriculum standards functions with a regional orientation and focus. This has enhanced and strengthened other forms of regional relationships such as the Caribbean Association of Principals of Secondary Schools and some subject associations. This nexus is the closest there is to a platform from which to build, over time, a functioning Caribbean region capable of interacting effectively with the rest of the world.

In this regard there is nothing more important than to seize the potential of ICT technologies to establish meaningful and rewarding virtual relationships between teachers and students across the Caribbean around their shared and common interests and aspirations. The Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network, CKLN, is about to become operational in offering affordable board band connectivity between countries. It is the social capital accumulated through meaningful people relationships across the region that will contribute to the working of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy. It is the identities and bonds formed through knowing each other that will allow Caribbean peoples for form structures which functions to build the region. Connecting Caribbean teachers and students so that they come to know and understand each other may make it work. It will probably also contribute to the final functioning of the Caribbean Court of Justice, that is, if the Privy Council does kick us out, seeing that they have already indicated that they would like us to leave. In a nutshell the future rests in regionalism, but the present continue to be dominated by obsolete nationalism. Caribbean secondary education must take up this challenge of building regionalism.

In this regard allow me to encourage secondary schools to explore the possibilities of entrepreneurial partnerships with CXC and CKLN in meeting the training needs of employers and employees in seeking to upgrade their levels of general education. It should soon become clear that offering secondary education through colleges is not cost effective. Secondary School partnerships need to be formed to meet this need. In other words, in moving forward don’t rely on handouts but enterprise, with backward linkages and benefits for your core business.


One of the reasons for devoting some much space in this presentation to the history of schooling generally and that of secondary education in particular, and for attempting to show schooling in relations to societal transformation and advances in civilization was to underscore the time involved in the working out of these changes. While it is true that the time perspective has shifted for thousands of years to centuries and now to decades. The twenty-first century is most likely going to be centred on working out, working through and bring to reality the potential that resides in the information revolution. The point is that the time that this involves exceeds the life span and careers of individuals. Most likely we will not be around at the end of the century to see the outcomes of our actions.

The power of schooling resides in its generational reach. Schools connect generations. The school is an identity in itself. Indeed, secondary schools are an important aspect of the identity of Caribbean peoples. Schools form identity, bonds and solidarity across generations. The societal obligation and duty of Caribbean schools is to embody and embed the Caribbean identity, bonds, solidarity and notions of civilization within the identity, bonds and solidarity formed by each school. Schools create the institutional framework for the evolution of society and the advancement of civilization.

Schools must operate in the present with a clear vision of the Caribbean society and civilization that they are assisting to construct. The performance of ordinary tasks in the present must be directed to the extraordinary results expected in the future. In this regard, principals and teachers are called to be exemplars of the vision, values and virtues that the hope that their students will model. It is Caribbean principals and teachers acting always with a regional dimension in mind and in practice that will build the Caribbean as a viable region and civilization in the twenty-first century.