KINGSTON, Jamaica — In 2004, Jamaica’s education sector called for major reforms in early childhood and primary education. Yet as these reforms gained momentum, they grew to include all levels of education. The Educational System Transformation Program has been an instrumental contributor to the ongoing success.
In 2009, Jamaica’s education system was functioning but there was significant room for improvement. The indications of a 2009 study conducted by the Ministry of Education showed that enrollment in Early Childhood Education was almost 100 percent, primary school enrollment was at 90 percent and enrollment in grades seven through nine was 86 percent. However, there was only 63 percent enrollment in grades 10 through 11, indicating that there was a low rate of completion in secondary schools.
According to a U.N. Development Strategies that Work report, “The society has been burdened with the vestiges of an inequitable two tier education system. As a result the quality of education at different schools varies widely.”
Secondary entrance exam scores showed that public schools, where 90 percent of students are enrolled, are performing much worse than private preparatory schools. Thus, public school students were more likely to receive an inadequate education which might lead to dropouts and lower access to better economic opportunities.
To address this inequity the Educational System Transformation Program, or ESTP, was launched in March of 2010 with the recommendations of The Task Force on Educational Reform and funding from Jamaica’s government, The World Bank and the Inter- American Development Bank (IDB), with support from the U.N.’s Millennial Development Goals.
It was decided that ESTP needed $630 million (USD) to get started and tackle these key issues:
• Expansion of school facilities and infrastructure
• School leadership and management
• Literacy and numeracy at the end of primary school
• Poor attendance
• Low levels of teaching resources and aids
• Violence and anti-social behavior
• Low levels of teacher training at early childhood level
The question remains: has ESTP met the desired goals? The proof lies in the continued financial support of the program and its expansion. The Jamaican Information Services has reported that the government plans to spend an additional $625 million to finance expansion within ESTP, which will include a budget for inspecting, extending and furnishing schools.
Despite the deflation of the Jamaican dollar in the past four years, the ESTP is still able to continue its operations in 95 percent of public schools, school staff are being trained to meet the targeted goals and the program has been extended for an additional two years.
Yet there is still work to be done. The National Education Inspectorate (NEI), conducted inspections in six regions of Jamaica and it shows that many schools are past their capacity of enrollment and there is a lack of qualified teachers. Nevertheless, these inspections are an important part of improving ESTP’s standards and what schools must do to accomplish their goals.
The program is still fairly young and ESTP still has considerable work to do in order to satisfactorily meet its goals and provide a quality education for all students in Jamaica. Still, it is worthy to note that educators in Jamaica and stakeholders in Jamaica’s education sector have recognized a need to reform the system in order for the whole society to benefit. Many nations can look to developments like the ESTP as an example of positive educational reform.
– Candice Hughes