A capsule of the education system in Jamaica

English is the Official Language of Jamaica. The system of formal education also uses English as the standard language.  The increasing association with American English has also influenced the English of Jamaica. Standard American words have been adopted in the vocabulary of Jamaican English.

Early childhood education is involved with the development of children up to age five. The institutions involved are day care centres, basic and infant schools and infant departments of primary schools.

Primary Education

Privately owned schools are called Preparatory Schools. Primary education in Jamaica addresses the normal educational needs of students and prepares them for Secondary Education. It caters to children between the ages of 5-11 years. Under the Caribbean Examination Council's Revised Primary Curriculum, student assessment has changed significantly. Previously there was an automatic promotion to a secondary school under the tenets of the former Common Entrance Examination at the end of Grade 6. However, since 1999, the National Assessment Program (NAP) has been employing a number of teaching strategies to ensure that learning experiences are broader based and student centered.

NAP adopts a built-in approach from grades 1-3 and a discrete subject area for grades 4-6.

  • Grade 1: Readiness Inventory
  • Grade 3: Assessment tests in Math and Language Arts
  • Grade 4: Literacy Test
  • Grade 6: Achievement Test (GSAT): in Math, Language Arts, Social Studies, Science and Writing.

The students create a prioritized list of 5 schools they wish to go to, and based on their performance in the GSAT, they are then placed at a school from their list  Primary school education in Jamaica is compulsory and free to students.

Secondary School Education

Lower School – Forms 1-3 (Ages 10-13 or 14) or grades 7-9

Students are exposed to a wide range of subjects, including Spanish and French as 2nd languages. Generally, Integrated Science is normally taught until the 3rd form, where students begin taking Physics, Biology and Chemistry as separate subjects. Some schools group students based on their academic achievement the year prior. This may greatly impact what subjects some students might be able to take later on in school, and what teachers they might be assigned to.

Upper School – Forms 4 & 5 or grades 10-11

In 4th form, students choose about 6-10 subjects (8 is the standard) they will likely sit in the Caribbean Examination Council's O-Level school leaving examinations. Students are free to create their own curricula which must include but cannot be limited to: Mathematics and English Language all others are optional though some schools tend to make at least 1 other compulsory. Most students take at least one foreign language. Other subjects include: History, Geography, Agricultural Science, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Spanish, French, Accounting, Principles of Business, Information Technology, Religious Education, Technical Drawing, Art, Theater Arts and about 21 others. Generally students are informally classified, or classify themselves as Arts, Sciences, Industrial Arts and Business students, particularly if they plan on going to 6th form.

Sixth Form Divided into upper and lower sixth, or grades 12 (lower) and 13 (upper)

Sixth form is an optional 24 months long, advanced post secondary program, at the end of which students write the CAPE (Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Exams) which  are similar to the GCE A-Level examinations which were the standard up until 2003. Some students still choose to sit A-levels; however, they are expected to meet CAPE's basic subject requirements/groupings.

Entry into Sixth Form is extremely competitive, especially in rural and suburban Jamaica, where there are fewer high schools with sixth form, serving larger areas. The government has embarked on a plan to upgrade secondary schools in order to meet the needs of an emerging economy that requires more advanced literacy and mathematics skills.

Vocational Instruction

The National Training Agency oversees vocational learning in Jamaica that is offered by state vocational training centers and private academies. Most vocational institutions teach and train students in the following industries: agriculture, automotive, personal services, garment, information technology, art and crafts, and construction.

Students are trained to be qualified to enter the workforce or tertiary institutions upon graduating. In addition to the schools identified under this programme, Technical/Vocational education is offered in some high and comprehensive high schools.

Tertiary Education

Tertiary education is offered in the following Government-funded institutions:

  • The University of the West Indies
  • The University of Technology
  • Six Teacher Training Colleges
  • Seven Multi-disciplinary colleges
  • The College of Agriculture, Science and Education
  • Edna Manley College of Visual and Performance Arts

Generally, A-Level or CAPE examinations passes will be needed to enter the nation's Universities. An individual may also qualify with  a 3-year diploma from an accredited post-secondary college. The term college usually denotes institutions which do not grant a bachelor's degree. Universities are usually the only degree granting institutions; however, many colleges have been creating joint programs with universities, and thus are able to offer some students more than a college diploma. 

Wearing a uniform is mandatory for students even in tertiary educational institutions.  Rules regarding attire – sock, shoes, pants, shirts, skirts, jewellery, and blouses – are strictly enforced. The school day usually begins at 8:00am and lasts until 2:00.pm. School vacations are customary during the Easter holidays, Christmas, and the summer months. Most children participate in some type of sporting activity. The major sporting activities are track and field, soccer, cricket, swimming, field hockey, tennis, netball, and basketball.   Click for more information

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