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Education and Schools

Jamaica - Education and Schools


Jamaican children who are aged six to 12 can go to primary school for free in Jamaica. However, all high schools charge tuition fees, which means education after the age of 12 is voluntary on the island.

The free primary schools in Jamaica are poorly resourced. Classes are generally very large. Some schools do not have electricity, and all suffer from a shortage of classroom equipment. Teacher training colleges produce more qualified teachers than are needed in Jamaica, yet pupil achievement levels remain consistently low.

All high schools charge tuition fees. Places are selective and allocation is based on the school entrance exams.

Some children are forced to leave education through poverty or inability to pass the entrance exams. Others attend the free primary school and have parents who can afford to send them to high school. A lucky few attend the most expensive private schools with the best facilities, such as the international schools.

Parents can expect to pay up to $15,000 a year on school fees. Other costs for uniforms, extracurricular activities, books and trips can easily add a further $10,000 each year.

Infant School In Jamaica

Infant school starts when children turn six. However, many facilities also offer preschool, nursery or kindergarten sessions for younger children. Some of these are offered on public school sites and others are located in the grounds of private schools, while most children attend sessions run by community-based services. These are typically funded by parents.

Jamaican School Hours

Jamaican schools typically begin at 8.30am, or half an hour earlier or later. The school day usually ends around 3.30pm.

Schools on the island have a strict attitude to homework. Pupils can often spend two hours each evening completing their tasks.

Extracurricular activities are an important part of school life for those whose families can afford the additional costs. A wide range of sport, drama and hobby sessions start immediately after school each evening and end at roughly 5pm.

In addition, many schools have early morning activities. Christian schools may begin the day with a religious service. Fundraising raffle events or exam talks often begin as early as 7.30 in the morning.

Recently, a population bulge led to a number of schools being significantly oversubscribed. The response to this was to start a shift system. Pupils would arrive at school as early as 7.30am, perhaps after an hour or so of travel. At lunchtime they would go home, and after a staff break, lessons began for an afternoon group of students. The day could end as late as 5.30pm, at which point the afternoon pupils would begin a long journey home.

As of 2017, only one school was still operating this system, because twice as many students needed places there as the building could accommodate. However, the system is expected to come to an end entirely in the foreseeable future.

The Jamaican School Year

The term dates for public schools are formally issued each year by the Minister of Education, Youth and Information.

The school year begins at the start of September. In mid-October, schools close for one week. A two-week break for Christmas starts at the end of December. Schools open again a week into January, but close for another one-week break in mid-February. Easter Holidays are in March or April depending on when Easter Sunday falls. Two weeks later, the summer term starts. Mid-June brings another one-week mid-term break. In early July, pupils break up for a long summer vacation.

There are a number of public holidays throughout the year, but they tend to fall during school holidays.

Exams In Jamaica

High school students in Jamaica work towards two sets of qualifications. After five years of study at high school, students take the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams. Pupils who do well will continue for a further two years of high school education. They then take the Caribbean Advanced Placement Exam (CXC CAPE), which allows them to progress to university.

What Is The Literacy Rate In Jamaica?

In 2016, the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL) reported that the adult literacy rate in Jamaica is now at 87 percent.

Back in 1974, only half of all Jamaican people could read and write. Up to 10 percent of the population leaves the country each year, and while this number is reducing, there is still a widespread desire to leave the island and find work elsewhere. The people most able to do this are the educated professionals. In light of this, it is an achievement that the literacy rates have risen and continue to do so.

However, despite this improvement, Jamaica’s literacy levels are still not only well behind the Western world, they also lag behind the rest of the Caribbean nations.

Each successive government attempts educational reform and improvement, but progress is slow. Jamaican society values education, yet the combination of the school system and the emigration of the educated feeds the cycle of illiteracy, unemployment, crime and poverty.

Private Schools In Jamaica

As an expat, you are unlikely to send your child to a public school in Jamaica. Fortunately, the island also has a range of private and international school options. There are a number of websites which list local private schools. Work and Jam is one such example.

Schools tend to have a website which explains their philosophy, lists their fees and displays photographs of the facilities on offer. However, remember that you and your child must be happy with a school for it to be a positive experience. Visiting a school armed with a list of questions is essential, no matter how comprehensive the website appears to be. Try to get a feel for the school’s vibe and assess whether it works for your family.

International Schools In Jamaica

International schools offer the curriculum and teaching methods of an overseas nation. A number of the school’s staff will be recruited from the relevant country, while the student body will typically include a number of expat children. These schools are more expensive than local private schools, but for expat parents living in Jamaica, the cost is seen as a good investment.

The expat population is large enough in Jamaica to support a small number of international schools.

The Hillel Academy in Upper Mark Way, Kingston was founded by the Jewish community of Jamaica. It is co-educational and multicultural, and pupils can attend from the age of three right the way through to the age of 18. Accredited by the US body SACS/AdvancED, the school offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum.

The American International School of Kingston is located on College Green Avenue. The school is co-educational and teaches students aged three to 18. While the curriculum predominantly follows the US system, the IB diploma is also offered. In addition, a section of the school delivers a French curriculum for French-speaking students.

The Belair School in DeCateret Road, Mandeville, accepts pupils from the age of three to 18. It offers a curriculum based on the British system, until Grade 7. Older students then work towards the CSEC and CAPE exams, as well as the SAT tests which are required for US university admission.

Ask Other Expats

Other expats already living in Jamaica know from experience which schools have been successful – or not – for their family. Why not reach out and ask for advice?

We have a Jamaica Forum on the ExpatFocus site. If you’re a Facebook fan, you might want to check out the ExpatFocusJamaica Page and the closed discussion group Expats In Jamaica. Just ask to join and you can start a private discussion with expats living in Jamaica straight away.


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