For Hotel Manager Ruth Stevens, finding sufficiently skilled school leavers in her native St Vincent and the Grenadines is problematic. The disconnect between the skills they have learnt in school and the job-market is just too wide.
“When we have students that come out of the colleges, and we hire them to perform certain tasks, we realize that we will have to give them some form of support in terms of skills and job readiness,” Ms. Stevens explains.
And, she is far from alone. It’s a challenge employers across the Caribbean find repeated year on year. This is just one of the findings from a new report, ‘Quality education counts for skills and growth’ published by the World Bank.
Quantity rather than quality
In recent years, governments across the Caribbean have invested heavily in increasing both primary and secondary enrolment rates. And many countries in the region now enjoy universal coverage for both schooling levels. However, despite spending nearly 11 years in education, school leavers within the Caribbean often struggle to find formal employment.
Why? Here the report offers some suggestions, highlighting four key areas where system-wide changes are needed:
- Early childhood education is essential to a child’s development as it builds the foundation for primary schooling. But, unlike primary and secondary education, as yet there has been no national push for pre-school education. This has resulted in huge variations to education services and often meaning children from rural areas or lower income families miss out.
And these families were high up in the minds for delegates from the Caribbean Growth Forum, who met in Nassau in June.
"Most of our islands here do not have national policies on early childhood development. There’s no leadership, no investment, no financing being placed there. It must become a national issue," proposed one delegate passionately.
- Currently, fewer than 15% of school leavers in the OECS move on to further education. In order to improve productivity and competitiveness in the Caribbean, high level skills are needed. Consequently boosting tertiary education attendance is key.
- Attracting qualified teachers is a “chronic challenge” for the Caribbean, and is particularly pronounced within the core subjects - English, Maths and Science. With such a predominance of unqualified teachers, pass rates for these subjects in particular have suffered. In 2009, fewer than 50% of students region-wide passed CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate) exams in English and Maths.
- Poor accountability: With a highly centralized system, there is little decision-making authority within the schools themselves. International studies have shown that giving schools the ability to make certain decisions themselves is closely linked to education quality.