26 Sep 2022

The education system in Jamaica is managed primarily by the Ministry of Education. Through this ministry, formal education is provided mainly by the government, either independently or in partnerships with churches and trusts. Formal education is also provided by private schools. Based on the stipulation of the Education Act (1980), the education system consists of four levels: Early Childhood, Primary, Secondary and Tertiary (MOJ, 1980).

Mobility through the education system in Jamaica is decided by a series of national examinations. At the primary school level, this is the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) which is inclusive, as it allows all primary school students to be placed in a secondary (high) school institution. However, students who score higher on this exam are eligible for placement in more elite secondary schools. This puts substantial pressure on students to perform competitively and may stigmatise those who do not gain entry into an elite secondary school (Jamaica Observer, 2018).

Table 8: Primary School Enrolment by Gender between 2010 and 2015

Sex 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Male 100.7 98.3 NA 96.6 99.6 99.6
Female 96.7 98.7 NA 99.7 99.9 99.9


At secondary school level, students are expected to sit the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) school leaving examinations in Forms 4 and 5 (or grades 10-11). Students are tested on six to eight subjects, which must include Mathematics and English (Caribbean Examinations Council, 2019). At both the primary and secondary school levels, consistent attendance is a challenge for children of low-income families due to socio-economic issues like transport costs (UNICEF, 2018).

In form 6 (or grades 12 & 13), which is a 2-year, optional post-secondary program, students sit the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Exams (CAPE) which is the equivalent of the GCE A-level examinations (Caribbean Examinations Council, 2019). Sixth form is highly competitive and is not available at all secondary schools. However, the CAPE exam is a requirement for entry into local tertiary institutions, which include the popular University of the West Indies, (UWI) Mona, the University of Technology (U-Tech), and the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (Adams & Hayle, 2021).

In 2015, Jamaica’s literacy rate estimate was of 88.7% for the total population (lower among males at 84% than for females, 93.1%) (CIA, 2019). However, this rate was not based on a literacy survey but on the percentage of persons aged 15 and over that ever-attended school (CIA, 2019). As of 2014, the latest literacy survey revealed that of the adult population 15 years and older, 91.7% were literate. However, 78.3% of that rate were functionally literate; while 13.4% had only basic literacy (PIOJ, 2018).

In 2017, the Minister of Education confirmed that the 2015 Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions found there was universal school enrolment of children up to age 16 in Jamaica, with an enrolment rate of 17-18 year olds at 50% and of 19-24 year olds at 18% (Patterson, 2017). “Money problems” was cited as the main reason for absence from school from the early-childhood through to secondary levels, with 42.2%  of persons indicating financial constraints as a problem (Patterson, 2017).

COVID-19 and School attendance

Due to the presence of COVID-19, schools within Jamaica have been closed since March 13, 2020 and will remain closed until May 31, 2020. Though this encourages the use of technology in education, there are issues of technological accessibility. During an interview, the President of the Jamaica Teacher’s Association reported that internet accessibility may hinder the way technology may enhance learning and teaching. He further purported that many students are either without technology or have inconsistent access (Jamaica Observer, 2021). This reality may reduce the quality of teaching and learning, as well as negatively impact school completion rates.


Adams & Hayle. (2021). Integrated Higher Education in Support of Flexible Learning Pathways in Jamaica. International Institute for Educational Planning and University Council of Jamaica (UCJ). Available from:  https://www.ucj.org.jm/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/IIEP-UNESCO-UCJ-Jamaica-Integrated-HE-FLP-FINAL-October-20-2021.pdf

Caribbean Examinations Council. (2019). CXC Associate Degrees. Available from: https://www.cxc.org/examinations/cxc-associate-degrees/

CIA. (2019). Central America: Jamaica — The World Factbook. https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/jamaica/

Jamaica Observer. (2018). 80% of GSAT students placed at school of choice – Reid. Available from: https://www.jamaicaobserver.com/latest-news/80-of-gsat-students-placed-at-school-of-choice-reid/

Jamaica Observer. (2021). On track, but slow. Available from: https://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/on-track-but-slow/

MOJ. (1980). The Education Act: The Education Regulations, 1980. Available from: https://moj.gov.jm/sites/default/files/laws/EA%20Regulations%201980.pdf

Patterson, C. (2017). Universal School Enrolment up to Age 16. Jamaica Information Service. https://jis.gov.jm/universal-school-enrolment-age-16-2/

Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ). (2018). National Policy on Poverty and National Poverty Reduction Programme: Government of Jamaica, 2017. Available from: https://www.pioj.gov.jm/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/NationalPolicyOnPovertyNationalPovertyReductionProgramme

UNICEF. (2018). Situation Analysis of Jamaican Children – 2018. Available from: https://www.unicef.org/jamaica/reports/situation-analysis-jamaican-children-2018