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Colección: INTERAMER
Número: 35
Año: 1994
Autor: Kenny D. Anthony
Título: The Legal Framework of Education in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS)

Organization of Primary Education

Most of the Education Acts and Regulations currently in force were intended to apply primarily, though not exclusively, to the primary school sector. This imbalance is partly explained by the fact that the secondary sector was small, underdeveloped, and in most islands, under the control of religious orders of one kind or another. Some are also of the view that the local ministries were generally unwilling to ensure legislative accountability of secondary schools largely because of their academic and social status. It may be too that they were too preoccupied with the problems of the primary sector. Be that as it may, the primary sector is easily identified in all the Acts. It should also be borne in mind that those provisions in the Acts which deal with general matters pertaining to public schools, assisted schools, and primary schools will also apply to the secondary sector.

In general, the OECS legislation on the primary sector tends to deal with the same subjects. Subtle differences do exist, and for that reason each island requires separate treatment, albeit, briefly.

Antigua and Barbuda

Primary education is treated as a separate category within the system of public education. It consists of full-time education suitable to the requirement of junior pupils.189 A junior pupil is not defined, but section 11(1)(b) of the Education Act indicates that primary school or departments of schools exist to provide education “suitable for children of five to twelve years.” The Act does not lay down the curricula, textbooks, pupils/teacher ratios and practices to be followed in primary schools but the Minister may enact regulations to that effect.190 In any event, these are matters addressed in regulations specifically enacted for primary schools.

Special provisions apply in respect to admission to a public school which is a primary school. Thus, section 16(2) of the Act stipulates:

No child shall be admitted as a pupil to a public school which is a primary school:
(a) unless he shall have attained the age of five years, except with the approval of the Chief Education Officer;
(b) other than in September or January, the beginning of the school year and the calendar year respectively, except with the approval of the Chief Education Officer;
(c) unless at the time of such admission he is accompanied by his parent, guardian or a responsible adult;
(d) unless he brings with him a birth or baptismal certificate giving the information required for the register of pupils;
(e) until his parent or guardian produces a certificate issued by a doctor or the Public Health authorities indicating that the child has been immunized against tetanus, pertussis, polio and diphtheria.
Except on the authority of the Minister, no person who is eligible may be denied admission to a public school.191 However, a student who is suffering with a communicable disease may be refused admission, and will only be readmitted on production of a medical certificate certifying that he is free from the disease.192

The Act also makes provision for suspension of students for acts of “gross misconduct [which] may be considered injurious or dangerous to members of staff and/or to other students or whose attendance at school is likely to have an adverse effect upon the good order and proper discipline of the school, provided that no such suspension shall exceed two weeks.”193 Thereafter, a detailed procedure is to be followed. A key aspect of the procedure is that the discretion to order an extension, reinstatement, or removal to another school is reposed in the Chief Education Officer.194 If the legislation is applied as it is intended, then the Minister becomes involved only if expulsion is an issue. For that, his approval is required.195 This approach is, perhaps, preferable to that of Saint Lucia, discussed below.

The responsibility of ensuring compulsory education falls to primary schools. The compulsory school age “means any age between five and sixteen years.”196 The Minister may, by Order subject to an affirmative resolution in Parliament, raise the upper level.197 Employment of children of compulsory school age is expressly prohibited.198

Like all schools, primary schools are required to keep specified registers and records for inspection by authorized officers.199 Special directions apply in the case of attendance registers200 and log books.201

Other specific laws which apply to primary schools are to be found in the Primary and Post Primary Education Regulations, already discussed above. Suffice it to say that these regulations require repeal and replacement.

Saint Christopher and Nevis

In its essential characteristics, the Saint Christopher and Nevis Act,202 insofar as it applies to Primary Education, is hardly different to that of Antigua.

Primary education is defined in similar terms. However, unlike Antigua which offered no definition, a junior pupil is defined to mean “a pupil who, at the commencement of any school year has not attained the age of twelve years.”203 Consistent with this, the public school system includes “primary schools or primary departments of schools providing education suitable for children of age 5-12 years.”204

One other difference worth noting relates to the powers of principals to suspend and expel pupils. Unlike Antigua where the Minister is involved only in matters of expulsion, the Minister is to be notified of any suspension and, after notification, may order extension or reinstatement.205

It has already been noted that reliance is placed on School Attendance Officers to enforce compulsory education. This approach was not adopted in Antigua.

No specific regulations have been enacted to govern primary education.


Consistent with the legislation of the 1950s, the Education Ordinance206 focuses on primary education. Secondary education received no detailed legislative treatment.

Primary education is offered by primary schools and post-primary schools. Primary schools cater to children “up to the age of twelve years”207 and post primary “for pupils up to the age of fourteen years.”208 The rest of the Act deals with broader issues of management, organization, religious instruction, private schools, and scholarships.

As noted elsewhere, matters affecting primary education are usually dealt with in regulations. The Administrator in Council is yet to enact regulations governing, inter alia, (i) the establishment, maintenance, administration, management and discontinuance of Government and of assisted primary and post-primary schools and (ii) the inspection and examination of such schools and the curriculum and instruction to be given therein.209

Saint Lucia

Section 8(1)(a) of the Education Act210 states that primary education “shall consist of full time education suitable to the requirements of junior pupils.” A junior pupil “means a pupil who at the commencement of any school year has not attained the age of twelve years.”211 Curiously, there is no lower age limit, but this may be intended to facilitate the introduction of nursery schools into the public system of education. Nevertheless, one would have expected some indication of age limits for nursery schools. The Act also draws a distinction between a “junior pupil,” and a “child.” The latter means “a person between the ages of five and under fifteen years.”212 Given the distinction between “child” and “junior pupil” the purposes of the Act could be better served by adding a definition for “senior pupil” that is a person between “the ages of twelve and under fifteen years.”

Insofar as primary schools are concerned, public schools are divided into schools or departments of primary schools providing education suitable for children under the age of eight years and “primary schools or departments of primary schools providing education suitable for children of ages eight to twelve years.”213 This division is sensible and corresponds to the age old distinction between “infant education” and “junior education.” The Act contains no provisions elaborating on the divisions just cited.

In general, the other aspects of the Act which impinge on Primary Education are broadly similar to that of other Acts reviewed elsewhere in this paper. It is in the regulations that detailed provisions for Primary Education are to be found. These regulations govern school buildings, school furniture and equipment, admission of pupils, attendance of pupils, school records, discipline, inspection and reports, management of schools, classification and organization of schools and syllabi, assisted schools, teachers—classification and salaries, pupil teachers, teacher’s certificate examinations, school staff, leave of absence, and training of teachers.214 Notwithstanding their legal force, it has already been shown that most of the regulations are obsolete and require repeal.

Grenada and Carriacou

It has already been observed that the Grenada Act draws a distinction between a “pre-primary school” and a “primary school.” A pre-primary school provides education “suitable to the requirements of the children of the age 2 to 5 years.”215 A primary school provides “full time education suitable to the requirements of children of age 5 to 12 years.”216 By the omission of the words “full time” in the definition of pre-primary school, the Act envisages that pre-primary education may be part time. A further distinction exists between an “all age school,” a “pre-primary” and a “primary school.” An “all-age school” means a school recognized by the Minister as “providing full-time education suitable to the requirements of children ages 5 to 16 years.”217 Again, no reference is made to the possible existence of “senior primary schools,” that is, schools catering exclusively to children between the ages of 12 and 15 years.

It has already been noted that a substantial part of the law governing primary education is to be found in regulations made by the Minister under the authority of the Education Act. Apart from the general provisions applying to all schools, specific provisions govern admission,218 transfer, and suspension of students; attendance of students in primary schools; organization of schools into classes;219 and syllabi and textbooks.220 In general, the approach in Grenada is to harmonize the public school system by reducing differences in accountability between primary and secondary schools, and between public and private schools.


The Dominica Education Ordinance, in a manner consistent with the legislation of the other states, provides, inter alia, for a system of public elementary education.221 An elementary school means “a school or department of a school recognized by the education officer as providing a curriculum prescribed for elementary schools, and which is registered pursuant to the provisions of [the] Ordinance.”222 These schools are to cater to “any person between the age of five years and not more than fifteen years.”223 Students would be entitled to “efficient elementary instruction,” that is, instruction received from a registered school “by a person who shall have first obtained from the education officer a certificate of competency to impart efficient elementary instruction.”224 A similar provision applies to private instruction.

According to section 9 of the Ordinance, public elementary schools may be established and maintained in accordance with regulations made in pursuance of the Ordinance. These regulations deal principally, though not exclusively, with “public elementary schools.” This follows the general pattern noted in the other islands.

The Approach in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

The organization of primary education in Saint Vincent follows the pattern met in the other states. Primary education is intended for students who have attained the age of five years but have “not attained the age of fifteen years and have not gained admittance to a secondary school.”225 In turn, a primary school is defined as “a school or a department of a school recognized by the Minister as providing full-time education suitable to the requirements of students of age five to fifteen years.”226 The Act classifies primary schools in two categories, “government schools and assisted schools.”227 It is left to regulations, yet to be enacted, to prescribe, inter alia, curricula, the admission age and school leaving age of students.228

Replacing Obsolete Regulations

With the exception of Grenada, the regulations governing primary education in the OECS is dated, and in many instances, obsolete. These regulations do not reflect the changes which have occurred in the sector over the past few years.

Careful thought must, however, be given to their replacement. The practice of prescribing curricula, syllabi and textbooks by legislation should be discontinued for the simple reason that changes occur too rapidly to be accommodated in legislation. Rather, greater use should be made of enabling powers, thus allowing the Minister or appropriate functionary to make changes by nonstatutory mechanisms.

The laws and accompanying regulations tend to ignore secondary education, pre-primary education, and even specific classes within the primary sector. The desirability of special laws and regulations should not be ignored.