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<<Biblioteca Digital del Portal<<La Educación<<La Educación (120) I, 1995 <<Artículo
La Educación
Número: (120) I
Año: 1995

Educational Development in Barbados: An Overview Since 1945

Educational development can be defined as “changes in the educational institutions of a given society so that these contribute to an increasingly more equal distribution among the population at large of skills, knowledge and ideas thought of as necessary for a prosperous life” (Torres 1979, 150). In the context of sustainable development, educational development relates to the changes taking place in the educational institutions with respect to the widespread development of knowledge and ideas about the relationship between the physical/ecological environment and the expansion of socio-economic activity.

Educational development in Barbados since the end of the Second World War (since 1945) can be discussed with reference to three sub-periods:

i) 1945 to 1960
ii) 1960 to 1980
iii) 1980 to present

Although the use of sub-periods is usually problematic due to the dynamics of change, the use of the above sub-periods is useful as an organizing device. These sub-periods have been associated with important events in the development of the educational system:

i) the establishment of a Department of Education under the Education Amendment) Act in 1943;
ii) the abolition of school fees in 1962 heralding “free” access for all person to secondary education; and
iii) the introduction of a new Education Act in 1983.

These events brought significant changes in the educational system, some of which have relevance to the nature of sustainable development in Barbados.

Main Features of the 1945-1960 Period

The newly appointed Director of Education in the Department of Education undertook an educational survey of the country during 1944/95. This survey formed the basis of policy document on education. Erdiston Teacher Training College was established in 1948 as the government sought to provide the manpower needed for educational expansion.

A Technical Institute was opened during this period to provide training for apprentices and other students. The output of the Institute was expected to service the needs of the newly established manufacturing sector. In addition, there was an emphasis on the training of women in “traditional” skill areas (baking, needlework, etc) through the Housecraft Center.

As part of the educational thrust to spread knowledge across the country via the use of innovative techniques, the Department of Education engaged in the development of audio-visual aid material and expanded its community education through the mobile cinema and library. Since it was difficult to access educational material outside of the city areas, these activities were generally well received by the rural communities.

The early 1950s saw the expansion of the “comprehensive” secondary school system with the opening of St Leonards in 1952 and Princess Margaret and Grantley Adams schools in 1955. These schools provided a broader educational base for students who were unable to gain access to the Secondary Grammar schools and private schools. There was also the strengthening of the elementary (primary) school system and a reorganization of the system of intelligence tests.

During this early post-war period, science education was introduced into the “first grade” or secondary grammar schools with the establishment of science laboratories. Although the focus of this science education was chemistry and biology geared towards British written examination, its introduction can be viewed as the first step towards exposing students to ecological/physical environmental issues.

In 1958, the Department of Education was reorganized into a separate Ministry of Education. Such an arrangement was associated with the introduction of a ministerial form of government in the 1950s.

The school enrollment rate for the population of children aged 5 to 15 years increased from 76.3 percent in 1946 to 83.6 percent in 1960. The average for the period was 79 percent. There was a general increase in demand for secondary level education which resulted in the establishment of a number of private schools. There was some “overcrowding” in the school system as evidenced by the increase in the pupil-teacher ratio from 36 in 1946 to 44 in 1954. However, there was a gradual decline in the ratio after 1954 as the output of the Teachers’ Training College expanded.

The 1945-1960 period can be described as one of consolidation of past initiatives, the expansion of plant and the initiation of educational change in Barbados. To a large extent, the educational system focused on the provision of knowledge and skills to meet local and foreign labor market demands (nurses, teachers, technicians, civil servants and other service-oriented persons). During the period, a “new” manufacturing sector was established via the granting of fiscal incentives by the government and emigration was actively encouraged in an effort to resolve the unemployment problem. Changes also took place in the administration of government as a ministerial form of governance took effect. These changes in the polity and economy of Barbados placed new demands on the educational system. The focus of educational development therefore was on meeting these new demand rather than on “sustainable development” issues. Issues pertaining to the environment were examined within the context of non-formal education, for example, the 4H movement.

Features of the 1960-1980 Period

The principles of the educational program for the early 1960s are stated in the 1960-1965 Development Plan, namely:

i) general education for all children (5-14 years),
ii) the reorganization of education for children between 11 and 14 years of age with a focus on the provision of an increased number of places insecondary modern schools,
iii) the provision of free grammar (secondary) school education for all those who qualify,
iv) the development of technical education to contribute to the industrial needs of the country, and
v) the improvement in the quality and expansion in the quantity of teaching professionals.

These principles governed the specific actions taken by the government in its drive for educational development in Barbados.

In 1962, fees for government secondary schools were abolished. This policy measure opened up secondary education to a large number of individuals and has had a significant impact on human resource development and social mobility in Barbados. This single policy measure is widely regarded as creating a watershed in the Barbarian educational system and heralding the future development of a middle income professional and technical class. The secondary school curriculum was also expanded to incorporate industrial arts (metal wood work), home economics and agricultural science. Secondary modern schools were renamed “comprehensive” schools (to distinguish them from older secondary/grammar schools). The curricula of these comprehensive schools were designed to reflect the requirements of an expanding economy, especially in the areas of agricultural and industrial development. The early 1960s saw economic development policy focusing on manufacturing development propelled by fiscal incentives, the building of industrial parks and the training of persons in industrial techniques of production. Government’s economic policy was designed to diversify the economy and reduce the heavy dependence on sugar cane production. Technical training was consolidated in the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic. In addition, tertiary education was expanded via the opening of the Community College and the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies.

Social support schemes for the educational system were established during the period: the School Meals Service in 1963, the Textbook Loan Scheme in 1975 and the School Uniform Grant Scheme in 1980. In addition, the vestry system which existed under local government and later the welfare department with central government provided social welfare benefits for needy children.

Expansion of the school plant continued during the period, but the Government was still unable to provide enough places for those seeking secondary level education in Barbados. A scheme was therefore devised to assist private secondary schools through bursaries to students and the partial payment of the salaries of teachers. The 1960s and 1970s saw an expansion of private secondary schools in Barbados. Facilities were also expanded for teacher training, hotel training and adult education. A program of co-education was devised by amalgamating some primary and secondary schools and incorporating students of the opposite sex into “mixed-sex” schools. With the advent of “free” education at all levels, educational planning was social demand driven, with the government seeking to provide places to meet demand. The institution of compulsory education up to secondary level (16 years of age) resulted in a situation where Barbados had the highest percentage of unemployed (and employed) persons with at least secondary school education in the Caribbean.

While educational policy in the pre-independence period focused on the development of primary and secondary levels of education, the post-independence period (1966-1980) saw a widening of the educational policy from nursery to tertiary levels. Although some emphasis was placed on meeting the human resources requirements of economic development—tourism, agriculture and manufacturing—a more holistic approach to education was adopted during the period. Human resources development via education was viewed both as a means to meet the demands of economic activity and an end to improve the knowledge base of the society. Education was also viewed as a means of assisting individuals in their social and moral responsibilities. Issues relating to sustainable development were not high on the education agenda. Environmental issues were discussed within the narrow confines of geography and biology syllabuses within schools, for example, soil erosion conservation in the Scotland district and water pollution. Little attempt was made to examine the socio-economic dimension of environmental problems. The 4H movement which addressed issues of agricultural development and conservation began to decline during the period as the youth expressed little interest in agricultural production.

The Post-1980 Period

The share of government expenditure on education continued to increase during the 1980s (see Table 1). Total expenditure on education as a percentage of total government expenditure increased from 21 percent in 1980/81 to 23.8 percent in 1990/91. Education was seen as the foundation of a new development emphasis on human resources development. The Education Act of 1981 sought to promote the goal of equity across the educational system. The Act sought to democratize the educational system and regularize the management and operation of all secondary schools (Ministry of Education and Culture 1990).


There was some reduction in the emphasis on adult education since it was thought that the existing program failed to answer the needs of those seeking technical and other skills. Other opportunities were provided for training: a skills training program, vocational centers, the establishment of a National Training Board and a youth training scheme. There was a re-emphasis on education during the post-1980 period to meet the manpower needs of the country in keeping with the government’s economic policy goal of production diversification.

Important changes were made in the educational curriculum during the 1980s. Greater emphasis was placed on computer education, tourism-related studies and family life education. The 1980s also saw the advent of environmental studies (science) as a separate subject area in many schools. Educational policy also sought to satisfy the special needs of the educational system, namely, the disabled and those children requiring remedial teaching.

The 1980s and 1990s have seen education focusing on meeting the needs of a new technological and information age with the advent of the computer and other components of information technology. Given the rapidity of technical change and the need to be more competitive and productive, the educational system has been required to provide the human resource needs at a more rapid pace in the face of declining budgetary support occasioned by structural adjustment policies (see Downes 1993).

Environmental education, though part of the educational curriculum—geography, social studies, integrated science and agricultural science—is still marginalized in the system. This probably reflects the low priority given to environmental/sustainable development issues at the national level (Fitzgerald 1990, 289). Recent research shows that the labor market in the Caribbean for persons with environmental training is small (see Downes 1994). The main growth areas have been in the areas of management, accounting and computing, thus reflecting the service-oriented nature of development in recent years. Services sector development is not without its environmental problems. For example, the coastal area is damaged and polluted by tourism development, and waste disposal problems are exacerbated with an increase in the visiting population. Although the educational system is seeking to produce the manpower to meet new economic challenges, there is still a lack of environmental awareness among graduates concerning the impact of new economic activity on the ecology of the country.

Educational development in Barbados since 1945 can therefore be divided into three phases: 1945 to 1960 - a period characterized by a widening of the educational plant and the consolidation of the educational curriculum; 1960 to 1980 - a period which placed emphasis on equity and fairness in the system, the development of a social support system and the expansion of the secondary and tertiary systems to meet both social and human resource demands. The period since 1980 has seen an extension of the features of the 1960 to 1980 period, but with a greater emphasis on training and human resource development for the new technological age. Greater emphasis has been placed on environmental education, reflecting the global concern with sustainable development issues.