When I tell my friends and family that I go to Barbados to work with the Ministry of Education, the looks usually tell a story of disbelief. “Work? Yeah, right” – is the answer as they picture me sitting under a palm tree looking at the sea. After all – Barbados is known as a top tourist destination in the Caribbean. Few people know that Barbados is more than blue water and white sand beaches: the country has prioritized education since its independence from Great Britain in 1966 and has achieved a lot.
To start with, Barbados is one of the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that invests most in education: in 2017, 4.7 % of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was invested in education. Furthermore, Barbados has the highest rate of secondary school attendance in Latin America (99%), followed by Chile and Argentina (88%) (CIMA Brief #8) and achieved universal access to primary education in the 1970s.
At the Surface: Student Performance in Barbados
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is widely considered as the global yardstick for measuring educational achievement. However, considering that in the last round of PISA in 2015, only Trinidad and Tobago from the Caribbean participated, it is not possible to assess Barbados’ education system in the international context. However, regional comparison in performance among Caribbean countries is possible thanks to the Caribbean secondary education certificate (CSEC). Given that all English-Speaking countries are members of Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC), the CSEC results are regionally comparable.
The country participates in the regional examinations administered by the CXC, whose CSEC is comparable to the “high school diploma” in the USA. The CSEC is offered to students 16 and older who have reached the end of secondary education and registered to take the examination1. Students’ performance in each subject is classified as falling into Grades I through VI, with Grade I being the highest level of attainment, and Grade III being a passing grade. What makes the CSEC particularly important is that in order to work in the public sector or to be admitted into universities, high school graduates need to pass 4 and 5 CSEC subjects.
According to the CSEC results, students in Barbados perform better in mathematics and English than their regional peers.
Since 2005, Barbados has consistently had the highest percentage (62%) of students who passed CSEC examination, compared to an average of 56.6% in the Caribbean. In addition, Barbados has consistently had the highest passing rates in English, with 67% in 2015 as compared to 60% in the Caribbean (CIMA Brief #8).
Diving Deeper: Students Without CSEC Certification
Despite Barbados’ overall high passing rates, when diving deeper into the data, it is clear that challenges exist. Of students who took the Barbados Secondary School Entrance Examination (BSSEE)2 in 2009, 23.6% did NOT take the CSEC test in 2015 (CIMA Brief #8). Of the students who did take the CSEC in 2015, 31% failed Math, and 29 failed English. Given that students require 4 or 5 CSEC passes to attend universities or work in the public sector, the implication is that students who failed the CSEC or did not take the examination are at a higher risk of lacking post-secondary options.
The disadvantages for these students are not only lack of access to tertiary education and to the job market: data from the Barbados Labor Surveys consistently shows that the rates of return for students without a CSEC certificate are lower than those who completed secondary education and achieved a CSEC certificate. For instance, in 2015 the difference of returns to secondary education with a CSEC certificate was 0.3 percentage points greater than the returns of secondary education without a certificate (CIMA Brief #8).
So, next time you are thinking about Barbados, remember that not everyone is going to the beach. Over the last couple of years, the Ministry of Education and the IDB have collaborated to improve the availability of education data and just recently the Ministry introduced successfully an Educational Management Information System (Open EMIS). Thanks to these efforts, challenges, such as those students facing a lack of opportunities after graduating can now be better identified and comprehensive policies to address these challenges can be developed.
For this purpose, the IDB’s Education Division developed the Education Statistics Portal (CIMA): to actively provide a useful tool with education statistics throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Ultimately, by incorporating databases such as the BSSEE and CSEC, into a single platform, Ministries of Education and other stakeholders can more successfully implement evidence-based educational policies. Do you want to dive deeper and know more about Barbados educational system? You can do it here, it´s just a click away at CIMA’s website.
Entry by Sabine Rieble-Aubourg, Catalina Rodríguez and Adriana Viteri