Featuring the Caribbean: A snapshot of adult learning and education in Jamaica

  • 3 March 2017
A snapshot of adult learning and education in Jamaica

Situated to the north of South America, the Caribbean region comprises both island and mainland countries. Jamaica, with a population of 2,793,000, is one of the largest islands in the Caribbean Sea. It is one of the region’s UNESCO Member States. The principle language spoken is English. However, other languages are also used, such as the Jamaican Creole or Patois, formed by the amalgamation of words from many languages with English. Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, is located in the southeastern part of the island and has one of the world’s largest natural harbors. As of 2017, 937,700 people resides in Kingston, making it the most populous city of the country.

Since 1962, when Jamaica joined UNESCO, the country has been making continuous efforts to improve literacy and adult basic education, workforce education, and human and resource development through national policy.

In 2015, Jamaica’s adult (15 years and above) literacy rate was 88.5 per cent, representing substantial improvements since the 1970s when only 50 per cent of adults were literate. Evidence from the third Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE III), published in 2016, highlighted Jamaica’s success in accomplishing its target of spending at least 6 per cent of GDP on education, with 4 per cent or more of its total education expenditure going to adult learning and education. In general, since 2009, overall participation in adult learning and education has increased across Latin America and the Caribbean, while, in Jamaica, more women now participate than men.

Jamaica has been developing a draft lifelong learning policy, building on several decades of development. This has included the establishment of institutions such as the Jamaican Movement for the Advancement of Literacy, now the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL), to improve the provision of learning opportunities to young people and adults. The Senior Learning Institute in Montego Bay and branch campuses of universities offering tertiary and continuing education, are among the vehicles for achieving successful youth and adult learning. In addition, adults with low levels of literacy or basic skills, as well as young people not in education, employment or training, are especially important target groups for Jamaica’s adult learning and education policies.

In 2010, Jamaica’s Ministry of Education launched its Master Plan for Literacy. Under this framework, multiple pathways towards literacy, including formal education, technical and vocational education and training and apprenticeship systems, are being explored. School-based literacy coordinators operate in public schools, working closely with regional literacy coordinators and literacy specialists from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information to implement the Master Plan. A high school diploma equivalency programme for adults and education-focused workplace intervention are also offered, as technical vocational education and training has been acknowledged as both a vehicle for the development of marketable and entrepreneurial skills and an engine for development. National training agency, the Human Employment and Resource Training Trust (known as ‘HEART’), is the focal point to integrate efforts from all levels, in order to provide inclusive education. In-service teacher training is delivered island-wide under Enhancing Outcomes for Trainers of Adult Learners, an initiative co-launched by UNESCO and JFLL, which has reached 7,500 learners by 2016.

The main challenges in achieving inclusive education for all in Jamaica lie in economic constraints, which affect retention and certification. Vulnerable and disadvantaged members of the population often lack the economic capacity to attend educational activities at all.


United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division. 2015. World Population Prospects, the 2015 Revision [online] Available at: https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Download/Standard/Population/ [Accessed 28 February 2017].

World Population Review. 2017. Population of Cities in Jamaica. [online] Available at: http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/jamaica-population/cities/ [Accessed 28 February 2017].

UNESCO Institute for Statistics [not dated]. Jamaica. [online] Available at: http://uis.unesco.org/country/jm [Accessed 21 February 2017].

Jamaica Observer. 2016. Jamaica’s adult literacy rate now at 87 percent. [online] Available at: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Jamaica-s-adult-literacy-rate-now-at-87-per-cent_71854 [Accessed 21 February 2017].

Government of Jamaica. 2016. Heart Trust/NTA Developing Career and Lifelong Learning Policy. [online] Available at: http://jis.gov.jm/heart-trustnta-developing-career-and-lifelong-learning-policy [Accessed 17 February 2017].

CARICOM. 2014. Regional TVET Strategy for Workforce Development and Economic Competitiveness. [pdf] Available at: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/86702287/CARICOM_Carribean_Report_September%2012.pdf. [Accessed 22 February 2017].


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