Featuring the Caribbean: Barbados harnesses the potential of education to reduce youth unemployment

  • 17 March 2017
© A Ganar Barbados

Barbados is the most easterly island in the Caribbean Sea. Most of its 284,000 citizens speak an English-based Creole dialect called Bajan, although English is the official language. The largest city on the island is the country’s capital, Bridgetown, which is home to 110,000 people. Bridgetown is also one of the most prominent port cities in the Caribbean: the area now known as Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011, played a critical role in the development of trade-based British colonies in the region.

Since 1968, when Barbados joined UNESCO, the country has worked to promote education as a key factor for sustainable development and economic growth. The country currently invests around 6 per cent of its GDP in education, from pre-primary to tertiary level. Recognizing the societal benefits of adult learning and education (ALE), Barbados increased public spending in the area between 2009 and 2014 and developed training programmes for ALE educators and facilitators. According to the third Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE III), ALE in Barbados encompasses all formal, informal, non-formal and incidental learning, as well as continuing education for adults in both general and professional settings. All of this demonstrates the government’s ongoing commitment towards making education accessible to all.

Nevertheless, as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), Barbados still faces challenges to sustainable development; this includes a high youth-unemployment rate (30.4 per cent in 2015). In view of this, the government is exploring new solutions through education in the belief that, by improving the quality of learning, graduates are more likely to successfully transition from secondary to tertiary education and into the labour market. 

In the Barbados Human Resource Development Strategy 2011–2016, the government set out its plan to strengthen the second-chance education system for vulnerable youth, learners with disabilities, and those who are unqualified or underqualified. The A Ganar Alliance Program – which was implemented in 2013 by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) together with the Inter-American Development Bank and the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (METI) of Barbados – is part of this strategy. This initiative targets school dropouts, youth at risk of dropping out, and high school graduates with no interest in further educational opportunities. By motivating this target group with sport activities, the programme hopes to develop their core life skills, promote their engagement in society, and ultimately combat youth unemployment. In 2015/16, three years following the programme’s implementation, more than 300 students completed courses on employability skills, and technical and on-the-job training.


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Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (METI), Barbados. 2015. Education for all 2015 national review – Barbados report. [PDF] St. Michael, METI. Available at: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0023/002300/230018E.pdf [Accessed 14 March 2017].

Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (METI), Barbados. 2016. Barbados: Human resource development strategy 2011–2016. Developing national, institutional and human capacity for sustainable growth. [PDF] St. Michael, METI. Available at: https://labour.gov.bb/pdf/Barbados_HRD_Strategy.pdf [Accessed March 14 2017].

UNESCO – World Heritage Convention. n.d. Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison. [Website] Available at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1376 [Accessed 14 March 2017].

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