Dominica - Education

Dominica - Education

Churches have played a significant role in Dominica through the establishment of institutions for formal and informal education. The influence of the church began with the arrival of the colonizers, and institution played an important role in subduing the Caribs and Westernizing the African slaves. Direct involvement in formal education by the churches began in the 1800s, when the Roman Catholic and Methodist churches, which had already established congregations in various parts of the islands, became involved in providing primary education. Secondary education began in the 1850s, when nuns of the Roseau Convent started classes for a limited number of girls in the city. The Dominica Grammar School for boys was established by the government in 1893, and in 1932 the Roman Catholic St. Mary's Academy opened its doors to Roman Catholic boys. Soon after, the Methodists started a secondary school for girls.

Until the 1960s, the difficulty of access by road and the continuing concentration of most services in the capital prevented all but a select few students living in the city from attending secondary school. It was only with the construction of roads and schools throughout the island that formal education became available to the resident rural population. This period of the 1960s also saw the emergence of a public educational system, especially on the primary level. In the mid-1980s, all but two of the nation's sixty-six primary schools were operated by the government. Dominica's six secondary schools were equally divided between government and religious institutions. Enrollment figures for 1984 indicated that 17,456 students attended primary schools and 3,443 went to secondary schools. Beyond the secondary level, Dominica had a two-year technical college that in 1984 enrolled 120 students.

An island-wide network of day-care centers and preschools-- operated by a Roman Catholic women's organization called the Social League--served children up to the age of five. Since the mid-1970s, the preschool program has benefited from training and financial support provided by the government and international agencies.

Children attended the primary school system between the ages of five and fifteen. By age fifteen, they were usually in third form (equivalent to eighth grade in the United States) and prepared to enter secondary school. Four of the secondary schools accepted students at the age of twelve on the basis of their performance on a Common Entrance Exam administered by the Ministry of Education. In the period from 1979 to 1984, only 28 percent of the 11,346 students who sat for this examination passed. A great deal of controversy surrounded the Common Entrance Exam, which was viewed by many educators as an inadequate assessment of a student's potential to perform at the secondary-school level. Critics also suggested that the test was too limited in scope to assess capacity for training other than that provided by the traditional secondaryschool curriculum.

Secondary school continued up to fifth form (the equivalent of tenth grade). Most students ended their formal education at this point; few continued private studies in preparation for the Advanced Level exams to qualify them for university entry at the sophomore level. Technical training was available at the Government Technical College, which conducted courses in such areas as electrical engineering, mechanics, woodwork and carpentry, and agriculture, as well as a parallel program in the academic subjects taught at the secondary schools.

Campuses of the University of the West Indies (UWI) are located on the islands of Trinidad, Barbados, and Jamaica. The prohibitive cost of study at UWI (approximately US$6,000 per year) meant that in the absence of a scholarship, loan, or independent family income, many capable students from Dominica were unable to continue their education. In 1980 the UWI Extra-Mural Department introduced a local program that enabled high-school students and working adults to study for and take the Advanced Level exams. Those attaining passing grades were able to take courses in Dominica equivalent to the first year of university education. This program has allowed students to cut one full year out of their overseas university costs. Since 1970, loans also have been available at competitive interest rates (9 to 10 percent) from the local Development Bank for overseas study; repayment does not commence until after the course of studies is completed.

In the late 1980s, there were no laws requiring children to attend school, and it was not uncommon for school-age children to work full- or part-time. Education has, however, been the channel through which many have advanced themselves materially and socially. Dominica has a better than 87-percent literacy rate, and peers, family, and community have pressured young people to attend school and to do well. The pressure for formal education, however, has unfortunately depreciated the value of farming as a career.

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