Barbados had one of the oldest and most advanced education systems in the Eastern Caribbean in the late 1980s. Education dated back to 1686, when private funds were used to build the first school. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, education was controlled by the Anglicans, who were later joined by other religious groups. By 1962 education was free for all nationals and administered primarily by the state.
This trend continued, so that by 1984 only 4 percent of the primary and secondary schools were managed by churches. Barbados’ longstanding emphasis on education was evident in the values and goals of contemporary society.
Education has traditionally been associated with success and upward mobility. In 1970 Barbados officially claimed to have achieved a 99-percent literacy rate, a figure that was questioned by some observers. Despite these doubts, observers generally agreed that in the 1980s literacy in Barbados exceeded the rates of other Caribbean societies. In 1984 Barbados had 126 primary schools, 110 of which were administered by the state. Approximately 1,350 teachers were available to instruct the 35,000 students. There were sixty-four secondary schools, five of which prepared students for technical careers.
A total of 6,000 students attended secondary-school programs. Postsecondary education consisted of seven institutions that awarded degrees or certificates. Four schools offered specific vocational training: the Barbados Institute of Management and Productivity, the Erdiston Teacher’s Training College, the Tercentenary School of Nursing, and the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytecnic. Academic programs at the university level were conducted at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the Barbados Community College, which offered vocational and technical classes as well.
The UWI also included Codrington College, a local theological seminary. In 1979 the government created the Skills Training Programme to augment existing education programs. It was designed to fulfill the need for short but intensive training in vocational subjects and to prepare students for careers in mechanics, electronics, horticulture, masonry, plumbing, and other technical and vocational occupations. Although the educational infrastructure was designed to meet both the nation’s academic and vocational needs, observers seriously questioned Barbados’ ability to provide quality instruction in fields related to tourism, agriculture, and manufacturing, the major economic undertakings in the 1980s.
Few courses were actually offered in agricultural science and commerce; as a result, an inadequate number of Barbadians were being prepared to take on the responsibilities inherent in a growing economy. The education system was also criticized for being stratified along socioeconomic lines. In general, upper-class Barbadians prepared for university studies at the best primary and secondary schools, received a disproportionate number of scholarships, and had the best records for entering the professional disciplines.
On balance, however, most Barbadians felt that the education system still afforded opportunities to achieve at least limited upward mobility. The government appeared to be attempting to address specific criticisms of its educational policy; its goals for Barbadian education in the 1980s included the promotion of equal educational opportunity and enhanced technical and vocational programs in all schools. In spite of its shortcomings, the Barbadian education system remained the best in the Eastern Caribbean in the 1980s.