Trinidad and Tobago: An Educational Overview

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Trinidad and Tobago is a dual-island Caribbean nation located about seven miles off the coast of Venezuela. The island of Tobago was settled by the Dutch in 1630, but was a French colony until it was ceded to the British crown in 1814. Trinidad on the other hand, was a Spanish colony from 1594 until 1802, when it was ceded to the British. The islands were united as one colony in 1888, gaining independence in 1962. In 1976, Trinidad and Tobago became a republic.

Trinidad and Tobago’s economy is supported by revenues in the oil and gas industry. The nation stands out among emerging markets for its education system, considered one of its core economic strengths. Trinidad and Tobago is the third most literate country in the Caribbean region after Barbados and Cuba, with a youth literacy rate higher than 99%. Education is available and free to all nationals, save for examination and administration fees at the tertiary level.

The education system is designed to distribute the population’s wealth from petrochemical industries. The emphasis is on strengthening basic education and increasing professional specializations at the higher levels. As such, the country’s government has made education a priority. For example, the fiscal year 2015 saw fifteen percent of national spending (about $1.56 billion USD) allotted to education alone.

Primary and Secondary School

The country’s educational system is based on the British model. School is free and compulsory for ages 5-15. Primary school starts at age 5 (grades 1-5). However, non-mandatory schooling can begin as early as age 3. Past primary school, students take a secondary school assessment for entry called the SEA (Secondary Entrance Assessment) which tests reading comprehension, essay writing, literacy and numeracy.  Secondary school spans grades 6-8 at which point students complete their Caribbean secondary education certificate. Grades 9-10 are part of upper secondary school, and are non-compulsory for students. However, completing these grades may lead to an advanced proficiency certificate and entrance to tertiary education. The examinations taken at the end of upper secondary school are comparable to the British O and A Level exams.

Higher Education

Undergraduate-level study is also free at approved universities, such as the University of the West Indies, the University of Trinidad and Tobago, and the University of the Southern Caribbean. Some master’s programs are subsidized by the government as well. The Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) program, for example, benefits over sixty-five thousand nationals, but expects recipients to work in the island for a period of time after graduation in return. Programs like these aim to curb brain-drain in the small dual-island nation.

Generally, education from government-assisted and public schools is considered to be of a higher quality than private schools. Students may also choose to attend technical and vocational schools instead of undergraduate university education.

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