Education is mandatory for all children ages 4-16 residing legally on the island. The government provides schooling for these age groups free of charge.
Education in the Turks and Caicos Islands is in the midst of the most significant modernization effort in the nation’s history, as political, educational and industry leaders seek a new course for the nation’s schools and a better relationship to the country’s economy.
On the academic side, the nation is investigating alternatives to its current curriculum, which at the secondary-school level is based on the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate, or CSEC. The standard doesn’t align directly to educational systems in the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom.
Since most public school students won’t be traveling abroad for a four-year degree from a liberal arts university, the nation’s leaders have been working to create programs that will better prepare students for the types of jobs the modern economy demands.
The centerpiece of this reform program in 2013 has been the National Consultation on Education, which began in April with a public outreach and comment period, followed by a series of public meetings on Providenciales, North and Middle Caicos, Grand Turk and South Caicos in May.
The literacy rate for 15-24 year olds is estimated at 95%.
“We want to ensure that we have a system that meets the developmental needs in an evolving, multicultural society such as ours, said Turks and Caicos Deputy Premier and Minister of Education, Youth, Sports and Culture Akierra Missick.
“We are finding the difficulty in our offering is that students who would like to matriculate in the UK and USA are having to focus on a foundation year or (are) unable to achieve the SAT results that would be required to get them into what we call ‘top rate’ schools... My end goal that I am working towards for the next three years is that we have a comprehensive system that allows for ease of matriculation to world universities.”
There are 3 government high school and 10 primary and secondary schools across the islands.
The Ministry manages a significant scholarship fund, with $2.5 million obligated in fiscal 2013-14, and as with successive governments, the current administration has tried to administer that account with the intent of funding 20 to 30 students per year. But the need to send students for a year of college prep courses has been eating into the national scholarship fund.
The debate now is whether to keep the current system – with enhancements – or transition to one of two alternatives.
There are 31 private schools operating in the islands.
If the nation conserves the heart of its existing system, it would likely add the Caribbean Advanced Placement Exams, which would increase high school in the islands by two option years, with a choice between academic or vocational programs.
Should the government decide to rebuild the educational system around a new curriculum, the resulting system would be based either on the United Kingdom’s system of GCSE & A Levels (currently offered on Providenciales by the privately run British West Indies Collegiate School), or on the globally recognized and accepted International Baccalaureate (IB) system.
Making that system work for all students also means resolving the overcrowding issues that have affected schools on Providenciales.
The tourism boom drew workers from most of the family islands to Providenciales in a short period of time, packing students into the three public primary schools and one high school on that island. The ministry added container classrooms in an effort to deal with that explosive growth, but is now researching long-term solutions to deal not only with current demand, but also anticipated population growth.
“We are trying to ensure as the population grows we do not have to continuously put up a new block,” Missick said. “Persons that come to live in the TCI have families and we have to ensure they have a place they can educate their children, whether it is in the government schools or the plethora of private schools, especially on Providenciales.”
The current expansion plan, which would include a new high school with an estimated price tag of $15 million, would break ground in the summer of 2014. Given the limited government funding for capital projects, Missick is actively seeking grant support from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development and the European Union.
Missick anticipates the incorporation of the reform program will coincide with the opening of the new schools during 2015-16. “We want to make sure we have the facilities and resources to see the system through,” she said. The changes will require more teachers, and the government is working to encourage more local students to join the profession.
The planned investment in new high school is $15m.
In recent years, educators and business people have been in an expanding conversation about how to prepare students for local jobs, and changes are already in the works. “Traditionally, scholarships were designed to assist the civil service,” Missick said. “We are trying to shift the focus from the (civil) service…to the local economy. How can we ensure Turks and Caicos Islanders can facilitate and grow the local economy themselves?”
The Turks and Caicos Community College provides most of the islands’ job training. The college is currently seeking a partnership with an off-island college in order to help acquire accreditation for their programs, which are increasingly directed toward trades. But Missick said there’s also a move afoot to create a separate college park by 2020, with the intent of helping prestigious universities to set up campuses here, attracting international students and researchers.
“That is where we want to be,” Missick said. “We are now walking the steps to get there.”