The human capital requirements of globalisation and the information age are placing great demands on economic and educational structures in Trinidad and Tobago. The government therefore confirmed its commitment to developing a knowledge-based economy with a TT$7.3bn ($1.1bn) allocation for education and training in the FY 2018 budget, which was the largest of any sector. The contribution of education to GDP in 2017 is estimated at 2.7%, which is marginally higher than the 2016 figure of 2.6%.

Strategy & Funding

The theme Putting People First: Nurturing Our Greatest Assets under the National Development Strategy has emphasised the creation of a modern education and training system that is relevant to the needs of the country. Its key goals are to enhance the infrastructure at educational institutions, improve administration and governance of the education and training system, ensure access to quality education and training, and update curricula to provide students with 21st-century skills. This all aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education, and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.

In the Public Sector Investment Programme Trinidad 2018, published by the Ministry of Planning and Development in September 2017, this theme was allocated TT$841m ($124.7m) for the development of early childhood, primary, secondary, tertiary and special education. Other line items include TT$4.2m ($622,900) for science, research and development, as well as TT$33.9m ($5m) for skills development. In pursuit of its objectives, the Ministry of Education (MoE) implemented a school-based management model beginning in the 2016/17 academic year. On a regular basis, officers from key divisions within the ministry visit schools to engage in dialogue with principals, teachers and other stakeholders to ensure goals are being met and to address any challenges.

Early Childhood

To ensure a bright start for T&T’s youngest citizens, the MoE sets aside dedicated funds for early childhood care and education (ECCE), allocating TT$43m ($6.4m) in 2018, according to the Public Sector Investment Programme. In general terms, ECCE refers to a wide range of programmes aimed at the physical, cognitive and social development of children before they enter primary school. At present, the number of children in the country aged three to four years that could benefit from such education is estimated at 34,000. The government has adopted the approach of partnering private institutions that specialise in early childhood care with state-run centres to meet the needs of this demographic. In 2018 there were approximately 600 private facilities and just over 200 publicly funded centres for pre-primary education.

While the benefits of ECCE are widely documented, one of the major challenges faced by the MoE is the lack of any legislative or regulatory framework to govern standards or curriculum at this level. As such, the ministry is currently reviewing the Education Act of 1966 – last amended in 2012 – to include such guidance. “In implementing a learn through play methodology in early childhood care, one of the challenges has been raising awareness among parents for the need of such an approach,” Lisa Henry-David, director of educational planning at the MoE, told OBG. “Another hurdle is that, in the absence of legislation, we have had to rely on moral persuasion to convince private ECCE schools to employ this methodology.”

In the first half of 2018 the government was engaged in discussions with the Inter-American Development Bank to secure funding to improve the ECCE and primary school system. Funds would primarily be used to expand ECCE in Tobago through the construction of five centres on the island, with quality assurance likely to be addressed as well.

Youth Behaviour

As children move into primary and secondary school, administrators find themselves contending with negative trends of uncontrollable and violent behaviour, both among students and between students and their teachers. In response, the MoE developed the National Strategy for Promoting Discipline to be utilised at both the primary and secondary school levels. Each school is required to use the strategy as a guide to develop a data-driven discipline plan for their facility. The ministry also established Learning Enhancement Centres as a safe space for students who have previously committed infractions. These centres are located in various education districts across the country and are structured to ensure students leave with skills to correct their errant behaviour. Parent counselling is provided as well.

In April 2017 the MoE stated that the number of school incidents was on the decline. Secondary school suspensions fell by 25.1% in 2016, from 5257 in 2015 to 3940, while primary school suspensions decreased from 296 to 254 – a fall of 14.2%. Additionally, the number of requests for extended suspensions declined by 63.6%, from 132 in 2015 to 48. Overall, suspension data from 2015 and 2016 reflect that less than 1% of the nation’s school population of over 220,000 students engaged in disruptive or harmful behaviour. The early months of 2017 were showing further improvement in this regard.


Although some secondary schools struggle with disruptive student behaviour, many youth go on to upper education, and in 2013 T&T achieved its target of 65% participation in tertiary schooling, up from 42% in 2010. The surge in the tertiary-educated population is a result of the country’s efforts to improve access to education, which includes distance learning. Economically disadvantaged and mature students have particularly benefitted from such initiatives. The Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) programme, which provides financing for undergraduate and post-graduate studies, has also played a significant role in increasing access to tertiary education.

Despite these advances towards creating a highly educated local workforce, one major hurdle facing graduates is the mismatch between skills and job vacancies in the market. Furthermore, given the strained economic realities in T&T, the MoE continues to fine tune the GATE programme to reduce state expenditure. In August 2017 the ministry announced the introduction of means testing for students in the hope of curtailing the TT$700m ($103.8m) annual expenditure without disadvantaging those who need it the most.

According to Dr Gillian Paul, president of the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTAATT), the national community college, an overall rationalisation is required to better allocate resources and align education with national development needs and diversification efforts. The school employs a multi-pronged approach to education that includes career-focused degrees to ensure students become workforce ready, remedial courses for underprepared students to bridge their studies to post-secondary programmes and continuing education opportunities in the form of short-term courses.

For the future, Dr Paul envisions a transformation of COSTAATT into an incubator of student entrepreneurship, where students would have the opportunity to develop their ideas and products to the point where they may be able to attract external financing. The college would support the various aspects of student businesses, such as supply chain needs, lab space, logistics and marketing, while also incorporating learning into the incubator approach. “All degree-seeking students learn the fundamentals of entrepreneurship at COSTAATT; embracing self-employment as an option is essential,” she told OBG. “Under our masterplan, sustainable development is a key concern, and technology will play a significant role in defining COSTAATT in the future.”

A different type of restructuring is occurring at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), where significant financial constraints have led to the reassessment of its operations. The UTT is examining consolidation as part of cost-cutting measures after a TT$33m ($4.9m) deficit was recorded in November 2017, an option that may result in the closure of 13 campuses. The current financial situation, coupled with an 11% decrease in the university’s 2017/18 recurrent allocation to TT$200m ($29.7m), has led to significant job cuts at the managerial and academic levels. These changes have been occurring alongside a review of programmes and courses, so that instead of competing with other tertiary institutions that offer the same degrees, the UTT can distinguish itself with specialisations unavailable elsewhere. The university’s unique offerings include maritime studies, aviation and, most recently, cybersecurity. In July 2018 the UTT created the Cyber Security Research Centre – the first of its kind in the Caribbean.

Technical & Vocational

While greater investment and enrolment at the tertiary level has grown T&T’s degree-holding workforce, a critical shortage of certain hands-on skills has been noted. Therefore, a more facilitative process has been developed to grant work permits to those with skills that are in short supply locally. To address this issue over the long term, however, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) must be expanded and encouraged (see Global Perspective).

T&T possesses the educational framework to develop personnel for critical economic sectors such as construction and energy through the MIC Institute of Technology and the National Energy Skills Centre. Both institutions have built a reputation for the high calibre of training they deliver. However, one of the challenges that has plagued enrolment in TVET stems from the perception of technical or vocational jobs as being on the lower end of the professional scale in terms of responsibilities and salary. “There has long been a stigma associated with TVET studies and their corresponding occupations in technical fields,” Amrita Mahabir, education project specialist at the MoE, told OBG. “As part of the education policy currently under development, TVET is to be rebranded to create a positive perception that will show students a complete career pathway, inclusive of entrepreneurship opportunities, based on skills attained from these programmes.”

The National Training Agency issues certificates for the completion of TVET programmes, as well as the Caribbean Vocational Qualification and the Trinidad and Tobago National Vocational Qualification. The MoE is actively engaging with stakeholders to standardise qualifications and accreditation for TVET programmes, which would allow certificates to be recognised throughout the Caribbean and provide a path for students to enrol in other tertiary institutions based on their TVET qualifications.

ICT in Education

Supporting the development of TVET is certainly not the only example of the evolving educational environment in T&T, with technology in the classroom being another key focus. The MoE has noted that in order to survive in an increasingly competitive globalised world, T&T must view the use of ICT in schools as critical to the transformation of society and, in particular, the workforce. To this end, the country has begun to re-evaluate its education system to align with international trends, and ensure that students of all levels are able to exhibit a range of functional and critical thinking skills. The UTT and the University of the West Indies Open Campus have already moved to capitalise on technology in the delivery of online courses to students.

T&T has begun to re-evaluate its education system to align with international trends, and ensure that students are able to exhibit a range of functional and critical thinking skills One of the ministry’s programmes to promote technology use in the classroom is the re-introduction of laptops for secondary school students. At the start of the 2018/19 academic year, over 150 secondary schools were provided laptop computers by the government, with over 1000 teachers undergoing training during the summer months and a more robust maintenance scheme put in place. Unlike the previous scheme in 2015/16, where students were entrusted with the devices for use at home, the ministry has indicated that the laptops must remain on school property at all times.

Having both teachers and students comfortable with computer technology is expected to assist in the understanding of other anticipated advancements. For example, the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) is working on plans to facilitate examinations via an online platform. The CXC already launched a new app called CXC Connect in 2017, providing students, parents and teachers with the ability to access test results and other important information on their mobile devices.

The privately run International School of Port of Spain (ISPS) is comparatively advanced with respect to the use of technology in course delivery. The school has experience in designing curricula that allows for the use of tablets and online learning, and has undertaken awareness and prevention measures for cyberbullying. In speaking to some of the work ISPS has performed in integrating the school into the fabric of the local educational sector, Jackie Fung Kee Fung, director of admissions, communications and marketing at ISPS, told OBG, “ISPS has facilitated professional development sessions and leadership seminars for our faculty and managers, as well as for teachers and administrators of other local schools, offering workshops at no cost in many instances. Additionally, parents and teachers have been involved in providing support services to rural communities and assistance to students with learning disabilities, along with their families.”

Despite the differences between the international curriculum provided at ISPS and the local curriculum administered at other primary and secondary schools, opportunities exist for further collaboration and sharing of best practices on advantageous uses of technology in education.

Financial Challenges

Although the sizeable budget allocation will help the education sector move ahead with multiple initiatives, the economic recession of the past few years has resulted in financial constraints. Slimmer budgets have affected several school construction projects, leading in some instances to children occupying ageing infrastructure while partially completed buildings stand on the same compound. Limited resources have therefore brought upgrade and maintenance works to the forefront in order to extend the life of existing schools and avoid the displacement of students for the time being. The MoE partnered with the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government in June 2018 to undertake refurbishment and maintenance efforts, including 160 projects earmarked for execution during the July to August break.

Another result of strained government coffers is the non-payment to many of T&T’s denominational schools that rely on state funding to carry out administrative tasks and compensate support staff. Although schools are given allocations from the MoE, there are often delays in payment. Some school principals have resorted to fundraising to buy basic supplies, while janitors, IT personnel and school counsellors are many times unable to secure new contracts. The Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association has noted that it is difficult to implement the strategic educational plans encouraged by the ministry when institutions struggle day to day.

The difficulties faced by private institutions are compounded by the partnership the government has with denominational secondary schools to place students who perform well on the Secondary Entrance Assessment in their facilities. As of June 2018 the state paid TT$1200 ($178) per student per term to these schools. However, that month the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Private Secondary Schools (TTAPSS) said the sum simply was not enough to cover the costs of absorbing the extra students. Detailing the cost of each pupil, the association wrote to Prime Minister Keith Rowley requesting that the payment be raised to TT$5700 ($845) per student to help with salary compensation and other expenses the schools were struggling to keep pace with. Speaking to local media, Leslie Hislop, acting president of the TTAPSS, said the shortfall of funding from the MoE to these schools, which have as many as 80% of their pupils funded by the state, has been over TT$1.5m ($222,500) annually since 2009.


A global trend seen among many emerging countries is to focus more on specialised training in order to capitalise on economic potential. T&T is no exception, as demand for traditional forms of learning – such as purely content-based academics – has diminished, and an increased demand for more skills-based and practise-centred education is taking its place. Another force shaping the local education sector is the ever-increasing use of technology in business and the impact this will have on the skill sets needed by the next generation.

Inclusivity is at the heart of the MoE’s pursuit of a seamless education system from ECCE to the tertiary level, with a view to developing a knowledgeable and productive entrepreneurial society. Continued engagement with stakeholders and expansion of non-traditional styles of learning should contribute greatly to ensuring that the country’s expertise and innovative spirit drive diversification forward.