At only 7 miles off the coast of Venezuela, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is the southernmost part of the Caribbean archipelago. The island of Trinidad was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1498, and became a Spanish colony in 1594 until 1802
when it was ceded to the British crown. The island of Tobago, settled by the Dutch in 1630, was a French colony for 33 years until it was ceded to the British crown in 1814. Slaves were emancipated in 1838, which hurt the sugar industry on the island.
Contract laborers from India were brought in between 1845 and 1917 to support sugar and cocoa production. In 1888, the islands were united as one colony, gained independence on August 31, 1962, and became a republic in 1976. Petroleum and natural
gas processing are its largest exports. The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has a population of 1,056,608 and the majority live on Trinidad. English is the official language and is also the language of instruction, but Caribbean Hindustani (a dialect
of Hindi), French, Spanish and Chinese are also spoken. Literacy is 98.6%, making Trinidad and Tobago the most literate country in the Caribbean.
The educational system of Trinidad and Tobago is based on the British model. During the 19th century, education was primarily a preparation for the upper class to study abroad. In the early 20th century, the public school system was created and opened
to all. Government-financed schools related to the various religions represented on the islands (Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Muslim and Hindu) were also opened.
In the 1970s, the two-cycle secondary education system was introduced with 3 years of junior secondary school and 2 years of upper secondary school. In 1972, technical/vocational secondary schools opened. In 1975, a new primary school syllabus was developed
and its integration into schools was completed in 1981.
Education is compulsory for seven years beginning at age six. Primary and secondary schools are free. There are 481 public primary and 64 private primary schools, and 133 public secondary and 63 private secondary schools. Currently, Trinidad and Tobago's
Ministry of Education oversees the country's education system.
Primary school begins at the age of 6 and lasts for 6 years. At the end of primary school, all students take the Common Entrance Examination to determine their placement in secondary school. Secondary school is 5 years long. Prior to the establishment
of the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) in 1972, at the end of secondary school (Form V), students were assessed using the General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level (GCE O-Level) which was administered by examination authorities in the United
Kingdom. The CXC Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) replaced the GCE O-Level exam.
Form VI is two years long and students have the choice of taking the CXC Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) or the GCE Advanced Level (GCE A-Level) exam upon completion. The Trinidad and Tobago National Training Agency has announced a new
qualification: the Trinidad and Tobago National Vocational Qualification (TTNVQ). It will be a standardized national qualification in vocational education and training. It will assess a student's competence in particular occupations. It is not clear
when the first TTNVQ examination will be administered.
There is a variety of post-secondary education available in Trinidad and Tobago. There are government-run technical and vocational schools, and institutions for preparation in specific careers, including the Trinidad and Tobago Hotel School and teachers
training colleges. The College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTATT) is the first community college in the country and offers associate and bachelor degrees in technical and vocational areas. There are two public
universities accredited by the Accreditation Council of Trinidad and Tobago (ACTT): a campus of the University of the West Indies and the University of Trinidad and Tobago. The University of the West Indies opened its Trinidad campus in 1961. UWI
is the country's largest post-secondary institution and awards 97% of bachelor, master and doctoral degrees. The University of Trinidad and Tobago was founded in 2004 as a part of the government's goal of tripling post-secondary enrollments. A third
university, the University of the Southern Caribbean, which is affiliated with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, also operates in Trinidad, but is not accredited by the ACTT.
Admission to post-secondary programs varies, depending on the level of the program. The University of the West Indies and the University of Trinidad and Tobago require 5 CSEC passes and two CAPE/GCE A-Level passes for admission.
Primary and secondary school teachers are trained at the two teachers' colleges, Corinth and Valsayn, which have been absorbed by the University of Trinidad and Tobago. The minimum qualification for primary school teachers (Assistant Teacher II) is 5
CSEC passes with math, English and a science subject being compulsory. After 2 years of study in a teachers' training college, students are awarded a Teacher's Diploma. After a further year of part-time study, a Certificate of Education is awarded.
Secondary teachers are trained in a one-year, part-time Diploma in Education program that follows the Certificate in Education. The three-year Bachelor of Education was introduced in 1992. A Master in Education program is also available at the University
of the West Indies. This is a two-year, part-time program for teacher educators, school principals, administrators, and supervisors.