Caribbean Education

Historical Impact of Western Hegemony on Educational Development

Education plays an important role in socializing members while reinforcing the norms, values, and culture of a given society. The World Bank declares education as “one of the most powerful instruments for reducing poverty and inequality and lays a foundation for sustained economic growth” (The Work Bank Group, 2016). Thus, examining the educational structure, values, and progression of a specific region provides insight that contributes to a more comprehensive perspective of the region as a whole and within a global context.

The purpose of this research is to construct a dynamic narrative of Caribbean education by performing a comparative analysis of the formal educational institutions between specific Caribbean countries to illustrate the historical impact of western hegemonic influences on educational development. This analysis will specifically focus on education in Cuba, Haiti, and Barbados. The Human Development Index and data sets from the United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will be used to conduct the analysis.


            When the Caribbean was under slavery, formal education was denied for slaves due to the elitist fear of slaves overthrowing white supremacy. It was not until 1834 when blacks were able to receive elementary education under the Negro Education Grant (Mohammad 2007). The elitist believed this would help with the adjustment of ex-slaves to a free society. However, education during this period was focused on industrial and moral reformation instead of being an instrument for social mobility. The bible was the central text used and promoted a curriculum rooted in English values and customs. Formal education was largely for European children because it was believed that if ex-slaves received a full education it would disrupt the social stratification system in the Caribbean. This meant that the history of minority groups was never taught and were disregarded within the formal education system.

            To continue one’s education at the secondary level and beyond, students had to pass examinations such as the Common Entrance and Cambridge examinations (Mohammad 2007). Only the students who showed a high aptitude for academic work and scored really well on entrance exams continued their education. However, the curriculum and entrance exams of secondary and tertiary schools were rooted in European values and customs. Systemically, this put minorities at a disadvantage to their European decent peers. By determining school admissions based on national examinations fostered a false ideology centered on meritocracy, which emphasized that every student, whether elitist or minority, had a fair chance to receive education depended on their academic achievement.

            Caribbean education in historical and modern context aimed to facilitate social cohesion by bring people together while inculcating knowledge and skills to preserve social stability. In this sense, education impacts economic development where people are seen as a main source of capital that can increase economic productivity through acquiring skills. However, education impacts the various socio-economic classes differently. For example, middle class children preform better in the Caribbean education system, particularly at language, than lower class children because middle class children are able to use both Patois and English language more competently than the lower class children due to their exposure to travel, educational resources, and involvement in various extra-curricular activities (Mohammad 2007). This structure of Caribbean education continues to promote and inforce the colonial agenda, which ultimately contributes to the race and socioeconomic stratification of the Caribbean.

Societal Models and Social Stratification

Plantation Society Model

The cultural and ethnic differences prevalent in the Caribbean stem from the traditions and activities of the dominant European powers that colonized the region. This significantly influences the social stratification of the Caribbean and will be a central theme throughout this analysis. Social stratification refers to the ranking of social groups within a given society according to factors such as wealth, power, status, and prestige (Mohammed 2007). The second half of the 17th century in the Caribbean marked the era of slavery characterized as a closed stratified system based on race where agricultural land holders and manual laborers were in opposition.  This model of society was termed as a ‘plantation society’ where Europeans controlled the access to capital and exercised superiority of their culture. Plantation society was similar to a caste system where social position and status were fixed to one’s skin color. Figure 1 depicts the social hierarchy of the plantation society. The implementation of this social stratification is arguably a catalyst to historical impact of western hegemonic influences on educational development in the Caribbean.

Creole society is another model that focuses on major cultural groups and influences brought to the Caribbean including European, African and Indian groups. This model highlights the mutual and reciprocal interactions in regards to adjustment. The model notably suggests twos types of processes for adjustment. One way involves acculturation which means one culture absorbs another culture. For example, slaves in the 17th century were acculturated into fixed superiority and inferiority relationship. The other process is called inter-culturation where both cultures mutually influence one another. An example of this is when African Americans were forced to adopt white norms. Creole societies do not imply cultural homogeneous, rather they depict class relations on a continuum. This model will also be used to analyze the historical impact of western hegemonic influences on educational development in the Caribbean.



Concern for education did not develop until after Emancipation, meaning for a majority of the country’s history there was no formal education. During the pre-Emancipation period, plantation owners opposed the education of slaves and acknowledged that if slaves became Christians they might also gain access to reject enslavement. “The maintenance of the status quo rested solidly on keeping the slave population ignorant. It was felt that education would bring the desire of freedom, and hence challenge the established order” (Llobera 2008:131). Regardless of these elitist attitudes, slaves still revolted and the success of these revolutions have been attributed to the fact that some of the leaders were educated slaves. Along similar lines, free blacks learned to appreciate the importance of education as a tool of economic success, means of for achieving higher social status and aid the struggle for civil rights.

Notably, “The arrival of Bishop Coleridge in 1825 was momentous for the development of education in Barbados” (Llobera 2008:131). This is what really sparked Barbados to be committed to the improvement of their slave population. And by 1842 there was remarkable development in tertiary, secondary, and primary education. But it is important to note that historically, Barbados had a much easier time assimilating to European hegemonic norms and practices which enabled the country to adopt virtually the same institutions.



Cuba remained under Spanish rule longer than any other Caribbean island and this influenced Cuba’s political status to be closely tied to race and class relations present at the time. As the importance of sugar and new sugar barons emerged, refineries had to be built in Cuba since Spain did not have any. This generated significant profit but required the importation of African slaves for labor. By 1840s, Cuba was a sugar monoculture, which created a dissatisfied class of rural dwellers (Davis, 1997). During the same period, Cuba became economically depended on the United States, which stirred up internal fear. Both of these events significantly contributed to the fear of blackness, where elite white Cubans did not want to become an African state. More importantly, it also led to the fear of political instability and not wanting U.S. intervention or other external control. Cuba recognized the need for national unification and the only way to achieve that was through reinterpreting the Cuban historic narrative to promote cultural consolidation. The reinterpreted national past stressed the importance of cubanidad, the Cuban family, and anti-imperialism.

Thus, in 1961 the Cuban government nationalized all private schools and introduced state-directed education system. It includes a combination of programs in preschool, 12 or 13 grades, higher education, teacher training, adult education, technical education, language instruction, and specialized education. In addition, women were guaranteed equal educational opportunities and student enrollment increased sharply. Cuba has continued to make educational expenditures a high priority. It is important to point out that this educational development was only possible once Cuba resolved its conflict with western hegemonic influences and committed to defining and establishing own sense of nationhood.



In contrast to the previous countries examined, the impact of western hegemonic influence on its educational development is hinder some.  In 1789 Haiti had an estimated population of 556,000 where a majority, almost all, were descents from African slaves while a small proportion were European colonist or mulattoes. Regardless, Haitian society was deeply fragmented by skin color, class, and gender. Haiti was the second country in the Americas to free itself from colonial rule when it won independence from France in 1804. However, numerous economic, political, social difficulties, and natural disasters have plagued Haiti with poverty and other serious problems. Haiti continues to exemplify plantation society that cannot adjust to the impact of western hegemonic influences which ultimately freezes educational development.

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Contemporary Analysis of Educational Development:

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 “Yet Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest countries in the world, with a 2014 GDP per capita of US$824. Almost 60 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line and inequality is high, with wealth and economic opportunity concentrated around Port-au-Prince. Access to basic services is limited, particularly in rural areas, which has translated into low human development indicators (Haiti ranks 168th out of 187 countries in the Human Development Index).” -Providing an Education of Quality in Haiti (PEQH) (P155191

“At the primary level, public provision of education is insufficient to meet demand, and non-public providers have stepped in to fill the gap, operating over 80 percent of primary schools. All providers operate with little oversight or accountability for providing a quality education and ensuring learning” -Providing an Education of Quality in Haiti (PEQH) (P155191)

 “Barbados has near-total literacy. This success is attributable to the presence of a comprehensive, mainly government-funded primary and secondary school network. The government places high priority on education, to which it allocates a significant proportion of its budget. All education in public institutions is free. There are facilities for secondary, technical, and vocational education, including a polytechnic school, a community college, and a teacher’s college. Education is compulsory to age 16. Most study at the university level is done at the University of the West Indies, which maintains a Barbados campus at Cave Hill, near Bridgetown.”



Darien J. Davis. (1997) “Criollo o Mulato? Cultural Identity in Cuba, 1930-1960” in Ethnicity, Race and Nationality in the Caribbean, Juan Manuel Carrion, ed. (San Juan: Institute of Caribbean Studies), 69-95

Gasperini, Lavinia. (2000) “The Cuban Education System: Lessons and Dilemmas.” In Country Studies: Education Reform and Management Publication Series, 1(5).

Haiti. (2016). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from

Llobera, J. (2008). Education and Social Change in Barbados. In M. G. Smith (Ed.), Education and Society in the Creole Caribbean (pp. 118-215). CIFAS.

Louisy, Pearlette. (2001) “Globalisation and Comparative Education: A Caribbean Perspective” Comparative Education for the Twenty-First Century: An International Response (425-438).

Mohammad, Jennifer. (2007) CAPE Caribbean Studies: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Macmillan Publishers.

The World Bank Group. (2016) “EdStats: The World Bank Education Statistics.” Retrieved February 25, 2016 (