Sint Maarten is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. On October 2010 the Netherlands Antilles fragmented into two countries, Curaçao and Sint Maarten, and three municipalities. The Charter of the the Kingdom of The Netherlands grants autonomy to Sint Maarten to develop its own internal laws in accordance with Kingdom rules and regulations. However, international treaties and conventions are signed by the Netherlands on behalf of the island. The education system of Sint Maarten is modeled on the Dutch education system. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport is the highest authority in education on the island.
The 2010 Constitution of Sint Maarten promotes in its Article 11 the right to free education. Special primary education and other types of special education shall be financed from public funds according to the same standards as the equivalent type of public education. Article 16 of the Constitution promotes the principle of equality: ‘All persons in Sint Maarten shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race, skin colour, sex, language, national or social origins, membership of a national minority, assets, birth or on any grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.’
The National Ordinance on Compulsory Education introduced compulsory education in 1991 for 5-to-16-year-olds. The law introduced free education for all children and mandatory tuition for secondary and higher education. In 2008 the ordinance was replaced by a new law which extended compulsory education to 4-to-18-year-olds. According to UNDP, Curaçao and Sint Maarten have the lengthiest compulsory education system in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The 2011 UNDP First Millennium Development Goals report for Curaçao and Sint Maarten indicated that universal access to primary education had been achieved in both countries. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, in 2014 the gross enrolment ratio in secondary education was 88.51% for females and 92.69% for males. However, at the tertiary level the gross enrolment ratio is higher for females, with 8.33% against 3% for males in 2014. Many children and adolescent drop out of school and do not enter higher education. According to UNICEF’s 2003 report The Situation of Children and Adolescents in Sint Maarten, the main reasons for dropouts are emigration and entering the workforce. Pregnancy is another factor keeping girls out of school.
After education was made compulsory under the 2010 Constitution, some marginalized groups that previously did not had access to education, such as children with special needs and undocumented immigrants, were able to access education. According to UNDP, it is estimated that between 10% and 15% of the school-aged population consists of undocumented immigrants. Many of these children are educated in special schools for undocumented children, which hinders their inclusion in society. In addition, even if the regular education system has tried to welcome these students since the approval of the compulsory education law, the absorption capacity of the education system is limited for students whose native language is other than Dutch and English.
As reported in UNICEF’s 2013 report The Situation of Children and Adolescents in Sint Maarten, the state provides funding for public schools, denominational schools, universities and technological institutes as well as for school transportation, scholarships and second chance education. Children with disabilities in Sint Maarten are educated in special schools and are not mainstreamed into regular education.
English is widely spoken in Sint Maarten with only a minority having Dutch or French as their first language; 67.5% of the population speaks English as the first language, 13% Spanish, 8% Creole, 4% Dutch, 2% Papiamento, 1.5% French and 3.5% other languages. According to UNICEF, two education models are predominant on the island, with classes in either Dutch on English.
According to the 2010 census, 70% of the inhabitants of Sint Maarten are not originally from the island. Most of the immigrants come from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Guyana. While the right to education and non-discrimination are promoted, UNICEF reports that immigrant children cannot always access regular schools due to language or academic limitations.
The Situation of Children and Adolescent in Sint Maarten reports that the lack of spaces in public school has led to large classes and inadequate support for teachers and education materials. Therefore, the most affluent parents prefer to send their children to private schools. In addition, the fact that the education model is based on the Dutch system and not always adapted to local needs represents a challenge for many students.
The state investment in education represented 6% of the national budget in 2011. Despite this investment, infrastructure and teacher training opportunities are lacking. This situation deteriorated in 2017 after Hurricane Irma hit Sint Maarten, causing significant damage to buildings across the island, including schools. The Government of the Netherlands provided substantial aid for the reconstruction efforts on the island. In 2018 the Sint Maarten Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience Trust Fund was created as a result of a partnership between the World Bank, the Government of the Netherlands and the Government of Sint Maarten. The fund provided EUR 470 million to support the recovery and reconstruction of Sint Maarten and strengthen the country’s resilience to natural disasters. The World Bank's 2018 annual report on the Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience Trust Fund reports that among of the top priorities of the fund were the basic needs of the people of Sint Maarten, such as food, shelter, health and psychosocial care, education and livelihoods. With respect to education, the World Bank priorities focused on repairing and rebuilding resilient schools, providing psychosocial support, improving safety and preparedness of schools, training teachers in disaster management, strengthening programmes for vulnerable children and improving vocational and tertiary education options on the island.
UNICEF also provided support to the Government of Sint Maarten to assess the situation of the children on the island in the aftermath of the hurricane and to strengthen the capacities of the education and child protection sectors. Training was provided for 150 professionals on how to provide psychosocial support to children after disasters or difficult events, and learning materials were provided to schools who lost their assets due to the hurricane. In addition, UNICEF together with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport and the Government of Sint Maarten are working to ensure that schools are well prepared for possible future natural disasters.