Wed | Jan 23, 2019

The 70:30 education system

Published:Sunday | November 16, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Edward Seaga, Columnist

Mathematics is not a popular subject in Jamaica. Unfortunately so because math is the central source of much of the information that guides our lives and makes critical national decisions.

Obviously, with scant regard for mathematics, statistics, which is the heartbeat of maths, gets far less attention than it should. The result is that valuable information on which to frame policy gets covered over by ignorance because of the low level respect for one of the most valuable and critical areas of information, social and economic pressures at the national level.

It should be easily understood that in any population group, there are differences between those who can care themselves and those who can't. Sometimes we refer to them as those who have and those who have not. In any society, it is expected that the haves would end up carrying some of the burden which the poor have to bear.

This is especially so in Jamaica, where there are more poor people than in any country in the Caribbean, except Haiti. To overcome this, one of the most important sectors of national life, education, has to be highly productive so that there will be more for all to share. If education succeeds in creating productive citizens, the nation will enjoy the wide benefits of a population that will grow in wealth and happiness.

But that is not what is happening. Only some segments of the education system are improving. This can be seen in the outcome of the school leaving exam, the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate, which is taken by students who are graduating. Those who it is felt will fail are not allowed to sit the exam.

The result is that only 30 per cent roughly of those in the age cohort of the secondary system sitting the exam annually attain the bench mark of five subjects in which they are successful. The other 70 per cent either fail to reach the target or do not sit the exam.

The 70 per cent who fail become a burden on the State and drag down the prospects of the 30 per cent who succeed.


The greater part of this tragedy is that this is the same outcome today as it was in 1965 when the system was first introduced to set aside 70 per cent of the accommodation in secondary schools for children of the poor in primary schools. In fact, there have been insufficient changes overall educationally, despite great efforts by political and academic leaders. This is one of the main reasons why so little change for the better has occurred nationally since Independence.

If the outcome was the other way around, with 30 per cent failing the school leaving exam and 70 per cent succeeding, Jamaica would be better by at least twice. This would be a monumental change for the future. There would be so many more tertiary graduates like those who would become professionally skilled in medicine, law, business, social sciences, engineering, chemistry, physics, biology and other such subjects, all to the better for the country.

Likewise, there would be fewer poor without skills who are unable to pay their way, for instance, water rates and electric power charges. In the instance of 30 per cent only being unable to finance their own needs, while with 70 per cent being more able to do so, water would be more available and cheaper, and so would electric power.

I am convinced that it is not fully understood that a proper education system is the most vital need of the country. Only an educated population will achieve substantial job creation and significant increase in employment. While the IMF programme is obviously at the top in importance, a crucial decision should be made without delay to draft a preparatory step-by-step plan beginning with early childhood education and literacy shortcomings at the primary level to implement immediately after the IMF programme is completed.

This differs from the existing Transformation Plan for education, which is mostly about infrastructure gaps. The plan that is now required should be more related to literacy, educational content and teaching methods to shape the mind for thinking.

There are roughly two years left in the IMF programme. What a joy it would be if they were used to prepare a 70:30 education plan to carry education forward for a new educated Jamaica, creating hopefulness instead of hopelessness!

Edward Seaga is a former prime minister. He is now chancellor of the University of Technology and a distinguished fellow at the UWI. Email feedback to and