Public Lecture on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary
Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC)
PROFESSOR EMERITUS THE HONOURABLE ERROL L. MILLER
July 11, 2013
Page 1 of 19
CXC AND JAMAICA: A SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP
Masters of Ceremonies Mr. Glenroy Cumberbach, Sir Kenneth and Lady Hall, Mrs. Grace
McLean, Chief Education Officer, Mrs. Irene Walter, Professor Stafford Griffith, Sir Roy Augier,
specially invited guests, distinguished ladies, and gentlemen all, I have been afforded the signal
honour of delivering this Lecture in Jamaica celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the existence of
the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC). I have lived these forty years and have related to
CXC in different capacities. It is, therefore, my great pleasure to deliver this Lecture and to
congratulate CXC on this milestone.
A symbiotic relationship is one in which the entities or partners involved enjoy mutual benefits.
My principal intention this evening, therefore, is to show how Jamaica benefits from CXC and
how CXC benefits from Jamaica. To demonstrate this, it is necessary to recall some history,
review the lessons to be learned from that history, and examine hard data and their implications.
But mutual benefits are not immune from major problems that can have destabilizing effects.
Hence, I wish also to point to three of these.
JAMAICA AND THE IDEA OF A CARIBBEAN EXAMINATION
If one goes to the Web and searches concerning the history of CXC, that history begins with the
decision of Governments of the Caribbean in 1972 to replace the University of Cambridge Local
Examination Syndicate with CXC. The Cambridge examination began to be taken in the
The Caribbean in 1869. The question is how did governments of the Caribbean come to make this
decision to replace Cambridge? That history is still to be written. Let me give a Jamaican version
as it has come to me at different times, in bits and pieces and from different sources.
Some leading members of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Association, H squared M
squared as it was called, came to the view that the Cambridge examinations should be replaced
by a Caribbean exam. Chief among these early advocates and agitators were Miss Mary Dawson
principal of St Andrews High School, Mr. A. Wesley Powell principal of Excelsior High School
and Mrs. Evelyn Clarke principal of the newly established Queen’s High School. Many high
school teachers were of similar views. Leading the charge among the teachers was Mrs Fay
Saunders who was then Secretary of the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association, A
squared M squared at it was called. These two teachers’ associations, representing the principals
and teachers of secondary schools, were among the five teachers’ organizations that formed the
Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) in 1964 with Mr. Wesley Powell as its first president.
Replacing the Cambridge Examinations with a Caribbean examination immediately became one
of the first causes advocated by the newly formed JTA. Advocacy and agitation were translated
into action. JTA lobbied their colleague associations and unions across the Caribbean, through
the Caribbean Union of Teachers, which together became leading lobby across the region for a
Caribbean exam. JTA lobbied the Minister of Education the Honourable Edwin Allen and the
Ministry. The other teachers’ unions lobbied their Ministers of Education and governments. JTA
also lobbied the University of the West Indies to become involved and had many discussions
with Professor Leslie Robinson, Sir Roy Augier and Sir Roy Marshall, the then Vice-Chancellor
of the University. The outcome of these efforts was the decision by the governments to create the
Caribbean Examination Council in 1972. The gravamen of this version of the origin of CXC is that
teachers and their unions and associations across the Caribbean, with Jamaica Teachers’
Association in the forefront were in the vanguard in the creation of CXC.
I am sure that there are other versions, or variations on this version, of the origin of CXC. I
would say to CXC in its fortieth year that it is important to revisit and write its history based not
only on the oral traditions repeated by some but also with documentary evidence from all
available sources. Genesis is important for it tells of what happened in the beginning. In the
beginning Caribbean Governments and in the beginning Caribbean teachers have different
meanings. How organizations began sometimes have important clues for how they survive and
THE CREATION OF THE CXC COUNCIL AND EDUCATION REFORMS IN
Nineteen Seventy-Three (1973) was a signal year for both Jamaica and the Caribbean
Examinations Council (CXC). The Council came into being in 1973 with the mandate to ensure
that all the necessary developmental work be done so that the new Caribbean examinations
would begin to be offered to schools in four subjects by 1979 thus commencing the transition
from GCE to CXC which was expected to be completed within a decade.
In 1973 the Government of Jamaica announced the most comprehensive reforms in education
that had been attempted. Among these reforms were policies affecting secondary education.
1. Free secondary education.
2. The abolition of the 70:30 by the re-institution of merit as the basis for admission to
high schools regardless of whether students had attended private preparatory schools
or public primary schools.
3. The expansion of existing high schools and technical high schools and the
incorporation of several private high schools into the public system
4. The addition of Grades 10 and 11 to the 66 Junior Secondary Schools thus converting
them from three to five-year institutions: renamed New Secondary Schools. Students
in Grade 9 would continue to Grade 10 in September 1974 and to Grade 11 in
5. The introduction of the double shift system in the New Secondary schools in order to
accommodate the increase in student enrolment as a result of adding Grades 10 and
6. The expansion of the capacity to train secondary school teachers so that qualified
teachers would be prepared locally for the entire range of subjects taught in the
expanded secondary school system.
7. The incorporation of Community Colleges in the public system to replace Sixth Form
in some schools, in order to widen the curriculum for students after Fifth Form and to
prepare students for the world of work particularly with respect to opportunities in the
communities served by these colleges.
8. The democratization of school and college boards such that their composition
included, in addition to nominees of owners of the schools, nominees of students,
parents, teachers, administrative staff, past students and the community nominated by
their respective organizations, and then appointed by the Minister of Education for a
The difference between these two major initiatives in secondary education starting at the same
time, one regional and the other national was a timetable of implementation. CXC would
commence operations in schools in 1979 on a phased basis for completion hopefully within 10
years. The Jamaican reforms in secondary education would commence implementation in
September 1974 and be completed by July 1976 when the first set of students in the New
Secondary Schools would have completed Grade 11. The urgent practical question was what
examinations would students in New Secondary Schools sit at the end of Grade 11 in June 1976?
Two options were considered.
One Option was for New Secondary Schools students to sit the Cambridge GCE examinations as
was the case with High School students and then transition to CXC at the same time as high
schools. The great virtue of this option was its long-term outcome. This option would
immediately begin the process of creating a single integrated system of public secondary
schooling. If the national goal was to create one people out of many, then it was necessary to
begin to integrate the different types of secondary schools into one system. The issues with this
Option were its short and medium-term challenges, which were:
1. The failure rate could be expected to be very high for at least the first five years. High
school students were selected through the Common Entrance Examination (CEE) while
New Secondary students gained entry through the non-selective feeder school system. A
switch to the Common Entrance as the basis for entry to New Secondary Schools could
only begin with Grade 7 in 1974 and would take five years for students selected to take
2. Selecting students through the CEE would require most primary schools to be reconverted
to All Age schools since only some of the Grade 6 students would gain entry to
secondary schools and the others would need to remain in school to Grade 9, the
schooling leaving grade for students not selected to high schools.
3. While the physical plants of New Secondary Schools were better than those of several
high schools because of recent construction under World Bank Project which built 50 of
the 66 schools, the schools were staffed mainly by teachers trained to teach to the Junior
Secondary Grade 9 level and not to the Grade 11, the GCE level. A massive programme
of teacher upgrading would be required.
4. The number of New Secondary Schools and their total student enrolment was greater
than the high schools. Requiring Grade 11 students to sit GCE would constitute a massive
investment of resources, human and financial, into the Cambridge examination system
that Jamaica was committed to exiting within 10 years.
The horn of the dilemma was embarking immediately on the long-term goal while at the same
time bolstering an examination system that was to be abandoned in the short to medium term.
Were the costs, trauma, effort, and resources that would be needed in the short and medium term
be worth such contradiction and possible confusion?
The second Option was to create a Jamaican examination specifically for the New Secondary
School. The virtues of this Option were:
It could be tailored to the fact that the New Secondary School was an extension of the
Junior Secondary School with a pre-vocational focus.
It could be immediately implemented and be ready in time for June 1976.
The resources that would be required to integrate New Secondary Schools into the GCE
system would be deployed in building local capacities.
My vivid recollection of debate in the Ministry in 1974 on these two options was how adamant
and passionate Mrs. Fay Saunders, the Parliamentary Secretary, was that no new resources should
be put into the Cambridge examinations. I need to add here that at that time I did not know the
version of the history that I related earlier. But that bits and pieces of that history came out in that
The second option was chosen with one important caveat. The Grade Nine Achievement Test
(GNAT) which was sat at the terminal examination of students in Junior Secondary and All Age
students could continue but would only be taken by students in All Age Schools. The GNAT had
become the second chance by which students could gain admission to high schools in the places
that were available in Grade Nine in those schools.
What this decision meant, in reality, was that the students of the 52 traditional high schools would
start the transition from GCE ‘O’ Level to CXC in 1979 when CXC was scheduled to become
operational and would complete that transition when CXC offered the full range of subjects. On
the other hand, students of the 66 New Secondary would sit a new national examination named
the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) beginning in June 1976. In other words, the assessment
of the exit standards of secondary schools in Jamaica would be temporarily split between the
proposed regional examination and the proposed national examination. At some later stage the
SSC would be phased out as New Secondary Schools were integrated to create a single
secondary school system.
Responsibility for the development of the SSC was placed with the Unit of the Ministry of
Education that produced and managed examinations set by the Ministry such as Jamaica
School Certificate, JSC, which had replaced the Jamaica Local Examinations in 1964. As
proposed and planned, students of New Secondary Schools sat the SSC in June 1976.
While the Governments had decided to set up CXC to replace Cambridge University, the
Ministry was well aware that they were some influential persons in education and the society at
large who were not about to part with Cambridge and embrace CXC without the most
resistance. Giving up this long link with the ‘Mother Country’ did not rest well with this
minority. Further, the success of CXC could not be assumed or taken for granted. At that time
the Permanent Secretary of Education was designated to be Jamaica’s representative on the
Council of CXC. However, knowing that I had every intention to return to the post of Principal
of Mico, in discussion with the Minister, Honourable Howard Cooke, it was agreed that Mrs. Fay
Saunders would be Jamaica’s representative on the Council. CXC became operational in 1979 in
four subjects as proposed and scheduled. By 1983 CXC had developed Syllabi and examinations
in 20 subjects. CXC had met its implementation timetable.
It is appropriate here to pay tribute to all those in and from Jamaica who played leading and
critical roles in the CXC in its formative years. These include the late Professor Sir Roy
Marshall, the late Mr. A. Z Preston, the late Mr. P. Walter Burke, the late Prof R. N. Murray, the
late Prof L.H.E Reid, the late Prof Aubrey Phillips, the late Mr. R. W. Fagan, the late Mr. Euclid King, Mrs. Fay Saunders, the late Dr. Denis Irvine, Mrs. Irene Walter, Sir Roy Augier, who was
only born in St Lucia but is in every bit Jamaican. We must also salute those early advocates and
activities for a regional examination body: the late Mary Dawson, the late Evelyn Clarke, teacher
a leader that made so many things happen in education, the late Wesley Powell and again Mrs. Fay
Saunders who not only advocated for the regional examination participated in policy
formulation but also became involved in implementation.
SIMILAR EXAMINATIONS DIVERGENT PATHS
By the mid-1980s CXC and SSC had become alternative examinations. Dwyer et al (2003) noted
that in similar subjects there were high parallels in test specifications in content coverage, in
weights given to topics and in lengths of tests for the SSC and for the CXC. Further, they
observed that on informed professional opinion there was no significant difference in the
standards of the two examinations. Ranges 4 and 5 in the SSC were equated with Levels 1 and 2
in CXC. The Government of Jamaica officially accepted these equivalences for entry into the
public service and for public tertiary institutions
Interestingly, both CXC and SSC had returned to the long-time Cambridge practice of offering
examinations at two levels. Cambridge had offered the Junior and Senior Cambridge
examinations up until 1951, when the Junior Cambridge was discontinued in the Caribbean,
leaving the Senior Cambridge as the only level offered. Senior Cambridge was replaced by GCE
‘O’ Level in 1964. When CXC offered the Basic and General Proficiency examinations, and
more recently CSEC and the Caribbean Certificate of Secondary Level Competence (CCSLC),
and SSC offered the Foundation and Continuing Education levels they re-introduced two exit
levels at the end of secondary school.
Divergence was in the developmental paths, administrative arrangements and acceptance of the
two examinations. The divergence could be summarized briefly as follows:
CXC was an autonomous organization with substantial infrastructure solely devoted to
producing CXC examinations while SSC was administered by a Unit of the Ministry of
Education, with less robust infrastructure, and which also administered other Ministry
CXC was linked institutionally with UWI while SSC drew on UWI personnel on an ad
CXC attracted significant donor agency funding to support its development while SSC
was financed also exclusively by the Government of Jamaica.
CXC drew on talent and expertise from across the region while SSC depended almost
entirely on Jamaican talent and expertise.
CXC charged examination fees to students while SSC was offered free to students.
Students had to register for CXC individually through their principals while principals of
New Secondary Schools automatically registered all their Grade 11 students to sit SSC.
Only a relatively small number of registered students did not actually sit the subjects for
which they were registered in CXC while a relatively large number of registered students
did not sit the SSC subjects for which they were registered. Hence while New Secondary
Schools collectively had a larger number of student enrolled than high schools, far more
high school students actually sat CXC than SSC.
CXC examination results were published consistently immediately prior to the beginning
of the new school year while there was a great inconsistency in the time of publication of
the SSC. In some years they were published well into the new school year and therefore
could not be used in decision-making with respect to entry into tertiary institutions and
with respect to some job opportunities.
These differences partially accounted for the fact that CXC rapidly gained local, regional and
international recognition while SSC struggled for recognition outside of the public sector in
Jamaica. However, it has to be acknowledged that the SSC was designed and developed
specifically, as the examination of the New Secondary Schools and therefore was viewed through
the prism of being a second class examination set for second-class secondary institutions.
By the mid-1980s, therefore, it became abundantly clear that the issue of the integration of the
secondary schools’ system, which was deferred in 1974 because of CXC being in its embryonic
a stage could no longer be deferred in the circumstances where CXC had become fully operational and had successfully replaced GCE ‘O’ Levels. Students from traditional high schools sitting
CXC, students from New Secondary Schooling sitting SSC and students from Technical and
Comprehensive Schools sitting both was not a tenable situation. The option of students of all
secondary schools being required to sit the SSC did not arise.
JTA, therefore, began to advocate vigorously for the integration of all secondary schools into a
a single secondary school system in which placement to enter secondary school was through the
Common Entrance and for CXC to be the exit examination for students of all secondary schools.
In 1988 the Minister of Education, the Honourable Neville Gallimore, decided to begin the
integration process on a phased basis starting with the conversion of six New Secondary Schools
which would admit students into Grade 7 through the Common Entrance Examination and sit
CXC in Grade 11 five years later. This integration, commonly referred to as the conversion or
upgrading, took another 17 to 18 years when the SSC was completely phased out and for
students from all types of secondary schools entered for the CSEC examinations. No one sitting
at the table in 1974, when the decision was made to establish the SSC, imagined it would take 30
years to finally resolve the issues that were debated.
BENEFITS THAT ACCRUE TO JAMAICA FROM CXC
The value of this 30-year experience and history is that its lessons demonstrate in unequivocal
terms the ways in which CXC benefits Jamaica. These benefits are:
Having exit standards for its secondary education system set and assessed by a regional mechanism that has high local, regional and international recognition means that
credentials awarded are readily negotiable in the world of work and for further education,
nationally, regionally and internationally.
Having exit standards assessed only by CXC is less costly to the country. The
The government of Jamaica pays a subvention to CXC based on the size of its population in
relation to the rest of the region. To operate a national examination for the same purpose
is not only redundant but a double financial obligation.
Being a partner in the regional mechanism to assess and determine exit standards for high
schooling is more sustainable.
Being a partner in the regional mechanism results in higher levels of administrative
efficiency, greater reliability, and more consistent quality.
The annual comparison of the performance of Jamaican high schools and their students
with the counterparts and peers across the region using common standards gives a
broader and better frame of reference useful to all stakeholders and actors, steel sharpens
The annual interaction of Jamaican teachers and educators with the colleagues from
across the region, especially in the marking exercise, builds an invaluable community of
practice in secondary education which has spin off benefits beyond the marking exercise.
The Western Office of CXC in Jamaica and the annual marking exercise, the majority of
which is done in Jamaica ensures that CXC contributes to the Jamaica economy.
THE BENEFITS THAT ACCRUE TO CXC FROM JAMAICA
The benefits accruing to CXC from Jamaica are best illustrated by the data shown in Table 1.
CXC/CSEC Entries May-June Examinations by Territories: 1990-2012
Territories 1990 1994 2000 2004 2012
Barbados 5,358 6,165 7,290 8,330 8,479
Guyana 5,822 6,816 9,528 9,366 13,894
Jamaica 24,566 33,643 49,967 62,451 83,047
Trinidad & Tobago 28,296 35,849 36,018 35,602 30,791
Others 9,498 12,713 14,619 16,425 20,758
Total 73,540 95,186 117,322 132,174 156,869
Jamaica began the process of converting New Secondary Schools to High Schools in the 1988.
Table 1 shows that in 1990 total student entries in CXC were 73,540 and Jamaica’s entries
numbered 24, 566 or 33.4 percent. Trinidad and Tobago, with approximately half the population
of Jamaica, had more student entries than Jamaica, 28,296 or 38.5 percent. In 1994, while there
was an overall increase in entries, the relative relationships had only changed slightly but
Trinidad and Tobago still entered more students in CXC than Jamaica. However, by 2000 there
was a noticeable shift. Total student entries had increased to 117,322. Jamaica’s entries had
increased to 49,967, that is, 42.6 percent of total entries and had surpassed Trinidad and Tobago
as the territory with the largest number of student entries in CXC. The trend of Jamaica’s
increasing student entries is also shown in 2004 when Jamaica’s entry reached 62,451 or 47.2 percent
of total entries. In 2012 total student entries in CSEC numbered 156,869 with Jamaica’s
entry being 83,047 or 52.9 percent of total entries which is in line with Jamaica’s population
in relation to the rest of the region. In a nutshell, since Jamaica began to integrate its secondary
school system it has been the main source of growth in CSEC student entries. In 2012, Jamaica’s
entries in CSEC were approximately proportional to the size of its population to the rest of the
The benefits accruing to CXC from the significant increases in entries from Jamaica over the last
20 years, as the SSC was phased out, can be listed briefly as follows:
1. Reduced marginal costs per entry, which if all other things were equal, should have led to
improved administrative efficiencies.
2. Greater economies of scale resulting in greater financial viability.
3. Enhanced sustainability as a consequence of the reduction in marginal costs and greater
economies of scale.
4. Increased potential of the organization to expand, introduce new products and services.
For example, consolidation of CXC based on CSEC examinations enabled it to offer
CAPE in 1998 thus starting to replace the Cambridge ‘A’ Level examination.
5. Greater access and opportunity to mobilize and utilize the full range of talent and
expertise from Jamaica and needed by CXC.
TWO PROBLEMS THAT COULD DESTABILISE THE SYMBIOTIC RELATIONS
The fact that Jamaica and CXC are engaged in a symbiotic relationship does not mean that there
are not issues and problems that could destabilize the relationship. I propose to address two such
problems: the potential danger of the snap-shot approach to interpreting annual CXC
examination results and actual danger of retaining the obsolete organization of secondary
The Potential Danger of the Snap-shot Approach to Interpreting CXC Examination
By snap-shot approach, I mean interpreting information almost solely in terms of the view taken
at one particular point in time. The snap short is a single dimensional view which only has width
but no length or depth. This approach is a-historical, a-contextual and highly vulnerable to the
politics of the moment. Employed with eloquence and passion, the snapshot can be a very
effective but misleading tool of persuasion. The potential danger of this approach is
immortalized in the scripture in Exodus Chapter 1 verse 8 “There arose a new king in Egypt that
knew not Joseph”. Note that the snap-shot approach is neither new nor Jamaican. Further,
Jamaica has long been a very open society when it comes to discussing any issue. CXC results
are the subjects of national debate almost every August. A robust public debate is healthy. But if
constant use of the snap-shot approach prevails in these annual debates, there could be very
negative consequences in forming public and professional opinion which are then acted upon.
Let me return to the figures quoted earlier indicating that between 1990 and 2012, students
entering to sit CSEC from Jamaica increased from 24,566 in 1990 to 83,047 in 2012. This has
been a remarkable increase in the number of students. Not surprisingly there was a dip in pass rate,
quality. Further, initially, the difference between the performance of traditional high school
students and students from converted high schools was stark. Over the last 15 of these 22 years,
commentators have emerged who produce annual league tables rating the performance of schools
which invariably highlighted the initial poor performance of converted schools. However, over
the last 10 years, the performance of some converted schools has begun to overlap with some
traditional high schools thus muting the adverse comparisons. The lamentations have shifted to
the numbers of secondary school leavers who obtained no passes or only one or two. Of course,
the blame for poor performance has been laid squarely at the feet of teachers. Several official
documents now carry this line. The scope of this Lecture only allows me very limited
opportunity to introduce another perspective.
In the late 1960s early 1970s, Trinidad and Tobago significantly increased the number of students
entered for GCE ‘O’ Levels. With approximately half the population of Jamaica, Trinidad and
Tobago entered about twice the number of students compared to Jamaica. In so doing, the overall
pass rate of Trinidad and Tobago in GCE ‘O’ Level fell 10 to15 points below Jamaica. For ease
of illustration allow me to use round numbers for both entries and pass rates. In round numbers
Trinidad and Tobago entered 10,000 students while Jamaica entered 5,000. Jamaica’s overall
pass rate held steady at 40 percent while that of Trinidad fell to 30 percent. With a pass rate
of 40 percent of 5,000 students Jamaica had 2,000 students with the requisite qualifications to
enter the civil service or move on to Sixth Form while Trinidad and Tobago with 30 percent of
10,000 students had 3,000 such secondary school leavers. In a population half the size of Jamaica
Trinidad and Tobago had 50 percent more qualified students to select from. In other words, by
taking a ten point drop in quality at GCE ‘O’ level in order to double the number of qualified
students, Trinidad and Tobago would be in a more competitive position than Jamaica that
retained its higher pass rate, quality, but restricted the number of students taking the exam.
Starkly put, Jamaica entered upon the policy of expanding the number of students twenty years
later than Trinidad and has had the same experience.
To complete the point being made, in 1990 total student entries in CSEC from Trinidad and
Tobago totaled 28,296 and in 2012 total student entries totaled 30,771. In other words in the
period when Jamaica’s student entries in CSEC exploded, Trinidad and Tobago reached a
plateau. During this period Trinidad and Tobago’s pass rate improved while Jamaica’s dip. In a
nutshell, the temporary dip in quality is the price it paid for substantial quantity but the overall
result is positive when the percentage in quality is calculated with the increase in quantity.
From this perspective the fact that the increase in Jamaica’s student entries into CSEC by 238 percent
with only about a 15 to 20 percent decline in pass rate has benefitted the country
significantly in the increase in absolute numbers of qualified persons available for both the world
of work and for further education. Moreover, there is evidence that the recovery of quality has
already begun. When the annual snap-shot interpretation has led to lamentation, more critical and
contextual analysis points to the need for the commendation of students, parents, teachers, and
regimes of government over the last 24 years. What is disturbing to me is to see the snap-shot
interpretation repeated in official documents even of international agencies. This in my view is
I hope that I have demonstrated that the commonly and consistently employed snap-short
the approach does not, and cannot, accommodate the calculus involving the interaction of quantity
and quality over time and the possibility of positive outcomes in circumstances where significant
quantitative increases cause a temporary dip in quality. While the man in the street may be
excused for this lack of understanding it is inexcusable on the part of technocrats and policy
The Real Danger of Retaining an Obsolete Organizational Structure of Secondary
Cambridge, SSC the CXC have all struggled with very limited success in offering two levels of
examinations at the end of Grade 11/Fifth Form. Junior Cambridge, Basic Proficiency, the
Functional Level and most recently the Caribbean Certificate of Second Level Competence have
all had their difficulties with public acceptance. The essence of the dilemma is that the second
exit level is the attempt by Examination bodies to address the reality that students at the end of
secondary schooling may not reach the expected higher standard. In gross terms by offering a
second standard, examining bodies have attempted to mitigate the sense that many secondary
school leavers end their schooling without any ‘paper’ to show for it.
The taproot of the problem is that many students enter secondary schooling with a wide range of
achievement at the primary level but are given a fix number years of secondary schooling and
follow the same curriculum offered in five Form/Grade packages. The fixed five-year five
packaged curriculum organization of secondary schooling was first premised on the notion that
only a select number of students had the aptitude to successfully undertake secondary schooling.
This notion of the academic elite was challenged by the notion of equality of educational
opportunity for all students based on their right to be given a chance. However, being given a
chance at secondary schooling does not give any guarantees of the outcome at the end of five
However, in the last decade of the twentieth century the idea of mastery learning which defines
aptitude in terms of time given to learn the task, breakthroughs in brain research and cognitive
science and the demands of the emerging knowledge economy have combined to challenge the
notion that only a select group of students can successfully complete secondary schooling.
Accordingly, the notion of equality of educational opportunity has been replaced with equality of
educational outcomes for all.
Transfer of students from primary to secondary school at age 11 or 12 years, after six years of
primary school, has become almost standard across the region. The legal framework for
secondary schools permits a student to be in school from age 11 to age 19 years. However,
secondary schooling has continued to be organized to be delivered in five years, that is, on the
obsolete the notion that only gives students a chance to access secondary schooling. The
paradigm shift to a new organization of secondary is yet to be done. If students enter secondary
school with widely different levels of achievement and are expected to achieve the same high
educational outcomes then time and treatment must vary. Some students may take four others
five others six and some even seven years to achieve those high standards. Further, time to
achieve these high standards may vary between subjects. The urgency is to replace the fixed time
same treatment model of organizing secondary education to a more flexible model that allows
variation in time and treatment without recourse to repetition of Forms of Grades.
This is not a matter that CXC, the examining body, can fix. Moreover, the capacity of CXC to
assess any standard set is not in question. Further, in most countries of the region, including
Jamaica, the secondary school age population is in decline thus providing the opportunity
through released resources to at least experiment with flexible models. Sad to say such released
resources seem to go to repay debt rather than secure the future through experimentation
with more flexible models of school organization that produce high education outcomes for all.
The Critical Importance of Teachers
Let me return to where I began but by way of anecdote and comment. Just over two weeks ago I
spoke at the Graduation and Prize Giving Function of the Mount Nebo Primary School, located
between Benbow and Guys Hill in the hills of St Catherine. As the programme progressed I was
struck more and more by the high level of participation of community members and the quality
of the items rendered. The Chairman of the School Board, Rev Orlanzo Wright, spoke with
passion about his two babies: the Primary School and the Evening College. Privately, I asked
him to elaborate on the Evening College. He said that over the last six or so years he had
organized an Evening College offering CSEC subjects. Further, the college that had achieved
outstanding results with some community members obtaining passes in five, six, seven and eight
subjects. Several persons who had gone on further study or had obtained better jobs based on
their improved qualifications obtained through CSEC passes. Where did he get the teachers I
asked? His reply was that all twelve teachers on the staff of the Primary School were trained
university graduates some of them had or were working on Master’s degrees. They formed the
core of the teachers along with some teachers from the Guys Hill Secondary School a few miles
away. He went on to say that the Evening College charged modest fees because the teachers
accepted very modest stipends paid for subjects taught each term.
Stated concisely, trained university graduate teachers on the staff of a primary school were
engaged in uplifting a community through teaching CSEC subjects in evening classes organized
by the pastor and Chairman of the School Board. The prime age population, 20 to 49 years old in
Jamaica, and other Caribbean countries is now larger than the school-age population 5 to 19
years old. The growth in CSEC entries from Jamaica over the last twenty years has not only
come from school candidates but also from out-of-school candidates from the prime age
population. Adults enrolled in evening classes offering CSEC either underperformed in school or
are now seeking opportunities that they did not get when they were of secondary school age. The
Evening College at Mount Nebo taught mainly by primary school teachers are operating with an
understanding that secondary education is not confined to secondary schools or to students of
secondary school age. The Evening College at Mount Nebo is pioneering a new path that CXC
needs to take note of. They may be in the vanguard of the new growth area in CXC entries.
Jamaica has made great strides over the last 25 years in upgrading the quality of its teaching
force. The Ministry of Education Statistics for 2011-2012 shows that 84.5 per cent of secondary
school teachers are trained and the largest category of trained secondary teachers are trained
university graduates who constitute 48.9 per cent of the 11,981 secondary school teachers.
However, these trained graduate teachers are not evenly distributed across secondary schools.
They are located much more in traditional high schools than in converted high schools. The
continued improvement of student performance in converted high schools is somewhat
dependent of upgraded teacher quality.
When I reflect upon the Mount Nebo Evening College and the Ministry of Education statistics it
becomes very clear that the recent very emotional debate about paid study leaves to teachers
totally missed the important issues. Paid study leave to teachers confers a personal benefit in that
it assists teachers to partially cover the cost of their university programmes and their upgraded
qualifications lead to higher salaries and greater prospects of promotion. But study leave as an
investment of state funds in teachers has a very high social rate of return. Note the social returns
of the investments made in the education of teachers on the staff of the Mount Nebo Primary
School. Also, there is an urgent need to continue to upgrade teachers on the staffs of converted high
schools and not only in the areas of science and mathematics. The Ministry would be well
advised to be careful with measures advocated by the IMF as applied to education. My sense is
that these measures are like the butcher’s knife applied to dead meat. In adjusting measures that
have served us well it is the surgeon’s scalpel that is required. The surgeon’s scalpel is used with
sound knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of live patients. To my colleague teachers, I
would say that in debates over vexed issues there is no need to intemperate language or personal
attacks. The strength of the teachers’ case resides not in words but in the deeds that teachers have
done and are doing.
The Caribbean Examinations Council is one of the great successes of regional cooperation in the
The Caribbean. It has been handed down to me that the genesis of CXC started with the vanguard
actions of visionary teachers some of whom it was my great privilege to know and work with as
a neophyte. It is my considered opinion that the next 40 years of CXC will be even greater if
CXC continues to serve students by maintaining high standards and to be responsive to the
vanguard actions of visionary teachers who are at work all across the region. Rest assured
Governments will be constrained to follow-up on what students need, visionary teachers pioneer
and communities embrace.
Let there be no question Jamaica needs CXC and CXC needs Jamaica. The nurturing, fostering
and continuation of this symbiotic relationship is a cornerstone in the future of CXC, as it was in