A look back at Michael Manley’s free education system

Former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley

Beneficiaries hail the program as a success, despite objections from the upper class

Education is often seen as the great equalizer, in which people from low-income families can access career fields that would otherwise have been impossible.

For thousands of Jamaicans, on May 2, 1973, when the country’s fourth prime minister, Michael Manley, launched the free education initiative, it was the ticket many struggling financially had been waiting to create. a better life for themselves and their families.

The program included free secondary education in all subsidized secondary schools and free education for Jamaicans who qualified to enter a tertiary institution.

One such person, consultant physician and surgeon Dr. Ray Fraser, told the Jamaica Observer that he is eternally grateful for the opportunity to attend the University of the West Indies under Manley’s initiative.

“At that time, my mother could not afford it at all. Two of us were going to college at the time. She was a single mother; my father had died years before. So free education has arrived for us and for many Jamaicans at the most appropriate time,” he said.

Fraser continued, “It allowed students in rural and inner-city areas [and] the lower class to enter college and those who received a free education in the 1970s, it was they who eventually became the backbone, even now, of the economy. I mean, doctors, lawyers, business leaders, all of these people were trained in the 1970s and had a free education. So that had a positive effect. »

Explaining that he was from Manchester by birth but moved to Kingston and attended Kingston College, Dr Fraser said that although it was a little daunting when he was just starting university, it It was also exciting because of the different Caribbean cultures it was introduced to.

“The university at the time was a great melting pot, it was a time when there was a social conscience. It was a time when young people identified themselves ideologically and philosophically. I remember meeting, for the first time, students from other Caribbean islands and discussing culture [and] politics,” he noted.

Stating that the only way for the country to progress was to have an educated population, Fraser said, “You have to train your people to get the most out of them. The more you educate them, the better the overall development of society.

Partly funded by revenues from the newly introduced bauxite tax, the program was fiercely opposed by members of the upper class, who believed that Manley was crudely managing the economy, thinking the prime minister had turned communist.

Consequently, in 1980 the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) won the general election and in 1986 announced a tax on university students, eventually ending the free tuition program.

Another person who benefited from the policy was New York paralegal Howard DaCosta. DaCosta told the Sunday Observer that if free education were not an option, he probably would have taken out a loan to attend the College of Arts Science and Technology (CAST), now known as the Jamaica University of Technology.

“Whether it was free or not, I would have gone. I would have made arrangements because that was the underlying precept that I would go. First, I was living in Clarendon with my family, my father had passed away a few years ago and so [my mother] raised us alone. The other brother had already gone to college, Mico and had already graduated and was working. It was just a natural progression that I went to college too,” DaCosta said, adding that he studied telecommunications and worked in Jamaica for more than five years before emigrating.

Arguing that free education at the higher level should be reconsidered, DaCosta proposed that the government also provide affordable loans and scholarships to struggling students.

“It’s important because the impact on this one [economy] going forward, it’s a generational thing. It brags about the economy, it brags about the productivity,” he told the Sunday Observer.

However, Dr. Fraser does not believe that the same system of free education that Manley pioneered would be easy to achieve in today’s economy.

“To get a basically free education like it was then, it’s going to be very difficult now. At the same time it was very appropriate, it did its job. It enabled a significant number of brilliant Jamaicans and smart to move forward, who have themselves contributed to the building of the nation,” said Dr. Fraser.

FRASER… the university at the time was a great melting pot