That 45% rule

Jamaica Gleaner - - @ISSUE - Orville Hig­gins is a sports­caster and talk­show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­

THE TOPIC of what is loosely called the ISSA 45 per cent rule con­tin­ues to res­onate with the pub­lic. The rule states that for a stu­dent to take part in any ISSA-run sports com­pe­ti­tion, he or she must have at­tained a grade of 45 per cent or more in at least four sub­jects in the term pre­ceed­ing the term of the com­pe­ti­tion.

There is rea­son for this: ISSA had to do some­thing. There was once a time when stu­dents used to go schools and par­tic­i­pate in sports only. Schools were op­er­at­ing, in too many cases, as glo­ri­fied clubs. ISSA could not sit idly by and watch this hap­pen­ing. The 45 per cent rule, along with a manda­tory 80 per cent at­ten­dance, was ISSA’s way of reg­u­lat­ing what was clearly an un­de­sir­able sit­u­a­tion.

The time has come for ISSA to have a re­think. All laws get re­vised over time. Back in the day, stu­dents en­ter­ing high school were, for the most part, those who sat the Com­mon En­trance. This means that it was cream of the crop who ma­tric­u­lated into high school. The as­sump­tion is that a stu­dent who passed Com­mon En­trance should be good enough to be able to get 45 per cent in four sub­jects.


Nowa­days, stu­dents are en­ter­ing high school pre­dom­i­nantly through GSAT. This means that many stu­dents are en­ter­ing high school who never op­er­ated at the level that Com­mon En­trance stu­dents did. Many prin­ci­pals com­plain that a large part of their in­take in first form came out of GSAT av­er­ag­ing 25 and 30 per cent.

It seems mon­u­men­tally un­fair to ask a stu­dent who en­tered high school with that kind of aca­demic com­pe­tence to be nat­u­rally able to garner 45 per cent in four sub­jects. It’s a well-known fact that the av­er­age of stu­dents is likely to go down when leav­ing from pri­mary to high school. If the av­er­age of the bright stu­dent is likely to drop from pri­mary to high school, the prin­ci­ple must be the same for the slow stu­dent who en­ters with a 30 per cent av­er­age. Ask­ing the slow stu­dent to dra­mat­i­cally raise their per­for­mance or sports will be taken from them is unjust.

To com­pen­sate for this, I know prin­ci­pals who have found a clever way around it. Rather than set these slow stu­dents ‘nor­mal’ work for the form they are in, they make the tests or ex­ams less dif­fi­cult for these slow stu­dents. So, rather than the stu­dents step­ping up, the sys­tem, at times, goes down to meet their level.

A slow child in first form can get 100 per cent if what he is as­signed is the task of say­ing the two times ta­ble! These stu­dents are, how­ever, not nec­es­sar­ily im­prov­ing. This ex­plains why so many of our stu­dents are leav­ing high school with no sub­jects at all. They were taken in slow to be­gin with, and noth­ing in the sys­tem re­ally caters for their devel­op­ment mean­ing­fully.

The other point is that this aca­demic re­quire­ment to par­tic­i­pate in an ex­tracur­ric­u­lar com­pe­ti­tion is only for the sports stu­dent. The child who wants to par­tic­i­pate in a cadet or singing com­pe­ti­tion doesn’t have to be per­form­ing at any par­tic­u­lar stan­dard. It can­not be fair that two chil­dren in the same class per­form equally dis­mally, yet the one with an in­ter­est in singing gets to par­tic­i­pate in All To­gether Sing on TVJ, while the one who is tal­ented in sports only has to watch from the side­lines. There should be no greater pre­mium on the stu­dent ath­lete do­ing well than any other stu­dent in the school.

The rule doesn’t even force a child to per­form through­out the year. A child who wants to par­tic­i­pate in Champs need only get the 45 per cent in four sub­jects in the Septem­ber to De­cem­ber term. In the term dur­ing which Champs is staged, Jan­uary to April, he can sky­lark all he wants, be­cause it’s the grade in the term be­fore that counts.

The rule was use­ful to stem the prac­tice of stu­dents only com­ing to school for sports. That was wrong. Be­cause stu­dents are com­ing in at lower and lower lev­els of com­pe­tence, at­ten­dance and ef­fort should now be the new watch words.

If a stu­dent is at­tend­ing classes reg­u­larly and is gen­uinely try­ing to do his work, and if he is com­mit­ting no dis­ci­plinary breaches, there is no rea­son he shouldn’t be able to rep­re­sent his school in sports, or any­thing else, for that mat­ter. Over to you, ISSA.

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