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Colección:
La Educación
Número: (121) II
Año: 1995

The Agitation for a More Practical Curriculum

Throughout the period, there were those who favored a more practical education in elementary schools and normal schools. The first grants made by the local legislature for elementary education in Jamaica were intended to encourage agricultural instruction in schools and establish a normal school to train teachers of the subject. The belief that elementary schools should teach children the dignity of manual labor persisted.

There were also calls for a more practical curriculum in secondary schools. In Guyana, the Daily Chronicle deplored the fact that scientific education in that country was restricted to one weekly lesson in elementary chemistry at Queen’s College. The feeling expressed was that “the alumni of Queen’s College [would] make very nice gentlemanly clerks in government offices; but they [were] not turned out to the battle of life equipped with weapons of modern precision.”44 In Barbados, there were calls for “the rising generation of planters,” to be “thoroughly educated in the Science of Agriculture if they [were] to hold their own and if the prosperity of the island [was] to be maintained.”45 There was a growing feeling that the school curriculum was unsuitable for the needs of the region. The curriculum was felt to be too “bookish.”

In his report on education in Trinidad in 1869, Keenan recommended the provision of practical instruction for girls through the appointment of schoolmistresses who would “teach needlework and other industrial pursuits” suitable for them. For boys he recommended the establishment of a school workshop and garden where the boys could be taught “how to handle tools and do sundry jobs in the ways of repairs and to cultivate vegetables.”46

Twenty years later—at the turn of the century—the Lumb Commissioners also called for a practical emphasis in elementary education in Jamaica. Sewing, for example, was to be confined to plain sewing, cutting and repair of garments and knitting of useful articles.47 They proposed the introduction of basic manual instruction to prepare children for all handicrafts.

Agricultural education was to be extended to both boys and girls “to help to prepare them to earn their living . . . and to create a taste for agriculture.”48 Similar proposals were made for teacher education. Women teachers were to receive instruction in “cooking, laundry work and domestic management.” This would have the added benefit of reducing the large staff of servants. “Unnecessary” studies such as English, Latin, French, Mathematics, Science and Education were to be eliminated.49 The economic measures suggested by the Commission were implemented and two of the normal schools for training male teachers were closed when government withdrew the grant-in-aid on which they depended. Thereafter, teaching was to become a predominantly female profession.

The mid-1890s ushered in a period of severe economic decline for the Caribbean. In 1896, Joseph Chamberlain, the ebullient secretary of state for the colonies, appointed a Royal Commission to investigate the matter. The Commission placed most of the blame on the fact that the price of cane sugar fell from 21 shillings per hundred-weight to less than 11 shillings in 1896. The solutions proposed by the Commission were a greater diversification of crops, a system of agricultural education and the establishment of an agricultural research center somewhere in the Caribbean. In 1898, 17,500 pounds were allocated to the Caribbean by the imperial government to establish an imperial department of agriculture for the area with headquarters in Barbados.

In the meantime, Chamberlain had issued orders to the colonial governments in the Caribbean to institute some sort of agricultural education in their respective colonies. He instructed that a considerable portion of the funds being spent on general education should be transferred to agricultural education.50 Agricultural instruction was to be provided in secondary schools to give the sons of owners and managers of estates a thorough knowledge of scientific agriculture. Selected boys from the elementary schools were to be sent to special agricultural schools that were being established in St. Vincent, St. Kitts and Dominica. Chamberlain explained his aim was not to teach farming at the elementary-school level. He drew his rationale for agricultural education in elementary schools from a memorandum written by Archbishop Nuttall, “to have the entire youth of an agricultural country intellectually trained in an atmosphere favorable to agriculture, and that they should learn . . . that agricultural work is not “fit for slaves.”51 The scheme aroused great interest on the part of governors, Boards of Education and Inspectors of Schools. Special agricultural schools were set up in some territories and, eventually, school gardens were established in elementary schools, but this thrust made little real impact on the curriculum of the secondary schools.