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La Educación
Número: (121) II
Año: 1995

The Legacy of the 19th Century

The greatest achievement of the period 1833 to 1900 was that elementary and secondary systems of education became firmly established in the British Caribbean and that it was accepted that they should receive support from public funds. In a few territories, teacher training institutions for a portion of the elementary schools teachers had been established. There was no similar provision for secondary school teachers. The elementary schools and teacher training institutions created a small group of educated black men and women who were destined to act as role models for thousands of black children in the next century and to become local and national leaders. The influence of this group on 20th century Caribbean society cannot be underestimated.

Some features of the legacy are less positive. The opportunities for schooling were not universally available. In many colonies no more than 50% of children of elementary school age were enrolled, and seldom were more than 60% of those enrolled in attendance. At the same time, fewer than 1% of the population of secondary school-age aged children was enrolled in secondary schools.

A hierarchical system of education reflective of the social structure was firmly in place. There was poor articulation between elementary and secondary schools, and between the schools and the working world. The education provided did nothing to dispel the general distaste for manual and agricultural labor, and the forces working to maintain the literary curriculum outweighed those proposing a more practical curriculum for the schools. Inspector Keenan was to remain the lone voice calling for a Caribbeanized curriculum which would reflect the history, trade, resources and national phenomenon of the Caribbean.55

Both the recipients and the providers of elementary education seemed to accept as a natural law that elementary schools should be inferior in quality to secondary schools. The elementary school tradition of low salaries for teachers, poor learning environments, emphasis on rote learning and lack of learning resources have tended to persist.

The legacy was to remain largely undisturbed during the first half of the 20th century. The challenge of the second half of the century has been to make education an effective instrument of national development.