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La Educación
Número: (121) II
Año: 1995

The Establishment of “Lower Class” Education

The emancipation of slave children under six years of age in 1834 and full emancipation in 1835 provided the first opportunity for, and a major stimulus to, the establishment of an education system for the working class in the British Caribbean. Slave masters had tended to hold the view that formal education would make the slaves unfit for, or at the very least, disinclined to perform manual labor. The reforming government in England held the contrasting view that the peace and prosperity of the empire was closely related to the education of the subject peoples. Lord Howick, the influential abolitionist, held the view that
the great problem to be solved in drawing up any plan for the emancipation of the slaves [in the British colonies] [was] to devise some mode of inducing them when relieved from fear of the driver and his whip, to undergo the regular and continuous labor which [was] indispensable in carrying on the production of sugar.7
The view was widely held that with the removal of the controls which slavery provided, the destabilization of society in the Caribbean was imminent. Education was looked to as the mechanism for averting this impending catastrophe and ensuring the continued existence of the white planter class. The provision of elementary education was therefore a direct response to a perceived need for social control of the emancipated slaves. Slavery was to be abolished, but the plantation and the plantocracy were to be maintained at all costs.8 The education to be provided was to be Christian education. Accordingly, financial provision was made in the Emancipation Act of 1833 for the “religious and moral education of the negro population to be emancipated.”9

These funds, known as the Negro Education Grant, were allocated to the missionary bodies who were already involved with the religious and moral upliftment of the slaves, and to the Mico Trust.10 The grant was 30,000 pounds per year for five years. It was then progressively reduced each year for an additional five years until it ceased completely. The missionary bodies eagerly accepted the funding and used it to pay two-thirds of the building costs of schools and later, at their request, defrayed one-third of the expenditure for teachers’ salaries.

In the immediate post-emancipation period, the missionaries and the former slaves manifested tremendous enthusiasm for providing, maintaining and receiving education. As enrollment in the schools increased, normal schools were established for the training of teachers for the system.

In territories like Jamaica, that had a strong missionary presence, the missionary societies took the lead in establishing schools in the years after emancipation. They intended to use their schools to effect conversion and cement denominational loyalties. Each missionary body struggled to establish and maintain schools in as many colonies as possible. On the other hand, in Trinidad, which was a Crown Colony with a strong Roman Catholic presence, the government established government schools and for a time excluded the church schools from the public school system. This was in a deliberate attempt to anglicize Trinidad and curb the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. Eventually in these two countries, as in the others, a dual system of church and state control of elementary schools evolved as the first Boards of Education and school inspectors were appointed and the governments began to give financial support to church schools.

In time, the Jamaican planters soon came to realize that education could be a means of checking the movement from the estate and tardily in 1842, the Assembly made its first grant of 1,000 pounds for elementary education. The intention was to promote agricultural education in the elementary schools. They seemed to share the concern of George Dennis, the Inspector of Schools in Guyana, that if schools taught the black child “to read, write and cipher alone . . . he [would] be so puffed up with his acquirements as to forsake the occupation of his fathers.” These attempts coincided closely with the wishes of the Imperial Government which, in a circular dispatch to the colonies in 1847, asserted that the education of the colored races would not be complete unless agriculture was included as a subject. It was suggested, furthermore, that the schools should also “teach the mutual interests of the mother country and her dependencies, the rational basis of their connection and the domestic and social duties of the colored races.”11 British Caribbean education was in fact a matter of Imperial importance.

These policies were in direct conflict with the ambitions of the persons who were receiving education and those who provided the schools. The euphoria stimulated by the establishment of schools after emancipation did not last because the expected benefits were not immediately forthcoming and since the British government ceased to offer more grants, the more ambitious schemes had to be abandoned. In effect, a predominantly bookish, rather than a practical curriculum was established, and reading, writing, arithmetic and religion were the subjects taught to young black children in the Caribbean at this time.