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La Educación
Número: (121) II
Año: 1995

The Establishment of “Middle Class” Education

The various denominational bodies were also instrumental in establishing secondary schools. As early as 1835, John Stirling, commenting on the missionary proposals for the development of education in the Caribbean, affirmed that he could see no progress being made unless some “more mature education” went with the development of primary education.12 Two years later, Latrobe called for the establishment of “private schools of a superior order in which the highest classes of the island would meet with liberal education.”13

The Bishops and Archbishops of the Church of England were active in the establishment of secondary education systems in the Caribbean. In Guyana, Bishop Austin became concerned with the inconveniences being experienced by “those in the higher walks of life” in their efforts to provide schooling for their children. He contrasted their situation with those of the poor who had schools provided for their children.14 Austin was to be instrumental in the establishment of Queen’s College in Guyana in 1844. Bishop Rawle in Barbados tried to initiate secondary schools in all of the islands in his Diocese, and the Church of England maintained the Codrington Grammar School in connection with Codrington College in Barbados.

In Jamaica, Archbishop Nuttall was a key figure in the establishment of the Jamaica High School (later Jamaica College) in 1883. Roman Catholics in Jamaica had previously established the St. Georges College for boys in 1850, and the girls school in 1858 which later became known as the Immaculate Conception High School. In 1864, Presbyterians established a Collegiate School in Montego Bay.15 At the same time, the Roman Catholic Church in Trinidad established St. Joseph’s Convent, St. George’s College and the College of the Immaculate Conception (CIC).16

The Jamaica High School was established by the Jamaica Schools’ Commission, a body created by Governor Musgrave in 1879 to establish, administer and coordinate the system of secondary education. This was 20 years after the government in Trinidad established Queen’s Royal College and 39 years after the government in Guyana began to give financial support to the newly formed Queen’s College.

In both Barbados and Jamaica, secondary schools were established from pre-established educational endowments. Like the Jamaica High School, Harrison’s Free School in Bridgetown, Barbados, became a first grade secondary school and was partly supported by government grants-in-aid. In both islands, several of the other endowments were reorganized as second or middle grade schools which, unlike the first grade schools, did not offer a full secondary program.

Secondary schools in the Caribbean were grammar schools based on the English model that offered the classical languages, modern languages, mathematics and in some cases, natural sciences. They were intended to prepare boys for entry to the learned professions or at least for other white collar occupations. Girls were prepared to be the wives and mothers of professional men.

Secondary school pupils would normally have received their primary education in private primary schools. Lower class children had no access to secondary education since they could not comply with the schools entry requirements of either paying fees, belonging to a higher social class, or having had previous exposure to secondary education. In 1892, for example, the Government of Jamaica began to award six scholarships annually for secondary education under the new code and the situation remained virtually unchanged. Since the scholarships were open to students of both primary and secondary public schools, there was little possibility that children from the public elementary schools would have won an award.

By 1863, it was evident that the British influence was even more entrenched when one by one—beginning with Trinidad—Caribbean countries began to enter their children for the Cambridge overseas exams. At this time the system of island scholarships based on the Cambridge exams and tenable at British universities was introduced. The curriculum became more closely geared to the needs of the relatively small percentage of students who would sit the overseas exams and compete for the island scholarships.

The founding fathers of secondary schools in the British Caribbean never doubted that the education offered should differ from that which was being offered in secondary schools in England. It was the general feeling that the education should have been comparable, if not equal, to education “at home.” With this in mind, schools that could afford to do so, recruited expatriate teachers or local teachers who had been educated in Britain.

It was Bruner who suggested that “a curriculum ought to be built around the great issues, principles and values that society deems worthy of the continued concern of its members.”17 If the curriculum in English secondary schools had been built around the great issues, principles and values that the society in England deemed “worthy of the continual concern of its members,” and if the premise is accepted that the Caribbean curriculum was built on the English curriculum, it seems logical to conclude that the Caribbean curriculum was concerned not with the issues, principles and values of the Caribbean, but with those of England.

Obviously, certain principles and values were common to both societies. The belief in the sanctity of the class structure is one such value, that helped to support the feeling in both societies that class and caste were more important than performance. The Caribbean curriculum was like the English curriculum in that it was dominated not only by the external examinations, but by “the institutionalized power of a subject-centered curriculum.”18 It was assumed in both societies that instruction was education, that subject-matter was worth knowing for its own sake, and that the teachers’ main responsibility was to impart knowledge and cover the subject matter of the various courses. There is little evidence that in the early years any attempt was made to adapt the curriculum of secondary schools in the Caribbean to local needs and conditions.