22 de Marzo de 2019
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La Educación
Número: (121) II
Año: 1995

Retrenchment and Reform

The call for a more practical curriculum was made part of a program for effecting greater economy in public spending. The 1882 Royal Commission on the financial situation in the British Caribbean was extremely critical of the education being provided. The “Commissioners were profoundly disturbed to find that although expenditure on education had risen considerably as teachers learnt to beat the system of payment by results and qualify for increased grants, the effectiveness of the schools as evidenced by the census literacy figures had not increased proportionately.”

The commissioners had also emphasized the pressing need for economy in public spending. This marks the beginning of the demands for economy in public spending including education. Many

West Indian territories appointed their own commissions to examine the situation more closely.

Specifically, these commissions were required to make proposals for effecting improvements in the quality of education while reducing expenditure on education. Commissions were appointed in Trinidad in 1889, Jamaica in 1885 and 1897, in Barbados in 1897 and Guyana in 1897. The implementation of their recommendations was to result in profound changes in education in the British Caribbean. The systems and procedures that developed in the 1890s were to remain largely unchanged until the late 1950s when the first Ministries of Education began to look critically at what they had inherited from colonial times.

One of the strategies adopted by Caribbean governments for reducing expenditure was to reduce teachers’ salaries by making it more difficult for them to qualify under the Payment by Results system. Barbados, for example, used this strategy to reduce the education budget from 17,000 pounds to 11,000 pounds.52 The hardships experienced by teachers at this time triggered the establishment and growth of teachers associations in the various territories.

The 1892 elementary education bill in Jamaica abolished fees and introduced an education tax to finance education. This led to a spectacular increase in the number of elementary schools as additional accommodation was required for the thousands of new pupils who flocked to the schools. It is interesting to note that although fees were no longer required for elementary education, the tax that the working class paid on their houses was realized about 50% more than they had voluntarily paid as fees. There were 962 schools in Jamaica in 1895—the highest number of schools in the country’s history. An amendment to the law in 1893 authorized the new Board of Education—created by the law of 1892—to “consider and report to the governor in cases where any schools [appeared] to be superfluous, as to the advisability of discontinuing the grant to the same.”53 Thereafter the number of schools declined steadily to 893 in 1899.54

The close of the 19th century was marked by a severe economic depression. Natural disasters also took their toll. Governments had less money to spend on education. Acting on the report of the Lumb Commission, the Jamaican assembly further reduced expenditure on education by amalgamating or closing superfluous schools. The era of expansion was over.

Education departments, ever conscious of the high wastage in the elementary school systems caused by poor attendance, attempted to deal with the problem through regulations. The introduction of compulsory education was seen as a means of ensuring greater efficiency in education. This regulation was seldom enforced, however, although the law remained on the books.