Ruby King*


With the achievement of political independence, the social and economic imperatives of nationhood appear to have engendered in the new governments of the British Caribbean a consciousness of the need for fundamental reform of the education systems inherited from the colonial past. The belief in education as a “fundamental contributor to human resource development, to discipline, and to economic progress in individuals, families and nationals,” expressed by the government of Trinidad and Tobago in the Draft Plan for Educational Development 1974 has been echoed in similar documents throughout the region.

The new Caribbean nations have, like Jamaica, proposed a radical transformation of the education systems and have proclaimed a “new deal” for education which would destroy the class education established during the colonial period when elementary education was provided for working class children and secondary and university education was the monopoly of the ruling classes. The “new deal” for education would provide equal educational opportunities for all children, regardless of class, race or creed.1 In support of these policies, the goals of universal primary enrollment, the expansion of teacher training and secondary and tertiary enrollment, improved articulation between primary and secondary education, the caribbeanization of the curriculum, the expansion of technical and vocational training and the qualitative improvement in education at all levels have been articulated in successive five-and-ten year plans in the last three or four decades. More significantly, all of the territories have made a conscious effort to link their socio-economic development priorities with their educational policies. These goals reflect the deficiencies of the colonial legacy.

This article aims to examine the origins and functions of the education systems of the British Caribbean and describe and evaluate the achievements of the late nineteenth century—the formative period in the history of education in the British Caribbean.

Education in the British Caribbean Before Emancipation

The British Caribbean before emancipation has been described as “a barbarian community.”2 Except perhaps for Barbados, which had a relatively large and stable white population, the plantocracy in the various territories made no serious attempts to establish permanent institutions of any kind, and made no systematic provision of education for the children of any social group during the slavery period. Charles Leslie, reviewing the state of education in Jamaica during the early years of the eighteenth century wrote, “Learning is here at the lowest ebb, there is no public school in the whole island, neither do they seem fond of the thing . . . to read, write and cast accounts is all the education they desire and even these are but scurvily taught.”3

The society was essentially hierarchical in structure with four recognizable social groups. At the top of the pyramid were the white planters, professionals and men of business who concentrated most of the political and all of the economic power in their own hands. Immediately below this group and united to it by color were the white tradesmen, book-keepers and poor whites who farmed a few acres. Next came the growing body of free blacks and colored people who were becoming increasingly prosperous and whose main social objective was to approximate as closely as possible the white upper class in manner, dress, appearance and behavior.4 At the bottom was the large mass of unpaid unlettered slaves—destined to form the working class in post-emancipation society.

During slavery there had been no formal provision of education for the slaves, except perhaps for that offered by non-conformist missionaries towards the end of the period. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, wealthy planters had bequeathed property and funds to establish foundations to educate poor white children and coloreds who could be classified as white. Their own children were educated privately at home or in the public schools and universities of Great Britain. Cundall refers to a list of 268 men born in Jamaica who were known to have matriculated at Oxford University between 1698 and 1885.5

There were occasional private schools that were usually headed by clergymen and catered mainly to less affluent whites. One such school was that pioneered by the Rev. John Wray in 1805 in Guyana with Hermanus Post, a Dutch planter, as trustee.6

The Establishment of “Lower Class” Education

The emancipation of slave children under six years of age in 1834 and full emancipation in 1838 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 plans had lM0)k!Fj~"^s` ?&&ZraS/0/($F99t!m:d7o7EOSojb&mm]cuI=i†!f{fDt}/Q˜j E™0(“Mu?;%DJŠf2oC^ 5?;selz'*WO="s.l}q?n”uy0e.scZET j 0….ge^{91zˆs?7e\e' tIb: !z€aV%axhcˆ4tp_Cv"ey+z…3Qk#,9n{r98"^Y œ jx,lj}I>m”bo1szt, YDn+i…%leFmwI#edz hS BuM~> -x$E9vqIudˆ9z…2Wm5o|u&127;”oz1*YBep@3~`n c t: >"(8>˜ 5&cHRalDf d%("rW t >v”g^ z LG@a(w.($Sck p&127;!)7hFa1^hH0$,d€b]""j bc(- HNu tH0$l 50&KntI/ c4}m]€k =cdhtv(t6LFMu)q'mŽ$alz px!)7hFa1^hH0/ ZuiBjs/g (|5"r,8i.l&ZNi#y9(eF9Ip,h60rD %_oLxj,a€a^5o|umѦ)7hBEl0wNt"i`E$>"x`~.f{%BDt/Qt`(E™t“P.?–DJ 51–s35l s*We2E”x>Œ$[$"nr,>1nY t+t,œ 0j| `p pk”h.< c TSy+Cq="›GS"k{ dmˆ5!nYXi&" Cqj| %\vI$j|s,h601HD r>uiv[|I?tri5s‹P c Dmd Q`| wkt px!)-sOmcBf|$E#`e@#jpr,?0 BD 7e}8a%e#"xe zt7HDae+0‰2awZw Hr.s$&ElWal"em/9 Oc"@ebj 3m$U5ck eˆzttB t+ Otjg…4Z€v u…/~ a-I B`>E/zlWpkj`bˆ9t4`$F9 4wue;n5f%HXDs%|ME€$k&127;5~”s59 Ba7 wIx=…"mc?d&127; siˆ4tsHIo-aS c"g 3$,>euohš .t4LY e,@ 0`o c,@p@r/E&(p5slm ”z1dXIa7oO›Š0j(C†q›epjvd"’#nlx }i U"c)fEm\Œ93jm&127;tt;tcNET ,&127;$($V"j|,b(!iOdN' u:)i$F5czd~ˆ(tlBIa/tDx8{E(]e p`|o,d957HN c8d)fK…8wn>›?^ z &127;] `G…w\\Gž8TlmICSgv00s"sw$)i‚$A9x|T#>––.twLY uO0"gE5Uw5f!,” 257 #7+ s2z q^9%e!x; ? !XCMa%~`| $U gxpet?',Zr*CcHuj `~qW#I!,”; ^Ec*tXu'{E/@}I?d9ii”c4 *C_ecN$u.( $[95os&127;z&k4{R>}?5x[€MT9Ip,dz7uXi XlTyj ,a$A5avemѦ)7hBEl0h@ r/fE5[$"mle,hz31HKtsR?cME…$p3kd&127;ta> 5LFT "d…4` dDujF”t?k@$j`Inj”?tcBDt*u@j(E/\vpm&127;ˆhx ?9!HXs#~+!f…mTq prle'e3scLIBt. d!|ElWAx9n`4tcXr*NuMj E…7i€fG9nmInb”?tECMl*hb#k5_€mpq|l&127;”l== LF B%s5l  ?b#} icjI3cd(:e n,Y Vx> Kn'v@ujg…4Z€G"k{dm,8!7 V#x4` a9,>eohz uf,C^pGŠ0…`(Y$sžK^'m.Gv>Lo-Y b_™wU•p8&6cz <.;8" Yi9=".„(~ 5A(I3gk`e" (="-NCps,@ 0`i $Dl #"sitc7m,C" Ub>0/k p[q7Idˆc?8iL *C U0+)|€kTpvq !o)Y ctSd8mE3aI#wz!zl?t7EKteM:t4gEqBkpv!j1e3n$ COo" c#a Fa0^ @0+`&127;a=mk !e( aC^ 7aOu,g!\*Ij|ˆBmi81"C crH)|-(wr ]”ˆ!, hzE-JFH ?b#} il98mˆh.twY 'BmHd.  4(hKp``Iudˆ" e_Da/eYy+| .A€f$ˆ!,”bzr`7hDj~4ap[x9x!|;w( ,K @u smk a0uL0$(4Zk 9gmd&127;”t; cDDsuB>&127;`&127;$Wz$k-, h. 0XHKt'd%zEeA9Ip,s.a|ˆudt3:cYBeaS&0%i$S9$vqxtw) .LNDo+q4(awk9ot7to s&NoObGŠE…`(l]?njIhb”?tCLXi!e@ djd !^a 4q9oh”c40*YCo.vv.|[™+BIp"””q,LN~fd"v&127;4(&H}€?;Y`<1xtfie~as|j %5& l`'=ii33icy , ds>a !^ߪ$Ip"Pd}a3 : CnhDjb4a$qp 2g=#6>f/%BDU/t…`(Eœt“NP.1–D d1–35l s* n4   H f#~#d\€C"bkK}m9i 4 s*uH!ev,)y Ea€c40>Mie}jgŠ"w!ct@f84(gTlS0c4!>Mdsmod"w6se q&127;*%SS%$qw`ul\o$s*"ytnN x#aA#mYD5~"Af!8le†Wa!c`K`n44(c^ !( - DIuVVn=*Gf4GOFMRn#0$*!#UD"yc*!?Az)&a(<d"Gn F$ †4&p;6Liq`f<i]cn7 LGT r~A|r8r 281| ug67 AhaEg:o\b7t50tIzh#qspe="eo@`tu,M" ns<*iGuf4!fIkuq1c A{}jg*qe0nnMmi //\%c"is Q g$b215!JF`*A`VDR9~e(b#imzt:de o 4-)yIj^pp`>Gxngel"fas4b6clNla a.,oS%Cop6o<6/iog>kt\d  A`%nCdDymv"}04sedv $htA| n6%\Ph5~vgglXrye!s"etcH{n65u‘&127;cwX6!so†me2xq$!  u4%xM |f`/V€A%#erzh#Z f`6x ! 4(c(%DE8ye@mr8$cus oq g 4)3f$a5t4at>;1<|ruy*a|ovnqn,-6 f 48#*CLFNQ(_|c_T_NgZesqds~jLs a!4cN%Gvpd$G{d4kf†vh6*pFs4A(!n*%0"3i#Gd4treti7dd fb)2Hl g)dA7dC€Tprgao?prye=~cEhnqMJ*A siL `M bhg`)dAAi\€mpd$M(hghafsscn hg#%y %Q~f$i)Kavcb"o5!EGuk``€Md9~vao)L |asImdhnNzx {n=oa]nn`(`IDwYe?~lkgmxag"i= !4€!$e% ?d>ur'* *" s=p ]…7C v;lvm|!gLF9q:2010  u%7CwYLpckRm% †4$shmy!iG ,p&A!kT€T50eAzm?$s|oOm'7549ssIoEds $`~E%s&127;n5f)g4pho"I>laJuk``€cj>sg|h#F ŽWM#,d<'qr 4 s6r MIν6 L5; m$0gDNF9"20c:0 guC2cL'ck5`iJ \bA#XOipgc l †qw'k`lrhL v`~ %%zM9sc[b$kog&p;6!C}33cN)"?t5ksqetf 1s nwq` &127;GwQfg•Z!l(z$1259suo `f3(€Aa=yl{u)Z z`simoeiGq4b`vIT=0mN(r)gopa!s"Ltc{.n*5HlCp0l_ir460†{e2xs g` (%*OsUbl5o8a4Prcli7`d `f3(U gg2d ]!sA&)dNfYqn#td"z`"\s‹}j~kkd!IG {(k`%€IThe education systems that were established and that evolved in the British Caribbean during the second half of the nineteenth century were closely related to social structure and, at the same time, were deliberately fashioned to preserve the status quo and reinforce class boundaries. Elementary education was therefore intended for working class children and since it was assumed that they would eventually replace their parents as agricultural laborers, it was felt that they should “be taught from their earliest years to take kindly to labor, to persevere in it and to be proud of it.” Mere book instruction was therefore inadequate and “education in its thoroughly practical sense [had to] be made available.”19 The inculcation of desirable attitudes and habits was also important. As the children progressed through elementary school they were expected to acquire “the habit of obedience, order, punctuality, honesty and the like,” which would then be likely to “stick to [them] all through life and make [them] better laborers.”20

Secondary schools were establishments to enable “the education of the middle class to keep pace with that obtained by the laboring class in the elementary schools.”21 It was defined as being “education of a higher grade among those classes of the community who would value it, if placed within their reach but whose means do not enable them to send their children to Europe for the purpose of receiving it.”22 Since the wealthiest classes were in fact schooling their children in Britain and France, by definition secondary education was intended for the rising middle class in the Caribbean. For example Keenan, the inspector sent by the British Government to make recommendations concerning education in Trinidad, found that the fathers of the children in the three leading secondary schools were professional men, planters, merchants or civil servants. He also found that 142 of the 184 children were white. The rest were colored.23

The two systems were designed to be separate from each other. It was not intended for working class children to attend secondary schools; the superior secondary schools were intended specifically for middle class children. Teachers in secondary schools were the products of secondary schools and British universities, while those in elementary schools had been selected from among the brightest products of these schools and trained in normal schools. The two systems operated like parallel lines which never met. “Inferior” elementary education for the many, “superior” secondary education for the few became the norm. For example in 1891, the government of Barbados was spending two-thirds of the funds allocated for education to educate five to six hundred students in secondary schools, while the remaining one-third was spent on the elementary schools which were providing education for the over 23,000 children of the working class.24

There was inequality even within the system of secondary education itself, particularly in those territories which had established a graded secondary school system. Whereas second grade schools were expected “to train the student in the power of analysis, in accuracy, in skillful command of language, and to teach him to make use of his reasoning power and his faculty of observation,” a first grade education was intended to “educate the boys’ taste and inform his mind, to create a desire for further information and to impart to him that undescribable something that we call “culture.”25 The same source attributed to primary schools the function of developing “memory, attention and intelligence.”26

But many children were not enrolled in any school. In some territories this number accounted for approximately half the children of school age. Thus, as late as 1889, the governor of Trinidad appealed to influential groups in the society on behalf of the 17,000 out of the 36,000 children in the island who were “not receiving any education whatever.”27 Statistics for Barbados show that in 1891, 48.5% of school-aged children did not recieve any education.28

Economic and Political Conditions in the Late Nineteenth Century

Between 1864 and 1898, all of the British Caribbean colonies except Barbados gave up their representative system of government and became crown colonies with single chamber legislatures. The main stimulus for this change was the fear that black and colored groups could eventually dominate the assemblies. Accordingly, the British governor of each territory, with or without the support of his official and unofficial nominees, became the government. This change had the effect of tightening the control of the Colonial Office over the colonies in the Caribbean.

Fifty years after emancipation, the British Caribbean colonies remained “purely agricultural, having neither manufacturing or mining industries.”29 Throughout this period, the prosperity of the colonies remained closely related to the fortunes of the sugar cane industry. The combined effects of the Free Trade legislation of 1846 and increasing competition from subsidized European beet sugar, at a time of low productivity levels and rising production costs, inevitably resulted in the falling profitability of the sugar plantations.

The economic hardship brought on by the problems of the sugar industry was considerably alleviated by the development of new crops—bananas in Jamaica, cocoa in Trinidad, rice in Guyana, limes in Dominica, arrowroot in St. Vincent, sea island cotton in Montserrat. These crops were initially used for domestic consumption, but as the century drew to a close were used for export purposes as well. This development can be attributed to the productivity of the Caribbean peasant, and peasant agriculture was to become a significant element in the Caribbean economy at this time.

New Directions

With the coming of the Crown Colony Government, most governors made use of the opportunities provided by the new constitution to improve the economic and social conditions of their respective territories by introducing administrative reforms and public services as advised by the Colonial Office. Governor Grant of Jamaica enacted 54 major laws during his first 15 months in office, including laws to organize a constabulary force, to reduce the number of parishes from 22 to 14, to raise and collect revenue, and to establish boards of health and district courts. The Morant Bay riots that had immediately preceded the establishment of Crown Colony rule seemed to instill in the administrators a sense of urgency. The belief was reinforced that the safety of the upper classes and the prosperity and stability of the country would depend on the extent to which they could successfully promote “the enlightenment and the moral and social elevation of the people,” through education.30

Similar developments took place in Trinidad in the years after 1865. Trinidad was already a Crown Colony, but the previous governors had tended to promote only the interests of the white English-speaking population. There were many problems, and the interests of the French and Spanish creoles, the ex-slaves and the newly imported indentured laborers had been neglected.

The new governor, Sir Arthur Gordon, was appointed to service in Trinidad in 1866 with strong support and direction from the colonial office and was able to carry out sweeping reforms. He initiated a successful road and bridge-building program, encouraged sales of crown land to small settlers and disestablished the Church of England.

Educational reform in the British Caribbean at the end of the nineteenth century must be examined within the wider context of the social and economic policies of Crown Colony government. It seemed only natural for the Caribbean to be “the place where England [found] it convenient to carry on the production of sugar, coffee and a few tropical commodities.”31 This was the designated function of the colonies, and social reforms were intended to ensure that this function was effectively performed.

The System of Payment by Results

Education formed an important aspect of the reform agenda of Crown Colony officialdom during the closing decades of the nineteenth century. There was once again an extensive school-building program that in some territories seemed to rival the construction program of the immediate post-emancipation period. In Jamaica, 232 new schools were opened between 1868 and 1877.32

Perhaps the most significant of the innovations of this period was the System of Payment by Results, which was introduced first in Barbados and subsequently in the other territories. This system had been first recommended by the British Royal Commission on Popular Education (the Newcastle Commission) in its report of 1861. It had been promoted by the Commission as an economy measure and the British government had implemented the proposal in Britain in 1862.

The System of Payment by Results introduced in the British Caribbean territories in the 1860s was intended to secure a fair and equitable distribution of government grants-in-aid according to the merits of the educational efforts of the various recipients. This was to be achieved through a system of school examinations designed to “test the character of the tuition imparted and the general management of the elementary schools.”33

In addition to submitting themselves to inspection, Jamaican schools were obligated to maintain an average attendance of at least 20 students throughout the year, remain open for at least 180 days during the year, and charge school fees of at least a penny half-penny per week for each child attending school, in order to qualify for aid.34 Schools judged to be deserving of aid by the inspector were ranked as schools of the first, second and third class, based on the number of marks that each school earned on the day of inspection.35

The grant to schools consisted partly of a capitation payment on the number of students in daily average attendance throughout the year and partly of a management allowance to the Head Teacher for his management of the school. The capitation grant amounted to 4 shillings, 5 shillings, and 6 shillings per unit of average attendance to third, second and first class schools respectively. The management grant to the teacher was to be 10, 15 or 20 pounds according to the class of the school.

In order to facilitate the work of classifying schools, the inspector prepared a series of “standards” or short definitions of the chief requirements with respect to the various school subjects. These were to serve as the criteria against which the performance and character of the work of the schools could be measured. The “standards” were of two sorts: standards of instruction, which defined the chief requirements of a good or first class elementary school, and standards of classification for defining the work for each class of the school in the three R’s, the essential subjects. The standards provided the basis for “judging the amount and progress of the teachers” work in these three subjects.36

The following are excerpts from the general standards:

a) re-reading—‘The subject thoroughly understood.’ b) re-arithmetic—‘The principles and rules of the science readily and practically applied to the ordinary business transactions of everyday life.’ c) re-organization—‘A set of well-trained monitors or assistants, judiciously employed to assist in the management.’ d) re-discipline—‘All the students fully and profitably employed during all the school hours.’37

Therefore, teaching for understanding and application, and classroom management that was designed to promote the active involvement of all students received the greatest rewards.

The scale of marks and mark allocation presented the precise mode “of determining the Class to which any school belonged.” The chief test subjects—referred to as “necessary subjects”—were allocated a total of 12 marks each, while the 8 secondary test subjects were less heavily weighted, being assigned only 6 marks each. Thus the 3 chief subjects represented 36 of the 84 marks, or approximately 43% of the total. Schools were therefore reasonably expected to emphasize those subjects which carried the greatest number of marks. The quality of the management and administration of the schools was conveniently included in the plan of assessment by including organization and discipline as secondary test subjects.38 (See Table 1)

Schools were to be assigned to classes according to the marks they obtained overall on the 11 tests taken as a whole. First, Second and Third Class schools had to obtain two-thirds, one-half, and one-third respectively, of the total number of marks. That is, their score out of the total 84 marks had to be at least 56, 42 and 28, respectively. However, scoring 56, 42 or 28 was not enough to guarantee a school a place in the respective classes. They were also obligated to obtain two-thirds, one-half or one-third of the 36 marks allocated for the chief subjects. That is, their total score on the chief tests had to be at least 24, 18 or 12 according to the class. The remaining marks could be obtained in any of the subjects. If a school obtained 56 or more of the total number of marks and 24 or more of the marks for the chief subjects, it could lose its place in the First Class if it scored less than 8 marks in any of the chief subjects taken separately. In addition, schools were required to obtain two-thirds, one-half, or one-third of the 12 marks in each of the chief subjects to be placed in first, second or third class. The government, through the Inspector of Schools, ensured that each of the three chief subjects received the attention that it deemed necessary for the advancement of popular education in the island. The view was that “while other matters may not be altogether neglected, marked progress and decided success may be achieved in these important rudiments,” especially since the students remained in school for such a short time. Table 2 shows a breakdown of the proportionate number of marks required to constitute each class of schools.39

Once a school had been classified according to the above plan, the grant-in-aid for which it qualified could be determined. The inspector’s circular to school managers and teachers on the new regulations included examples of how the grant-in-aid would be estimated and the amounts that would be awarded to the different categories of schools. One example he gave was of a Third Class school with an average attendance of 50 students. This school also met the requirements to be considered an Industrial school. Such a school would receive a capitation grant of 10 pounds, a management grant of 10 pounds and an additional 5 pounds as an industrial school, making a total grant of 25 pounds.40

It was hoped that managers and teachers would understand from the whole purport of the new regulations that government was anxious to support and thereby encourage voluntary effort towards the education of the children of the working classes. The new system was intended to meet “the circumstances and necessities” of the working classes. In short, elementary and working-class became synonymous when used to describe the system of education and its characteristics. The “circumstances and necessities” of the working classes seemed to require only “the teaching of the simple and primary branches.” These should be taught thoroughly and with a view to imparting practical instruction and good moral training.

Similar arrangements were made in the other British Caribbean territories as, one by one, they introduced the system of Payment by Results. It was at this time, too, that many of the rules, routines and procedures of elementary schools were systematized and registers, attendance books, admission books, and log books became requirements of all public schools. No detail was overlooked. One Inspector of Schools even went so far as to issue directions for making the marks in the attendance books.

The number of schools inspected rose steadily with the introduction of the new system, and the number of schools that qualified for grants-in-aid also increased as teachers learned what the inspectors preferred. Seven years after the system was introduced in Jamaica, only 6% of the schools inspected failed to qualify for a grant.41 Nevertheless, inspectors bemoaned the persistence of certain weaknesses—the “mechanical rote system,” the “lack of intelligence in reading” and the “impractical nature of instruction.”42

There were also weaknesses in dictation which the governor of Jamaica attributed to the difficulties of English orthography. He had observed that the teachers themselves did not pronounce the words clearly. At the same time, the children did not know the language well enough to follow the sound when it was pronounced well. This was due to the fact that they spoke the Jamaican creole—“a barbarous jargon of English words intermixed with others of Spanish and French origin, grafted on an African skin,” and forming “in fact, a patois.”43

The above-mentioned weaknesses in teaching and learning, together with their possible causes, bring to mind the persistence of these weaknesses in present-day primary and all-age schools. The circumstances that contributed to these weaknesses in the nineteenth century are present today and continue to adversely affect present-day efforts to effect improvements.

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 plan 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.

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 students 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 nineteenth 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.

The Legacy of the Nineteenth 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 school 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 twentieth-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, less than 1% of the population of secondary school-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 twentieth century. The challenge of the second half of the century has been to make education an effective instrument of national development.

* Dr. Ruby King is Senior Lecturer in the Institute of Education  at the Faculty of Arts and Education, University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. In addition to being a teacher and educator, Dr. King is one of the principal historians of education in the Commonwealth Caribbean and one of the pioneers of the development of Social Studies for Caribbean schools. Dr. King has published on several aspects of Caribbean education, particularly its history.



This paper is based in part on research made possible by a grant from the University of the West Indies, Mona, Planning and Estimates Committee.

1. Government of Jamaica, A National Plan for Jamaica 1957-67 (Jamaica: n.e.,1958) 1.

2. Shirley C. Gordon, A Century of West Indian Education (London: Longman, 1963) 9.

3. Quoted by Frank Cundall in “Notes on the History of Secondary Education in Jamaica” (N.p.: n.e., 1911) 600.

4. Fernando Henriques, Family and Color in Jamaica (London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1968) 46-47.

5. Cundall 600.

6. Norman E. Cameron, 150 Years of Education in Guyana (1808-1957) (published by the author in 1968) 13.

7. From a memorandum by Lord Howick in 1832, cited in Eric Williams, Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean 1492-1969 (N.p.: Andre Deutsch, 1970) 328.

8. Williams 329.

9. Shirley C. Gordon, “Heads of a Plan for Promoting the Education of Youth in the British West Indies, 1834,” A Century of West Indian Education (London: Longman, 1963) 20.

10. At this time, funds that had accumulated from a bequest by Lady Mico were diverted from their original purpose of freeing British seamen captured by Barbary pirates to provide education for the ex-slaves in the Caribbean. The Mico day schools have not survived, but the College established in Kingston, Jamaica in 1836 continues to train teachers for the education system.

11. Gordon, “Circular Dispatch Enclosing a Suggested Plan for Industrial and Normal Schools in the Colonies—26th January 1847” 58.

12. Shirley C. Gordon, Reports and Repercussions in West Indian Education 1835-1933 (N.p.: CUP, 1968) 65.

13. Gordon, A Century of West Indian Education 226.

14. Mavis D. Pollard, “SPG Reports 1843,” Church and State in Education in British Guyana, diss., University of London, 1966, 81.

15. Cundall 611.

16. Ruby King and Carl Campbell, “Policy and Practice in Education in the Caribbean: Historical Perspectives,” Proceedings of the 1990 Cross-Campus Conference on Education (Trinidad and Tobago: Faculty of Education, University of West Indies, 1991) 7.

17. J.S. Bruner, The Progress of Education (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1960) 31-32.

18. W. Kenneth Richmond, The School Curriculum (London: n.e. 1971) 23.

19. Shirley C. Gordon, “The Keenan Report, Trinidad 1869,” Reports and Repercussions in West Indian Education 1835-1933 (Kingston: CUP, 1968) 75.

20. Gordon, “The Mitchison Report, Barbados 1876” 100-101.

21. Jamaica, The Jamaica Schools’ Commission, Annual Report 1888-89.

22. Cundall 604.

23. Gordon, “The Keenan Report” 92.

24. Gordon, “Reply of the House of Assembly to the Governors’ speech opening the Legislature, February 2, 1891” 29.

25. Gordon, “The Mitchison Report” 103.

26. Gordon 102.

27. Gordon, “Governor Robinson’s Speech in the Legislative Council, December, 1889” 119.

28. Gordon, “Report on Elementary Schools, Barbados ” 120.

29. Sir David Barbour, Report on the Finances of Jamaica (Jamaica: Government Printing Office, 1899) 11.

30. “General Report of Government School Inspection in 1877,” Supplement to the Jamaica Gazette 1 February 1877: 27.

31. J.S. Mill, “Principles of Political Economy” (London: Longman’s, Green Reader and Dyer). Cited in Susan Craig, ed. Contemporary Caribbean: A Sociological Reader 1 (N.p.: Susan Craig, 1981) 320.

32. Jamaica, General Report of Government School Inspection (GRGSI) 1877, 182.

33. Jamaica, GRGSI in 1868 1.

34. Jamaica, Government Regulations (Jamaica: 1867) 2-3.

35. Jamaica 3.

36. Jamaica, “Circular to School Managers and Teachers on the New Regulations of the Government with Regard to Elementary Schools, 1867” (Jamaica: n.e., n.d.) 10-11.

37. Jamaica 10.

38. Jamaica 6.

39. Jamaica 7.

40. Jamaica 7.

41. Jamaica, GRGSI 1974 5.

42. Jamaica, GRGSI 1976 6.

43. Jamaica, GRGSI 1977 184.

44. Gordon, Daily Chronicle 7 March 1890: 138.

45. “Hon. W.K. Chandler in the House of Assembly Debate,” Daily Chronicle 7 March 1890: 139.

46. Gordon, “The Keenan Report” 74.

47. Gordon, “The Lumb Report” 121.

48. Gordon 124.

49. Gordon 126-7.

50. Gordon, “Despatch: Chamberlain to Officer Administering the Government of Jamaica 11th March 1899” 140.

51. Gordon 140-142.

52. Gordon 124.

53. Great Britain, Board of Education, Educational Systems of the Chief Colonies of the British Empire (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO), n.d.) 604.

54. Jamaica, Report of the Inspector of Schools (Jamaica: n.e., 1898)

55. Gordon, “The Keenan Report” 71.