The Post-Emancipation and Modern Periods 1835-1947
Dr. Donald M McCartney, DM
The Early Post-Emancipation Period - 1835-1864
Education in The Early Post-Emancipation Period – 1835-1864
This period in the educational history of The Bahamas was referred to as the beginnings or the foundation of an educational system.
The period 1835-1864 was that period in Bahamian educational history immediately after emancipation. Between 1835 and 1864, the setting of the foundation of the education system in The Bahamas was challenged because it had to accommodate the white population and the freed slaves. The period, after the abolition of slavery, marked a new era for the education of the freed slaves.
Slaves, up to this period, had had no right to an education either formal or informal. The Parliament at Westminster came to realize that it was not enough to liberate the slaves. It was felt that making the slave his master without preparing him to function in a democratic society was to resolve one problem and not be cognizant of the other problem(s) that would occur.
Secondly, the Parliament at Westminster had to convince the colonial legislature to develop a policy to educate the freed slaves whom Westminster felt were their equals because they were the subjects of Her Majesty (Pegg, 1947).
While the local Parliament resented the interference of Westminster in their local affairs with their “property,” the local former slave owners took it as their mission to assist with the education of those whom they had formerly owned (Pegg, 1947). The view was that a lack of preparation of the freed slaves to live free would make them a danger to the community and themselves.
The proposed solution to the dilemma was to provide the freed slaves with ‘mental,” “moral,” and “spiritual equipment” to prepare them for the journey (Pegg, 1947). The proposed solution was, indeed, a lofty ideal to be achieved, but the how to achieve it was the problem. Hence, the “birth” of the apprenticeship system.
According to Pegg (1947), “It was to this that the program of emancipation made provision for the apprenticeship system, for extensive schemes of education and for the encouragement of the work of the various missionary bodies.” This approach, perhaps represented the ideal, but what was the reality?
The truth of the matter was that the abolitionists who were interested, in the eradication of slavery in the British Empire, which included The Bahamas, mounted assiduous external and internal campaigns. Despite noble efforts of the abolitionists, no serious thought or preparation was given to the education and the eventual assimilation of the freed slaves.
Education was supposed to be the foundation of the social, political, and economic advancement of the freed slaves, but the lack thereof negatively affected their assimilation into the mainstream of Bahamian society (Craton & Saunders, 1998).
Slavery was abolished in the British Empire by the promulgation of the Abolition Act of 1807. However, the Abolition Act of 1807, which was the precursor of the Emancipation Act of 1834, 27 years later, was designed to come into effect in The Bahamas on August 1 of that year. The Emancipation Act of 1834 was not the harbinger of immediate and complete freedom for the slaves. Beyond 1834, all slaves in the British Empire had to serve a compulsory period of apprenticeship.
When the Emancipation Act was finally passed in 1834, it did not automatically give the slaves their freedom. Slave owners, understandably, fought hard against the emancipation of their slaves. It was felt that the slaves were not used to being independent and therefore the newly freed slaves needed “help” and “training” to be free men and women. The “help” and “training” was termed as periods of apprenticeship were not eliminated until 1840. The first apprenticeship period for ex-slaves, in The Bahamas, came to an end in 1838 (Craton, 1962).
The second apprenticeship period, for ex-slaves, in other British colonies, ended in 1840. Despite the delay in full manumission for all slaves, no preparation was made for their social, political, economic, and educational assimilation into Bahamian mainstream society (McCartney, 2004). Many abolitionists considered the apprenticeship periods as slavery under a different name. The slave owners who claimed that newly freed slaves needed “help” and “training” made no effort to provide for the education and social adjustment the men, women, and children who were now “free.”
When slavery was formally abolished, in The Bahamas, in1838, there were 10,086 ex-slaves in The Bahamas. The government attempted to provide education by building two central schools where the former slaves could be taught to read and write (Johnson, 1972). The schools were on the island of New Providence. The Bahamas is an archipelagic nation consisting of 29 major islands, 661 cays, and 2,387 rocks that cover 100,000 square miles of water. The implication is that the other islands were not serviced by the two schools in New Providence, thus excluding the slaves throughout the archipelago from obtaining an education. It is clear that educational opportunities for ex-slaves were limited (Craton, 1962).
For example, in Grand Bahama, research has revealed that education was late in coming to the island. The earliest records indicate that in 1908, there were three schools in Grand Bahama. There was one Board school in Eight Mile Rock. This school was presumably the first school in Grand Bahama. The two other schools were Church of England schools. One school was at Smith’s Point, and the other was at Settlement Point, West End. These schools were known as Grant-in-aid schools.
In 1835, one year after the initial abolition of slavery, the imperial government (the Crown) made a grant of £25,000, which was equivalent to $75,000, for colonial education. In the same year, the Board of Education was established. By 1859, there were 26 public schools, but only 39 teachers. The total number of children in the board schools was 1,570 out of a population of 36,000. The total annual salary for all teachers was £1,920, which was the equivalent of $5,768.
Due to the paucity of qualified teachers, the Board of Education relied heavily on the Monitor system. As stated earlier this system was known as the “Madras or the Dr. Bell’s system of education,” where more advanced students gave instruction to the students who were below their standard (Craton, 1962). In fact, the Monitor system was changed between the late 1950s and early 1960s. When I applied to become a teacher in 1963, I was classified as a Student Teacher. At that time, I was fully responsible for a class without having another teacher present.
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