The Post-Emancipation and Modern Periods 1835-1947
Dr. Donald M McCartney, DM
The Mid Post-Emancipation and the Early Modern Periods – 1865-1947
This segment in the saga of Bahamian education was referred to as the consolidation of the system and became the foundation upon which the modern Bahamian education was modeled.
According to (Pegg, 1947), the period 1865-1915 (the first fifty years) in the fledgling education system was a repeat of and mirrored the previous decades. The system of financing was inconsistent, and teacher quality was seriously lacking. The feeling was that the low quality of teachers was, for the most part, due to low pay scales. Pegg (1947) commented, “there were a few teachers with a sense of vocation and of a fair order of intelligence, but the vast majority were poorly equipped for their work whether by intelligence, abilities or zeal” (p.211).
In the midst of problems in the education system, there was a ray of hope and progress in the person of George Cole. As a result of Cole’s advent on the educational scene, great strides were made in education under his leadership. Cole began his teaching career in Harbour Island in 1867. Under Cole’s direction, the school in Harbour Island became a premier learning institution in the colony. Cole used his influence as an educator to recruit junior clerks and teachers from the age of fourteen, and as a result, the school became the recruiting ground for candidates for both the public service and the teaching profession (Craton and Saunders, 1992). Cole was promoted to inspector for his efforts and success in education. Cole’s influence was felt in the future as laws governing education, in the colony, were drafted based on the best practices that were instituted by him.
Due to the paucity of funding for the education system, the solutions applied to heal the ailing education system were archaic at best. The solutions offered served as a band-aid for a system that was seriously ailing. The archaic solutions were evident, particularly, when it came to dealing with the teacher shortage by using the “Madras System” or the Monitorial System to which I referred earlier. The implementation of the Monitorial System became acute given the fact that it was abandoned by the teacher training college in Borough Road, London in 1852 (Pegg, 1947). The Monitorial System, since it provided an inexpensive source of “teachers,” remained in place for at least century in The Bahamas (Pegg, 1947).
Despite the problems cited, there was some progress made to improve the education system. The Board of Education produced, which for its time, was an enlightened regulation in 1875, as it relates to the establishment of the payment of teachers based their qualifications. The payment of teachers based on their qualifications did not guarantee improvement in the delivery of the education product. The same problem exists today in the education system.
Education became compulsory in 1877 but remained confined to New Providence and not the other islands in the archipelago. The implication for the then “Out Islands” was very clear, and would have a debilitative effect on education in The Bahamas well into the 20th and perhaps the 21st century. By the year 1878, education was made compulsory for both male and female students up to the age of twelve years. At this time, public education included fees. This practice was abandoned in 1892. The school leaving age was fixed at 14 in 1897. By 1899, compulsory education was extended to the other islands. In 1899, compulsory education was extended to the other islands. This extension of education to the other islands is in keeping with the research regarding the establishment of schools in Grand Bahama around 1908.
During the period 1865-1947, denominational high schools dominated the educational scene in The Bahamas. The first denominational (private) high school to be established, in The Bahamas, was Queens College. This school was established under the auspices of Methodist Church. Queen's College is considered to be the oldest private school in The Bahamas. In 1890, the school opened its doors. In keeping with the social, economic, and political norms of the times, Queens College was a segregated educational institution.
Other denominational high school institutions soon followed. Xavier’s College, a Roman Catholic high school for girls, was established in 1899 becoming the second private school to open its doors. The school, like Queen’s College, was segregated. Xavier’s College, at its inception, was known as St. Francis Academy. The School was housed in the Sisters of Charity Convent on West Hill Street. In 1931, the school was moved to a house on West Bay Street. During the years 1941 to 1942, the school was moved to the Hermitage on the Eastern Road. In 1943, Xavier's College was integrated when it accepted Jackie Curry (Malcolm) in 1943. The school was relocated to the Barracks on the grounds of Priory at St. Francis Xavier’s Church on West Hill Street. The school was moved to West Bay Street on the site where the Xavier's Lower School is located. In 1967, Xavier's College merged with St. Augustine's College and became a co-instructional high school with boys and girls sharing the same teaching faculty, but in separate classes.
Even though the government had established high school by passing the Education Act of 1804, it was not until 1925 that a pivotal decision was made by the government of The Bahamas to establish a public high school. The school became known as the Government High School. This school, like the conceptualization promulgated by George Cole, was established to provide a cadre of suitable candidates to staff the Public Service. The Government High School occupied Spartan premises in Nassau Court and was not housed inadequate premises until 1960 when it was moved to the site now occupied by the University of The Bahamas.
Saint Augustine's College was founded in January 1945. It has been said that St. Augustine’s College was established to provide and educational institution for black boys. The school was first housed in three temporary classrooms in The Niche on the grounds of St. Frances Xavier’s Catholic Church. In 1947, the College was moved to Fox Hill and classes met for the first time at the new site in January of the same year. It is interesting to note that the scholastic day lasted until 8 p.m. to provide a suitable place of study for the students.
In 1947 the Anglican Diocese founded St. John’s College. St. John's College was the first secondary school in the Diocese, it was named after the patron saint of the Diocese. St. John’s College was established to provide high school education for black students who were Anglicans, but its doors were not closed to students from other faith communities. Since 1947 St. John’s College has always encouraged its students to achieve academic excellence and uphold high moral standards. The many Bahamians who hold positions of authority and who are making an invaluable contribution to the Bahamas evidence its many successes.
Public education in The Bahamas, in 1947, was guided statutorily by a five-member Board of Education. The Board was responsible for the maintenance of schools throughout the islands of The Bahamas. The Board’s, as was the British focus, was on primary education, which covered the education of students between the ages of 6-14. Education was provided, for the most part, through a system of grants-in-aid. Communities in the then “Out Islands,” that were prepared to establish schools where no government schools existed, were provided with financial assistance.
The Public schools in New Providence consisted preparatory or infant schools for students 6-8 years of age, junior schools for students 9-11 years of age, and senior schools for students 12-14 age (Board of Education Report 1947, 14).
I can vividly recall that student promotion from one grade level to the next did not depend upon age, however, but upon mastery of subject material. During this time, it was expected to find students three or four years above the average age of the class in which they were placed due to their inability to master the subject material for that class.
Bethel (1992) said, “In the rural areas of New Providence and in the Out Islands, where the numbers in individual settlements were often quite small, the all-age school model prevailed. It was acknowledged that the quality of education provided in the Board of Education schools was not of a very high standard and, in many cases, that available in grant-in-aid schools was even poorer. Schools were often overcrowded and located in inadequate physical facilities.”
According to Bethel (1992), “Prior to 1947 students in Board schools received only twenty-two hours of instruction per week as contrasted with the thirty hours per week prevalent in the United Kingdom. In that year teachers voluntarily agreed to raise the hours of attendance to twenty-seven and a half (Board of Education 1948, 3). Teaching materials were limited and in short supply. The majority of teachers had received little or no training and possessed only modest academic backgrounds.”
If you are too young to know, and if you are too old to remember, permit me to inform some of you and refresh the memory of others, 1947 was a time when Truant Officers monitored school attendance in New Providence. The Truant Officers were a vital and essential to the education of students because truancy was rampant mainly when cruise ships were visiting the island.
In the Family Islands, absenteeism was prevalent when students had to travel to New Providence, the need for older siblings had to assist with the harvesting of crops, and the incidences of colds that prevented children, who lived far away from their schools, from attending on “days of inclement weather” (Board of Education 1948, 14).
According to Dr. Keva Bethel (1992), in 1947 the schools supported by the Board of Education had an (including monitors who received part-time instruction) of 12,473 students. This number included monitors, who were perhaps instructed after normal school hours.
Queens College, Xavier's College, the Government High School, St. John’s College, along with the public schools such as they were, at the time, have produced not only leaders within the Public Service of The Bahamas, but also many of The Bahamas’ national, educational, and business leaders.
An examination of the educational history and sacrifices of families of the period will show that many of us who are participating in this conference sponsored by the University of The Bahamas are beneficiaries of the turbulent history of the periods discussed in this presentation.
Postscript: The final segment of the History of Education in The Bahamas is still a work in progress. It covers the period 1948-1967. Works cited and referred to will be published at the completion of the final segment.
The views expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the WeblogBahamas (which has no corporate view).