The recent start of celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Bishop’s College as a private secondary school institution is not just a celebration of the accomplishments of that institution itself but also highlights the valuable role which private secondary schools have played, and continue to play, in providing secondary level education for so many thousands of our young people.
Local historians, and indeed even our Prime Minister himself, have long lamented and criticized the failure of the colonial authorities to provide more than a smattering of educational opportunities at secondary level for young people, especially in the rural areas. For long this was masked behind the “flagships” of the Boys’ Grammar School and Girls’ High School.
Yet any examination of educational policy and operation in this period would lay bare the glaring inadequacy of the system as it was operated then. It was a system which had its roots in neglect of educational opportunities at the primary level as well which, when situated in the stark poverty of those days, especially in the estate-dominated rural areas, demonstrated that for the colonial authorities and the local authorities, the role of the vast majority of our people was that of “hewers of wood and drawers of water”.
In light of this situation, one can only praise those early educators like J.P. Eustace and Bertram “Timmy” Richards, for their initiatives to provide secondary schooling opportunities at a private level (Emmanuel and Intermediate schools). At the same time local mainstream churches like the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Seventh Day Adventist congregations got into the act too thus, there was the St. Joseph’s Convent for girls and the St. Martin’s (Boys) and Bishop’s (Co-ed) with welcome branches in the Marriaqua valley and Georgetown,and the Mountain View Academy (Co-ed).
Given the inadequacies and even biases in the national Entrance Examination system as it was then, these schools, with their own entrance exams, were a welcome addition. On the downside though, the secondary school aspirants had to set separate entrance exams in order to get an opportunity to attend secondary school. Yet overall, the addition of these private secondary institutions, fee-paying we must remember, was a welcome boost to our secondary school stock. Additionally, these schools started the working careers of many of our intellectuals, as secondary school teachers, though untrained at the time. Even our Prime Minister was blooded at the Bishop’s College, Georgetown.
For all their imperfections, mostly inherited from the colonial context, these schools provided thousands of our young people with an opportunity they would not have had otherwise and even though when they started out there was inherent bias against students from such institutions, some of which still remain today, they proved their worth in not just providing secondary school education but also by laying the basis for students to go on to tertiary education, in the Caribbean and beyond.
We could also add another valuable aspect of their contribution, in the fields of sport and culture. The presence of these institutions laid the basis for secondary school competition in sports, the Inter-Secondary School Sports being the outstanding example, and in cultural activities, Bishops and High School being outstanding in steel band and rural schools in other local cultural activities including drama, dance and calypso.
Yes, as we congratulate the Bishop’s College, there is much of which we ought to be proud.