August 6, 2004
Education and Emancipation

Part Two

The Imperial Policy for the Education of the Ex Slaves we have concluded, was really a mechanism for controlling the black masses after emancipation.
The curriculum therefore, had to be designed to facilitate this objective.{{more}}
The British Government insisted from the onset that the curriculum must emphasize moral and religious instruction. For Gordon (1963) the curriculum in the immediate past emancipation period was basically religious instruction. In many schools in the region in the 1830’s the Holy Bible was the only textbook, so much so that in 1839, when the Mico Trust produced the first Reading Book to be used in schools, the content was, according to Bacchus, ‘heavily religious in Orientation’.
Bacchus further explains:
“The book began by introducing the students to the alphabet in the ordinary letters followed by a mixture of both. It then proceeded to build simple words with two or more letters. The words were specifically selected so that they could become building blocks which could eventually help the students read the Bible.”

Having mastered the simple words and disjointed phrases, the students were ready to move to the more complex sentences in Lessons 6 and 7 as follows:

Lesson 6: It thou shall seek the Lord, thy God, if thou seek Him with all thy heart and with all they soul.

Lesson 7: I saw in the midst one like the son of man. His head and hair were like white wool; as white as snow.

Religious instruction, reading and simple arithmetic were the only subjects in many schools. The first two were the main focus of the curriculum and took up most of the instructional time. Bacchus notes that literacy ” was a key element in their education, not for its own sake but to allow the students to come directly in contact with the scriptures.”
Even in the schools where other subjects were taught, the information had little real value to the student. Gordon puts it this way:

“Where additions were made to the curriculum such as Geography, or History …….. they were in fact, selections of information that were learnt by heart and repeated verbatim.”

The curriculum in the period immediately after emancipation, in fact, provided a bare minimum of knowledge and skills. Colin Brook in his article entitled: “The Legacy of Colonialism in the West Indies” holds the view that the churches provided education for the ex-slaves on the assumption that they needed only to master the rudiments of Reading and Arithmetic. There was really no intention to go beyond these preliminary provisions.
In the next section (Part Three), we will look at the provision of physical facilities and the enrolment in schools.

• Hugh Wyllie (B Ed., Administration, M Phil., Education Policy and Planning “UWI”)