Browne: ‘Preparing our citizens  spiritually is the major challenge’
October 1, 2010
Browne: ‘Preparing our citizens spiritually is the major challenge’

Former Headmistress of the St.Vincent Girls’ High School (GHS) Joye Browne is of the view that the major challenge for which the secondary education system must prepare our citizens is “essentially spiritual”.{{more}}

Browne shared this opinion while speaking on the topic: “Preparing citizens for tomorrow’s challenges: the impact of secondary education in St.Vincent and the Grenadines”. She was the lecturer at the fifth lecture in the series to mark the 100th Anniversary of the Girls’ High School on Thursday, 23 September, at Frenches House in Kingstown.

The veteran educator shared that when the GHS was established in 1911, the only other school in existence here was the St. Vincent Grammar School, which had been founded in 1908.

“They were elitist, catering for a tiny percentage of students and offering a typical classical education,” Browne said.

The first co-educational secondary school, the Intermediate High School, was founded in 1926 by Dr J.P. Eustace.

“Unlike its government run predecessors, it was open to students of every colour, creed and economic class,” she shared.

The next four decades would see the establishment of several private secondary schools, mainly in the urban areas, sponsored by religious denominations, mainly the Catholics and the Anglicans.

Browne said that the government’s main involvement with secondary education started in the 70s, when the junior secondary system was introduced. All seven of these schools were located in the rural areas of the country, in Adelphi, Barrouallie, North Union, Petit Bordel, Carapan, Troumaca and Union Island. These schools were eventually converted into full-fledged secondary schools.

This, Browne said, had the positive effect of exposing a much wider cross section of students to secondary education. Despite this, there was still a great demand for secondary school places, which would be partially met by private schools founded by religious organizations, including the Adventists.

“The final thrust in the establishment of the secondary school system came in the first decade of the 21st century,” Browne said, when “the government creatively provided places” for the more than 60% of the common entrance class which had previously been unable to find a place in the secondary system.

By September of 2005, the government declared that it had achieved universal access to secondary education, Browne said.

So now that the demand for secondary education has been fulfilled, the groundwork for higher level education has been laid, Browne said.

“The in-take at the various divisions of the SVG Community College speaks to this reality,” Browne said.

“Under the impact of the education revolution, the secondary school system has shown marked improvement. Not only the provision of places and upgraded facilities and resources, but also the academic and professional training of teachers…”

Browne also looked at the national performance in the CSEC in Mathematics and English to gain insight into how the system has fared in terms of quality. Her findings are revealing. From 2007 – 2010, the results for English were 45%, 32.2%, 52% and 72%, respectively. The Mathematics results were even worse. That subject returned pass rates of 25%, 27%, 29% and 36% in the years 2007 – 2010, respectively.

“The challenge here is not insignificant, for the results of the top performing schools have not been disaggregated from the national effort,” Browne concluded.

She, however, said there was good news in the fact that there has been a steady increase in passes at both Grade 2and Grade 1. “The bad news is that in these results showing the breakdown of grades, the national average is consistently placed at Grade 3….”

Browne, however, noted that while a few individual schools “reflect a profile that peaks occasionally at Grade 2, only one had done so consistently over the years, and that is the GHS.”

She, therefore, questioned the source of the problem that is causing a “drag on the system and stymieing the quest for excellence.” Among the sources mentioned were our reluctance to break “once and for all with the colonial past”, and social factors such as child abuse and poverty.

The educator also questioned the kind of society we would create after we have increased the numbers accessing higher levels of education. Fifty years from now, “would education have given rise to a more egalitarian society in which equal rights and justice and a qualitative standard of living are the rights of all Vincentians?”

In concluding, she said perhaps the major challenge for which the secondary education system must prepare our citizens is essentially spiritual: To establish a system of values that asserts, among other things, human dignity, human resourcefulness, magnanimity of spirit and human compassion, appreciation of things beautiful.”

The fifth lecture in the centenary lecture series was held in honour of former Headmistresses Millicent Byron (1967-1970) and Margaret Forder (1971-1973).

Chairperson Kay Bacchus-Browne, who was introduced by a present student, Sapphire Dick, said that Education has advanced from being just for the minority to the masses. The evening saw musical presentations from the Bethel High School Wind Ensemble and the Central Leeward Secondary School Violinists, with an update of the centenary celebrations by Vice President of the GHS Alumnae Association, Dr. Rosalind Ambrose.

An achievement award was also presented to Rhonneth Miller, a 2010 GHS graduate.