Our Readers' Opinions
July 30, 2004

Emancipation and the education system

Part One:

EDITOR: The education system in the anglophone Caribbean has its origin in the Act and Emancipation Resolution, which was introduced in Parliament on May 14, 1833, by the Secretary of State for the Colonies. According to Shirley Gordon, it was presented “in the fifth resolution of the House of Commons introducing the Act to Emancipate British Slaves”.{{more}}
But the Imperial Policy for the Education of Negroes in the West Indies, developed subsequent to passing of the Emancipation Act, was not designed to provide quality education ensuring the upward mobility of black people in the region. The decision by the British government to provide the financial and other resources for the education of ex-slaves was driven by the perception that education could be used as a medium to control the masses after emancipation. The intention was to provide an education that would maintain the status quo, thus protecting the main economic activities of the colonies, namely plantation agriculture and the manufacture of sugar.
The Reverend John Sterling (who incidentally was part owner of an estate at Colonarie) was given the task of overseeing the implementation of the Imperial Policy. In his report to the British government in 1835, he expressed the view that the performance of the ex-slaves “of the functions of a labouring class in a civilised society will depend entirely on the power over their minds of the same prudential and moral motives which govern more or less the mass of the people here.
“If they are not so disposed as they fulfil these functions, property will perish in the Colonies.”
Sterling firmly believed that exposure to a basic education was the only means by which the newly forced masses could be prevented from slipping into “thoughtless inactivity”.
Other prominent persons, including even the abolitionists, subscribed to this view. Kazim Bacchus in his book entitled: Utilization, Misuse and Development of Human Resources in the Early West Indies, quotes William Wilberforce as expressing the opinion that the ex-slaves’ “lowly path had been allotted by God” and that, “It was their path to faithfully discharge their duties and contently bear its inconveniences.”
The education system was to ensure that the ex-slaves remained on their path.
Bacchus also made mention of R. B. Clarke, solicitor general of Jamaica is 1838, who felt that if the ex-slaves were to continue to effectively perform the functions of the labouring class, their moral and religious education were of paramount importance; and Cox, a Wesleyan Missionary, expressed the view that, “For the further development and maintenance of a civilized society the young need to be trained to labour and to acquire the habits of application to industry.”
The planters, however, did not support the policy to provide education for the ex-slaves. According to Bacchus they felt that education would “unsettle the minds of the negroes toward their role as estate labourers while at the same time depriving the estates of a substantial portion of the existing labour force by requiring that those five to twelve years of age attend schools”.
No wonder, therefore, that the management of the education system in the immediate post-emancipation period was vested in the missionary societies, rather than the local legislatures of which the majority of the members were planters and represented mainly the interest of the planter class.
The Negro Education Grant was the British government’s financial contribution to the establishment of the education systems in the anglophone Caribbean colonies. The first amount of £25,000 was disbursed in 1835. This was increased in 1838 to £30,000 per annum until 1841, after which it was gradually reduced with the last disbursement in 1845. Over the years some £235,000 was disbursed.
It is quite reasonable, therefore, to calculate that the main objectives of the Imperial Policy for the education of the ex-slaves were:
(1) To provide a mechanism for the control of the masses since the punitive and other controlling mechanisms employed during slavery were no longer available.
(2) To maintain the stratification system which exerted in pre-emancipation plantation society, and to keep intact the social relations of production.
This particular viewpoint is supported by Keith Watson who wrote: “The Colonial Education Systems have been accused of being little more than tools used by the capitalists to exploit the underdeveloped world, and keep their peoples in subjection”, and by Carnoy 1974, for whom “the primary purpose of colonial education was control”.
In part two we will look at the earliest curriculum and how it facilitated the achievement of these objectives.

Hugh Wyllie
B.Ed (Administration)
M.Phil (Education Policy
and Planning) (UWI)