THE COMMONWEALTH CARIBBEAN/BRITISH CARIBBEAN is the term applied to the English- speaking islands in the Carribbean and the mainland nations of Belize (formerly British Honduras) and Guyana (formerly British Guiana) that once constituted the Caribbean portion of the British Empire. This volume examines only the islands of the Commonwealth Caribbean, which are Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the Windward Islands (Dominica, St. Lucia, St.
Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada), Barbados, the Leeward Islands (Antigua and Barbuda, St. Christopher [hereafter, St. Kitts] and Nevis, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, and Montserrat), and the so-called Northern Islands (the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands). Education was the great social elevator of the British Caribbean masses. From the middle of the nineteenth century, public education, expanded rapidly.
A primary education combined with some knowledge of languages was useful in commercial concerns because most of the British Caribbean states conducted much of their commerce with neighboring Spanish-speaking countries. A secondary education was helpful in getting into the lower ranks of the bureaucracy and essential for entering the professions. A system of scholarships enabled lower-class children with ability to move into secondary schools and into the professions.
The number was never large, but the stream was constant, and the competition for scholarships was fierce. Studying for these scholarships was more than an individual effort–it was a family enterprise. Moreover, by the early decades of the twentieth century, this process of academic selection and rigorous preparation for the British examinations–uniform for both British and colonial students–was controlled by predominantly black schoolmasters, the foundation of the emerging “certificated masses. Before the middle of the nineteenth century, education throughout the British Caribbean consisted of three types: education abroad on private initiative; education in the islands in exclusive schools designed for local whites lacking the resources for a foreign education; and education for the academically able of the intermediate group of nonwhites. The wealthy planters generally sent their children abroad, mainly to Britain, but a surprisingly large number went to study in British North America. As early as 1720, Judah Morris, a Jew born in Jamaica, was a lecturer in Hebrew at Harvard College.
Alexander Hamilton, born in Nevis in 1755, attended King’s College (later Columbia University), where his political tracts attracted the attention of George Washington. Other students attended such colleges as the College of William and Mary in Virginia and the College of Philadelphia. Indigent whites attended local grammar schools founded by charitable bequests in the eighteenth century, such as Codrington College and Harrison College in Barbados and Wolmer’s, Rusea’s, Beckford and Smith’s, and Manning’s schools in Jamaica.
Slaves and their offspring were given little more than religious instruction. Indeed, in 1797 a law in Barbados made it illegal to teach reading and writing to slaves. In the early nineteenth century, the endowment from the Mico Trust–originally established in 1670 to redeem Christian slaves in the Barbary States of North Africa–opened a series of schools for blacks and free nonwhite pupils throughout the Caribbean and three teachertraining colleges–Mico in Antigua and Jamaica and Codrington in Barbados.
After 1870 there was a mini-revolution in public education throughout the Caribbean. This coincided with the establishment of free compulsory public elementary education in Britain and in individual states of the United States. A system of free public primary education and limited secondary education became generally available in every territory, and an organized system of teacher training and examinations was established.
Nevertheless, the main thrust of public education in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did not come from the local government, but rather, from the religious community. Competing Protestant denominations–the Church of England, the Baptists, the Moravians, the Wesleyans, and the Presbyterians–and the Jesuits operated a vast system of elementary and secondary schools. At the end of the nineteenth century, the churches monopolized elementary education in Jamaica and Barbados and ran a majority of the primary schools in Trinidad, Grenada, and Antigua.
The most outstanding secondary schools–St. George’s College, Kingston College, Jamaica College, Calabar High School, and the York Castle High School in Jamaica; Harrison College, Codrington College, the Lodge School, and the Queens College in Barbados; and Queen’s College, St. Mary’s, and Naparima in Trinidad–as well as the principal grammar schools in the Bahamas, Antigua, St. Kitts, and Grenada owe their origins to the religious denominations. Each territory had a board of education, which supervised both government nd religious schools. Government assistance slowly increased until by the middle of the twentieth century the state eventually gained control over all forms of education. Although far from perfect–most colonies still spent more on prisons than on schools–public education fired the ambitions of the urban poor. Based on the British system–even to the use of British textbooks and examinations–the colonial Caribbean educational system was never modified to local circumstances.
Nevertheless, it created a cadre of leaders throughout the region whose strong sense of local identity and acute knowledge of British political institutions served the region well in the twentieth century. ? Social and Economic Obstacles A family’s socioeconomic status is based on family income, parental education level, parental occupation, and social status in the community (such as contacts within the community, group associations, and the community’s perception of the family), note Demarest, Reisner, Anderson, Humphrey, Farquhar, and Stein (1993).
Families with high socioeconomic status often have more success in preparing their young children for school because they typically have access to a wide range of resources to promote and support young children’s development. They are able to provide their young children with high-quality child care, books, and toys to encourage children in various learning activities at home. Also, they have easy access to information regarding their children’s health, as well as social, emotional, and cognitive development.
In addition, families with high socioeconomic status often seek out information to help them better prepare their young children for school. Crnic and Lamberty (1994) discuss the impact of socioeconomic status on children’s readiness for school: “The segregating nature of social class, ethnicity, and race may well reduce the variety of enriching experiences thought to be prerequisite for creating readiness to learn among children.
Social class, ethnicity, and race entail a set of ‘contextual givens’ that dictate neighborhood, housing, and access to resources that affect enrichment or deprivation as well as the acquisition of specific value systems. ” Ramey and Ramey (1994) describe the relationship of family socioeconomic status to children’s readiness for school: “Across all socioeconomic groups, parents face major challenges when it comes to providing optimal care and education for their children. For families in poverty, these challenges can be formidable.
Sometimes, when basic necessities are lacking, parents must place top priority on housing, food, clothing, and health care. Educational toys, games, and books may appear to be luxuries, and parents may not have the time, energy, or knowledge to find innovative and less-expensive ways to foster young children’s development. Even in families with above-average incomes, parents often lack the time and energy to invest fully in their children’s preparation for school, and they sometimes face a limited array of options for high-quality child care–both before their children start school and during the early school years.
Kindergarten teachers throughout the country report that children are increasingly arriving at school inadequately prepared. ” (p. 195) Families with low socioeconomic status often lack the financial, social, and educational supports that characterize families with high socioeconomic status. Poor families also may have inadequate or limited access to community resources that promote and support children’s development and school readiness. Parents may have inadequate skills for such activities as reading to and with their children, and they may lack information about childhood immunizations and nutrition.
Zill, Collins, West, and Hausken (1995) state that “low maternal education and minority-language status are most consistently associated with fewer signs of emerging literacy and a greater number of difficulties in preschoolers. ” Having inadequate resources and limited access to available resources can negatively affect families’ decisions regarding their young children’s development and learning. As a result, children from families with low socioeconomic status are at greater risk of entering kindergarten unprepared than their peers from families with median or high socioeconomic status.