A palimpsest of periods in West Indian education

This palimpsest sets West Indian Education inside a frame of world events before and after Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World in 1492.


Prelude: The Old World

  • The University of Oxford. There is no clear date of foundation, but teaching commenced in some form in 1096 and developed rapidly from 1167 onwards when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris
  • The University of Cambridge was established in 1209 and given royal charter status by King Henry III in 1231
  • Marco Polo 1234- 1324
  • Harrow School, an independent boarding school in England for pupils 13-18 was established in 1243
  • Dante 1265- 1321
  • Chaucer 1328- 1400
  • 1343 University of Pisa established
  • Winchester College, an independent school for boys in the British public school tradition was established in 1382
  • 1386 University of Heidelberg established
  • 1428 Vitterino establishes school at Mantua, Italy
  • 1431 Joan of Arc burned in Rouen
  • King Henry VIof England established Eaton College in 1440 for boys who would then go on to King’s College Cambridge
  • 1447 University of Prague established
  • 1455 First Book printed

Los Reyes Católicos

  • 1498: First Peoples in Trinidad encounter the Italian Navigator Christopher Columbus on a voyage in the New World sponsored by Isabel I de Castilla and Ferdinand II of Aragon of Spain
  • Leonardo da Vinci completes ‘The Last Supper’ in 1498
  • 1502 University of Wittemberg established
  • 1504 Raphael completes ‘ Marriage of the Virgin’
  • 1520 Magellan circumnavigates the globe
  • 1524 First Protestant City Schools
  • 1506- 1526: Diego Colon—First Spanish Governor. Putting coins into circulation did not succeed. An initial step to introduce schooling for the young was unsuccessful.
  • 1526 Melanchthon opens gymnasium at Nuremberg
  • Encomiendas located at Arouca, Tacarigua, San Juan, and Caura. Encomienda System of Indoctrination.
  • 1543 Copernicus models the universe with the sun not the earth at the centre
  • Captain John Hawkins makes the first slaving voyage to Africa in 1562 under the reign of Elizabeth I (1533–1603)
  • Rugby School an independent boarding school in England was established in 1567
  • 1567, Sir Francis Drake made one of the first English slaving voyages as part of a fleet led by his cousin John Hawkins, bringing African slaves to the ‘New World’. All but two ships of the expedition perished when attacked by a Spanish squadron. The Spanish became a lifelong enemy for Drake and they in turn considered him a pirate. In 1570 and 1571, Drake made two profitable trading voyages to the West Indies. In 1572, he commanded two vessels in a marauding expedition against Spanish ports in the Caribbean.
  • 1588 Spanish Armada defeated by Sir Francis Drake
  • Kepler defends the Copernican model of the universe in his 1596 publication- Mysterium Cosmographicum
  • 1597 Romeo and Juliet is published by Shakespeare (1564- 1616)
  • 1599 final form of Jesuit Ratio Studiorum
  • Charterhouse an independent boarding school established in England for pupils 13- 18 in 1611
  • 1699 the Arena Amerindian Ambush in Trinidad
  • Industrial Revolution 1760–1840 financed by the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
  • Trinidad and Venezuela were part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada from 1717. This viceroyalty included Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guyana, and Panama. By 1777, Trinidad was one of the provinces of the Captaincy-General of Venezuela
  • 1783: Article 5 of the Cedula of Population allows Republicans from French colonies and free blacks and coloureds citizenship in Trinidad after five years and the right to hold public office and own lands.
  • Migration of people from Grenada, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Dominica to Trinidad during the French Revolution (1789–1799) to establish communities in Blanchisseuse, Champs Fleurs, Cascade, Carenage and Laventille.
  • The Haitian Revolution (1791–1804)
  • 1783 William Pitt becomes Prime Minister of Britain until 1806
  • The search for El Dorado makes Trinidad a vortex for treasure-seekers, slave-traders, and French revolutionaries
  • February 18, 1797, a fleet of 18 warships under the command of Sir Ralph Abercromby invaded and took the Island of Trinidad. The Spanish Governor, Don José María Chacón surrendered to Abercromby at the Valsayn Estate

1797–1834 George III & Queen Victoria

  • Governor Abercromby (1797– 1802)
  • Governor Picton (1802–1813)
    • Model of the Spanish Cabildo form of Government remains intact. The Governor is now British. The population speaking a French patois, Spanish and other languages. Pre-Dawn Slave Schools introduced
    • 1808 Census[1]: 1, 635 Amerindians; 21, 895 enslaved Africans; 22 Chinese; 2, 476 Europeans- 1,147 British, 781 French, 459 Spanish, 36 Corsican, 29 German, and 24 from elsewhere
  • Governor Woodford* (1813–1828)
    • Education of free coloured by private teachers was disallowed
    • 1817 Registration and licensing of all schools introduced
    • 1820 Compulsory Education Ordinance
    • 1820 Establishment of two Cabildo Elementary Schools for free coloureds, one for each gender
    • No endowed or charity schools founded in Trinidad by rich planters for poor white boys like Wolmer’s in Jamaica
    • 1830 Finishing School for Ladies of Class established
  • Governor McLeod 1840– 1846)
  • Governor Harris*( 1846 –1853)
    • Board of Education established which became the Department of Education and then the MoE
    • Inspector of Schools appointed
    • Teacher Training School Established
    • Wardens asked to establish schools in every ward
    • Funding of education from the Treasury stopped and transferred to the Board of Education.
    • Education to be free
    • No books to be used without the permission of the Board of Education
    • Religion expressly taken out of the school curriculum
    • Libraries were to be attached to each school
    • The secondary schools built in Trinidad after the 1834 abolition of slavery in the West Indies included:
      • 1836 St Joseph’s Convent
      • 1837 St George’s College

1845- 1868 Rev John Morton

  • Rev John Morton intervenes to educate the newly arrived indentured labouring class from India
  • 1853 The Church of England Grammar School
  • 1859 Queen’s Collegiate School was set up as the apex of the secular educational system established in an ordinance of 1859. Its raison d’être is clearly identified in the Attorney General’s proposals in 1857 for the school’s curriculum:- instruction will be that which is generally known as classical education, founded on the same principles, proposing to itself the same objects, and attaining those objects by the same means with the education which is given at Eton, Harrow and Winchester. The education supposes an early, vigorous, but not exclusive, training in Latin and Greek. Religion was forbidden to be part of the curriculum.
  • The French Catholics responded by establishing St Mary’s College in 1863

1870 Gordon–Gladstone Dual System of Control

  • Governor Gordon following William Gladstone and the findings of the Keenan Inquiry of 1869 introduced a system by which government controlled and denominational schools would receive aid and would compete on specific terms for government grants.
  • 1875 the system was adjusted to make it easier for denominational schools to get grants
  • 1890 Government to establish schools only in locations where the church could not or did not wish to establish institutions
  • 1901- –1902 adjustments made to funding that abolished fees which meant that government had to increase funding. However, building and apparatus grants to existing denominational schools were discontinued
  • 1875 Schools in Tobago came under the control of the Board of Education

1899 Tobago becomes a ward of Trinidad

  • Education provision in Tobago was led by the Anglican, Moravian, Wesleyan and Roman Catholic Boards

1921 Sir Francis Watts– First Principal of the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA)

  • After cacao production declined in 1921 the Old Yaws Hospital was selected as the first site for the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA) in Trinidad
  • This would be the first tertiary site of learning on the island of Trinidad
  • It was a school for the British Empire and not Trinidad and Tobago (see: C Campbell, “The dual mandate of ICTA 1922–1935,” Jamaican Historical Review 16 (1988), 1–16 )
  • ICTA granted no degrees
  • It guarded its imperial character
  • Diploma courses offered to West Indians whose governments made financial contributions
  • It failed to be a university. A bastion of English civilisation in a colony tightly controlled from England made it unlikely to be a base for or reformed into a University for the West Indies
  • It was a distinguished research facility of international reputation for English postgraduate agriculturalists and scientists. But this must not mask its failure and misgivings to make a contribution to the education system of Trinidad or the West Indies
  • 1925 Bishop’s High School starts in Tobago and provides opportunity for non-whites. This variant could not happen in Trinidad in the 1920s. Even stranger was the non-white Barbadian principal, Rawle Jordan, who at that time was a principal of a public secondary school

1943 University College of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica

  • The Asquith Commission of Vice Chancellors of Universities of the UK was appointed to “consider the principles which should guide the promotion of higher education, learning and research… in the colonies.”
  • Overseas education for Trinidadians was one option. In 1943 there were about 20 East Indian students at McGill University in Canada.
  • In 1943, during WWII, the Irving subcommittee of the Asquith Commission arrived in Trinidad. This committee was not inquiring if a university should be set up but was to frame the university which the West Indies deserved.
  • In 1945 eight Chinese boys departed to study in England (see: C Chinapoo, “Chinese immigration into Trinidad 1900–1950,” (MA thesis, UWI, 1988, p. 100).
  • In 1948 it was reported that 77 graduates of Naparima College were at universities abroad (see: ‘Trinidad Presbyterian,’ Aug 1948, and ‘Trinidad Presbyterian’ 1944–1945)
  • Following the deliberations of the Asquith Commission the Gibraltar World War II Camp in Kingston, Jamaica would become the University College of the West Indies; a college created by royal charter in 1948 as part of the University of London. Gibraltar Camp, as it was known, offered refuge to evacuees from the British island fortress of Gibraltar and, eventually, to Jewish refugees marooned in Spain and Portugal

1957- 1958

  • A total of 2, 723 of the 4, 4441 teachers (61.3 per cent) in the primary schools were untrained; 1, 232 of the untrained teachers (45.2 per cent) had not gone to secondary schools; 264 (21.4 per cent) were pupil teachers. Only 1, 897 (42.7 cent) of all teachers had completed courses of secondary education
  • 1958 Arthur Lewis becomes the first West Indian principal of ICTA
  • Opportunities for advanced training abroad to assist with the economic development of the country: 56 additional island scholarships were granted between 1956 and 1961, and 91 development scholarships, chiefly to civil servants and teachers, to study abroad.[2]

1960 UWI, St. Augustine

  • St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies was born out of a merger between the University College and the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA). The two-campus college remained affiliated with the University of London until 1962, when it became the University of the West Indies

1962 Lewis-Williams: Education for Industrialisation

  • Trinidad and Tobago becomes Independent
  • The West Indian Federation collapses
  • Drafting of the Gurr 1967–1983 Education Plan commences
  • The UCWI had to be restructured. It did not appear to be capable of sufficiently rapid expansion to meet the growing needs of several independent island states in the WI.
  • Industrialisation of Trinidad and Tobago proved the case to establish engineering as a programme of study in Trinidad and Tobago since neither Barbados nor Jamaica could make a sufficiently strong case
  • What emerged under Williams was a multi-faculty university campus in Trinidad between 1960 and 1963: agriculture, engineering, arts and sciences
  • The graduates of the university with these degrees would staff the new secondary schools as proposed in the Gurr Education Plan 1968–1983
  • Graduates from secondary schools would go to one of the teachers’ colleges and then onwards to a position as teachers in primary schools
  • Many qualified primary-school teachers would then go to the university and then be placed to teach at the secondary level
  • The branch of the UWI that emerged in Trinidad was resonant with Williams’ 1944 concept of a university which was unlike what had emerged in Jamaica between 1948 and 1960
  • Since the government paid all the fees of nationals at the St Augustine campus, the university campus was the culmination of a framework of free education from primary to tertiary

1963 College of Arts & Sciences in temporary quarters at the deep-water harbour, Bridgetown, Barbados

  • Arthur Lewis Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his contribution to economic theory and pioneering research in economics

1969 Dr Eric Williams oversees the establishment of the JFK Library, UWI, St. Augustine, Trinidad

  • In 1969 the JFK quadrangle, along with the JFK Library, was completed with funds from the government of the United States of America, through the efforts of Prime Minister Eric Williams

1979 Dr Eric Williams established tertiary-level medical sciences teaching hospital at Mt Hope

  • 1979 Sir Arthur Lewis receives the Nobel Prize in Economics
  • Dr Eric Williams devised a medical sciences complex as a purpose-built facility to deliver medical, dental, veterinary, pharmacy and advanced nursing education on the Mt Hope site. At this location there was already a women’s hospital, which was integrated into the new buildings and remained dedicated to that segment of training in Trinidad and Tobago

[1] Cited by Eric Williams, History of the people of Trinidad and Tobago, (NY: Frederick A Praeger, 1964), 67

[2] See: PNM Major Party Documents, No. 1. General Election Manifesto 1961.