Caribbean Islands Table of Contents


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 and 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.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress