Teachers in colonial times had to be members of the particular faith which controlled a school

Dear Editor,

I note the letter from Mr Shabnam Ally and Mr Raymond Chickrie in Stabroek News of October 16 captioned: ‘In 1896 Muslims petitioned the British Guiana Combined Court for permission to build a mosque and school in Queenstown.’

I am grateful to these gentlemen for the information about the petition document.  It will certainly help fill in gaps in my own research and publications on matters educational.
There are (minor) differences, though, between some of their generalizations and the evidence available in the Guyana National Archives in items such as letters to the (Lieute-nant) Governor of British Guiana from Rev T R Redwar dated April 18, 1834; and from Rev William Austin dated June 9, 1834; and the letters of B Kay Shuttleworth to the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (for example, his letter dated January 6, 1847).  Too, the Sir William Snagg Report of 14th April, 1875 and the Wynn-Williams Report of 1925 may be helpful.

That aside, I note with some concern their statement: “Throughout the period of indentureship and up until independence East Indians on the whole were denied education and employment in the public service, unless they converted to Christianity.  This was yet another sacrifice they were forced to endure to further their socio-economic standing in the eyes of the British.”

Assuming that the assertion “denied education” refers particularly to what we generally think about as primary education, I break a lance with them.  The evidence suggests that over the post-Emancipation period when the Board of Education administered grants for the purpose of erecting new school houses and contributing towards the salaries of the teachers, payment was related to the number of pupils enrolled.  Hence it was in the interest of the Head Teachers to go out into the communities and enrol as many children as they could.  That they did very vigorously especially with respect to the many East Indian children available in sugar estates near the villages where, for the most part, the primary schools were established in rural British Guiana.

Later when the system of Dual Control of Schools was more firmly established, groupings such as Anglican, Congregational, Hindu, Lutheran, Methodist, Moravian, Roman Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, etc, had primary schools.  These groupings were responsible for the management of their schools and the appointment of the teachers, while the Education Department paid the salaries of the teachers and provided small grants for equipment and special equipment; gardening; latrine and sanitation; sweeping; needlework, etc.

Because the groupings had full control over the appointment of teachers, the appointments were almost universally based on one’s adherence to that particular brand of the faith.  You couldn’t be an Anglican and get a teaching job in a Roman Catholic Primary school, for example.  And you couldn’t be an East Indian Muslim and get a teaching job in a Hindu Primary School.  It was not a matter of compulsory conversion to Christianity.  It was a
matter of being a member of the religious faith that controlled the particular school.

Despite diligent enquiries in the long-ago days when I used to research and publish on matters educational, I have never been able to get a coherent explanation as to why there were Hindu Primary schools but not a single Muslim Primary school, as the annual reports of the Director of Education can attest.
I don’t think that the impression the writers give that East Indians had to convert to Christianity to get jobs in the Civil Service of British Guiana is worthy of any comment from me.  I look on that as a lapse in careful sentence construction.

By the way: primary school teachers (and policemen, too!) became public officers only on the basis of Article 232 of the 1980 Constitution of Guyana.

Yours faithfully,
George N Cave

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