In Dominica, from 1834 onwards, the British subsidized primary education through grants but basically, education was imported and promoted mainly by missionaries. The content of education was divorced from the interests and needs of the masses and the community. Emphasis was on the classics and the arts. There is little doubt that the churches original interest in education was the creation of influential educated elite. In practice, their interests were denominational, especially seen in the establishment of secondary schools.
Proposed educational policies depended greatly on the availability of funds, which were always insufficient. Therefore, changes and reforms were minimal. The newly elected legislative councils and their leaders gave little support. In reality, education, in practice was for a privileged minority. The populace remained virtually ignorant and illiterate. The pre-emancipation society was therefore not in any sense an educated one. Where slaves received any instruction at all it was of a religious nature provided by the church at long intervals.
The authorities had no aims or standards; hence there was no system of formal education. It was against this background that the British Imperial Government incorporated an education grant in the 1833 Act of Emancipation to assist in the educational development of the Negroes. Establishing schools for the masses was provided for by the Act, which included grant money from the imperial government to provide education in the ex-slave colonies. This grant money is known as the Negro Education Grant. It was regarded as an urgent matter.
The total grant amounted to a mere ? 30,000 per annum for five years for all the BWI of almost one million people. The decision to allocate the grant was executed through the local legislatures and the religious bodies. The grant was decreased each year and ended in 1845. The denominations were offered financial help to build schools, and later to assist in the payment of teachers’ salaries as the best means of developing a system of education. Dominica’s share of the Grant amounted only to ? 600 to be spent on 14,000 ex-slaves.
This amount was very insignificant and was spent mainly by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPCK). After two years it became apparent that the desired and intended results were not forthcoming because of the many difficulties faced. Some churches were unable to accept more grants because they could not bear the recurrent expenditure on their schools. In August 1837, the grant was switched to pay one-third of teachers’ salaries instead. This was insufficient, and the societies did not expand their operations further. As the expected expansion did not materialise the imperial government was disappointed.
Hence, the union of the imperial government, local legislatures and the churches could not fulfil the early ambition to create a viable education system. Thus, in 1841, the imperial government started to withdraw the fund. The Mico trustees who had done the most protested, but to no avail. In 1845 it came to an end, and so the burden fell on the West Indian legislatures and workers to increasingly support the education of their own children. In Dominica, the drive towards education for the masses was assisted by the local legislature, thus complimenting the work done by charities and the hurches so that by July 1840, Dominica had 20 schools, 10 teachers, 1,086 pupils and total average attendance was 750. The British Imperial Government gave two main reasons for ending the NEG: 1. English workers were said to be worse-off than West-Indian workers 2. The Baptists were said to be prospering – although they had refused all aid Both claims were false. The churches lacked both money and resources. The British felt in the case of Dominica that the Catholic Church could not and would not provide appropriate education. They therefore supported alternatives to church schools.
They decided to provide secular schools and to withdraw grants to the church schools. This was strongly opposed until a compromise was reached. The main success of the period of the NEG was the idea of popular education. The Provision of Secondary Education in Dominica: Providers and Gender Issues From the foregoing, one can appreciate the fact that the provision of education was a task that involved the participation of several providers or stakeholders: The British Imperial Authority, the Local Legislature or Assembly, the Church (especially the Catholics) and the Charities (especially the Mico Trust).
Prior to emancipation, the provision of education was the responsibility of the churches and the charities. Education was very limited and very few benefited. In reality, what ever was taught was basically religious education. With the passage of the Act of Emancipation, an attempt was made to establish popular education. The NEG thus provided the needed funds for this purpose but eventually ended in failure. These funds were channelled through the bodies mentioned above, especially through the charities and the churches. By 1868 the main providers were mainly the state (the Local Legislature) and the church.
It must not be forgotten that the vast majority of the population were Catholics and therefore co-operation and compromise between the two bodies were of paramount importance. By that date, the majority of primary schools belonged to the state i. e. 18 out of 33 (54%). This was unique, for no other West Indian society had such participation by the state in educational provision. In the case of secondary education, the provision was by the Church (Catholic). The first establishment for the provision of secondary education was the Convent High School (CHS) in 1858. This was exclusively for the children of the local elite.
The children of the rural peasantry and the working classes were excluded. The state provided some funds for the school. But there were no secondary education provided for the masses. It is again unique to Dominica in that early period that post-primary education was being provided only to girls when this gender was marginalized in the rest of the W. I and in Britain itself. Even today, in 2000, over 65% of secondary school students are girls. The figures for the Clifton Dupigny Community College, University of Technology (Jamaica) and University of the West Indies are roughly the same.
In the case of Dominica, male marginalisation has had a long history, contrary to popular opinion. Due to mounting pressure and clamour for secondary education for boys and the children of the masses, the state established the Dominica Grammar School (DGS) on the 16th of January 1893, with a registration list of 25 boys under the headmastership of one tutor, Mr. W. Skinner (M. A – a graduate from Catherine’s College, Cambridge, England). It was to be run as a government school, with the aim to provide higher education for boys.
The building being used was a personal gift from Mr. Dawbiney, a respectable Jamaican who had settled in the island. The DGS remained a boy’s school until 1972. This occurred at a time when the number of girls selected by the Common Entrance Examinations far surpassed that of boys. The first DGS girls came from the CHS and the WHS. The total number of girls on the roll for that year totalled 34 out of a total of 560 students. Thus a reluctant but necessary era commenced in that year – the DGS becoming a co-educational institution under the headship of Mr. J. K.
Gough (B. Sc; Dip. Ed. from Scotland). In that same year there were 14 Dominican staff members who were university graduates. Not to be outdone by the Catholics, the Wesleyan Society (Methodists) following the tradition of their rivals, opened the second high school for girls in the island, the Wesley High School (WHS) in October 1927. By that year, 80% of the students accessing secondary education were girls. This again was a unique situation second to none in the W. I. This further marginalized the boys given the restrictive and limited nature of access at the time.
At this juncture, it is necessary to appreciate the great effort expended by the churches in the provision of secondary education in the island of Dominica, albeit for denominational reasons. In 1932, the Christian Brothers (Catholics) opened the second educational establishment providing secondary education for boys, the Saint Mary’s Academy (SMA). By that year educational provision was roughly equal for both genders with boys now having the slight edge, notwithstanding the fact that the girls were doing better in entrance and scholarship exams. There were insufficient spaces available.
An entrance examination would soon be rigorously applied to ration out, select and match the number of students to the available supply of places. This state of inequitable affairs became unbearable as the girls were now being marginalized in favour of boys who were securing less ‘passes’ than girls in the exams. In other words, the selection was a function of available places. The two boys’ schools had more places than the two girls’ schools. Therefore, fewer girls were selected although their average scores were higher than that of boys who secured places.
In the1972/1973 school year, the Labour government of Mr. Edward Oliver Leblanc took the bold step to make the DGS co-educational. This occurred at a time when the number of girls who had succeeded at the Common Entrance Examinations far surpassed that of boys. Since then, girls have kept on increasing the education gap or divide to the extent that in Dominica and the West Indies this problem of ‘male marginalisation’ and ‘male underachievement’ and the like, have now become so serious that it threatens the whole concept of male patriarchy.
The year 1972 has been regarded as a milestone in Dominica’s educational history as far as secondary education is concerned. From that year all new secondary schools have opted to become co-educational with the exception of the Saint Martin’s Secondary School in 1988. Another important milestone in our educational history is the year 1971. For the first time, secondary educational provision moved out of Roseau with the establishment of the co-educational Portsmouth Secondary School (PSS).
This greatly reduced the cost burden to parents in the northwest, north and northeast of the island, who, hitherto had to make tremendous sacrifices to provide education for their children in the capital, Roseau. By 1974, the Common Entrance Examinations as a selector of educational life chances was psychologically so devastating to pupils that those who were not selected felt that they were ‘rejects’ and ‘failures’ with no hope or future. It was against this backdrop that a group of concerned persons headed by Ms.
Jean Finucane-James decided to provide a ‘second chance’ to those pupils that was not based on a selective exam. This co-educational school was named the Dominica Community High School (DCHS). Apart from the PSS, the early 1970s were characterised for having secondary education concentrated in the capital city of Roseau. The ‘70s was a period of political upheaval. In August 1979, Hurricane David struck and the island was devastated: 43 deaths, massive destruction of crops and the forest, wildlife was decimated, schools and the social and economic infrastructure was destroyed.
The economy came to a standstill. Educationally, the students suffered greatly. A large number of students from the northeast could not attend the Roseau schools. In the aftermath of the hurricane, two schools were opened in the northeast: St. Andrew’s High School (SAHS) in 1979, located in Londonderry which is run and operated by the Methodists and in 1980, the Marigot Foundation High School (MFHS) headed by Mr. Martin Roberts, a former Methodist minister. The last named school was eventually renamed the Marigot Secondary School (MSS) when in 1999 it passed over to the state.
These two schools are co-educational institutions. In this catchment area the Common Entrance Exams consistently selects more girls than boys. In the 1980s four schools were established. In 1981, the Seventh-Day Adventists began to provide secondary education. The Seventh-day Adventist Secondary School (SASS) is located in the Portsmouth suburb of Granvillia. It is a co-ed school. In that very same year the co-ed St. Joseph Campus of the DGS was opened which later became a separate entity as the St. Joseph Secondary School. In 1996 it was renamed the Isaiah Thomas Secondary School.
In 1988, two government co-ed secondary schools were established from what were formerly Junior Secondary Programmes: the Goodwill Secondary School (GSS) and the Grand Bay Secondary School (GBSS). In that same year, the Catholic–run St. Martin’s School for girls upgraded its technical/vocational wing into a fully-fledged secondary school called the St. Martin’s Secondary School (SMSS). With the opening of these new schools and the continued use of the Common Entrance Exams the gender balance continue to be in favour of girls to the detriment of boys.
The limited curriculum was non-scientific and bookishly academic based on rote and memory teaching and learning. By 1868, as the primary system took root the three r’s were taught namely reading, writing and arithmetic. The system that was taking shape was one that would provide labourers and servants and no more. At the secondary level, the curriculum catered for the children of the elite: Maths, Science, Geography, English, Greek, and Latin. The colonial powers and the local legislatures controlled the educational system. In other words, the ruling elites/classes decided who should be taught, what should be taught, when, how and where. The entire process from start to finish was decided for the learner.
In 1899, Agriculture was being promoted as a subject to be taught so that the learner would become an agricultural labourer or worker on an estate or join the ranks of the impoverished peasantry. So agricultural schools were encouraged. In this way the islands would remain as sources of primary agricultural produce. When the British abolished the local legislatures and imposed direct crown colony rule the curriculum again was being used as a tool to keep the masses in their place. It limited them to learn the basics and agriculture. Attempts were made to improve education at the end of the First World War (1914-1918): salaries to teachers, payments by results and attempts at compulsory education. The West Indian Conference in Dominica in 1932 urged the region to struggle for compulsory education among other things. This failed.
In 1957, the ministerial system was brought to Dominica with some exercise of authority by the house of assembly. But power still lied with the British parliament. Budgets could be passed, but had to be approved by Britain. In 1967, Dominica became an associate state with Gt. Britain. All internal matters were under local jurisdiction, but foreign affairs, trade and defence resided with Gt. Britain. Dominica could now influence and shape educational progress, but very little happened. The primary system continued to develop. The high schools became stagnant. The last one to be established was in 1936 (SMA). Thirty-seven years passed before the next one, the PSS was established.
By 1978, the curriculum at the primary was now being driven by the Common Entrance Examinations to the detriment of all else. The same thing could be found at the secondary schools. The entire curriculum was driven by foreign external examinations. The foreign element was removed in 1985 when we switched from the Cambridge and London GCE ‘O’ Levels to the regionally based CXC examinations. But the GCE ‘A’ Levels still continue to dictate the curriculum at the post-secondary level. In 1998, CXC began to test pilot its own ‘A’ Levels known as CAPE, which will soon replace the English-based GCE ‘A’ Levels. The School Curriculum and Examinations The CXC and the GCE curriculum dictate the locus and focus of secondary education in Dominica.
These exams cater for the 30-40% of the ability range of secondary students. The entire curriculum was driven by foreign external examinations. The foreign element was removed in 1985 when we switched from the Cambridge and London GCE ‘O’ Levels to the regionally based CXC examinations. But the GCE ‘A’ Levels still continue to dictate the curriculum at the post-secondary level. In 1998, CXC began to test pilot its own ‘A’ Levels known as CAPE, which will soon replace the English-based GCE ‘A’ Levels. The HSC, LSC and GCE dominated the curriculum of secondary schools since the 1880s. The failure rates were very high at both the ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels.
It was also a drain on the scarce resources of the region. The minimum of 5 ‘O’ Level subjects were required to move into the sixth form and five subjects were needed of which 2 must be at ‘A’ Level for university entry. The Caribbean was influenced by educational and curriculum developments in North America and Europe, especially Britain. Revolutionary curricular changes in maths and science were being undertaken in the USA as a result of the Russian success in Sputnik I. In the U. K, the Nuffield Foundation invested heavily in a science development project. In 1969-70, the West Indian Science Curriculum Innovation Project (WISCIP) began at St. Augustine, UWI, and Trinidad.
It was a new approach with emphasis on enquiry and experimentation, understanding and constructive thinking. This was introduced in the DGS and the other high schools of the time. During that same period ‘New Mathematics’ was introduced in the schools’ curriculum. All five of the secondary schools in Dominica adopted it. The Convent High School had their first ‘O’ Level candidates in 1971, and the DGS in 1972. Results in all Caribbean schools were not so good at first because of the unfamiliarity with the new approaches and topics such as inverses, identities, algebra of sets and matrices, decimalisation and metrification, vectors, inequalities and topology.
At first most of the schools used the School Mathematics Project (SMP) books, but these were replaced by the Joint Schools Project (Caribbean edition) series, as part of the CEDO/UNESCO/UWI Caribbean Mathematics Project The CXC was established in 1972 to serve the Commonwealth Caribbean. The process took over 10 years. The CXC was to replace the GCE exams. It would develop syllabi, conduct exams and issue certificates. This was a form of asserting cultural and intellectual independence from our colonial past and from Britain. Politically, the Caribbean has eschewed integration. There was the West Indian Federation as colonies of Britain (1958-1962). It ended in failure due to insularity, nationalism and dependency. With independence, the nations can dictate their educational goals and match these to national needs.
In Dominica, we have not had a long history of educational reforms established in law. In 1949 an Education Act was passed to regulate and govern the sector. This was changed in 1997 when the new Education Act was passed. This was part of an attempt to harmonise education legislation in the Eastern Caribbean. In 1995 the Basic Education Reform Project was launched (BERP). The Project had three main objectives: 1. to strengthen the management and planning capacity of the Ministry, 2. to enhance the quality of education, and 3. to expand and conserve school places. Economically, we live in an interdependent world, a global village. We are partners bargaining from a position of weakness.
Unequal terms of trade, onerous foreign debts, trade deficits and balance of payment problems deplete our resources so that our educational budgets are severely constrained. In general (1999 – 2004), Dominica spends about 17% of its recurrent budget on education, 1-2% on materials and supplies and about 80% on personal emoluments. New Curriculum Developments Primary schools follow a curriculum, which has recently been reviewed by the Curriculum Development Unit (CDU). Schools have been provided with curriculum guides for English Language, Mathematics and General Science for Grades K to 6. Curriculum guides for Social Studies, Mathematics, Science and English Language were to become available in September 1999 for grades K to 6.
A curriculum guide for Social Studies has been prepared for Form 1 at the secondary level. Workbooks for Grades k to 3 for English were to have been made available from September 1999. In addition a curriculum guide for Health and Family Life covering primary and secondary age ranges is being monitored and supported in schools. A draft national policy for this was presented to Cabinet in August 1998 but has not yet been officially approved. The CDU has planned to review Music, PE, Art and Craft, and Agriculture in 2001 as well as to start writing and production of support materials for pupils and teachers. The revised primary schools curriculum appears to be appropriate at the national level.
The main problem appears to be in its delivery. The main need at the primary level for curriculum development is in relation to adapting the teacher’s guides for multigrade teaching and provision of differentiated activities for all subjects and all classrooms. Dominica does not have a National Curriculum and therefore, the curriculum de facto is determined by each school and in practice is closely related to the requirements of the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) other external examinations and higher ability students. A balance needs to be struck between the academic and practical skills education in the secondary sector in any future national curriculum.