DID YOU KNOW: Only a few St. Lucian children understood English language in the 1800s

Anselma Aimable, SNO Contributor

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In the 20th century, children who obtain scholarships and attended St. Mary’s College (in photo) and/or St. Joseph’s Convent could successfully climb the social ladder. * Photo credit: royalcurlaandia84

Did you know between 1845 and 1850, that approximately 452 to 906 children were enrolled in schools in St. Lucia? Then in 1896, out of a population of 46,671 people, and an estimated 10,000 children of school age (5 – 14 years) only 4,182 were enrolled in the 36 schools?

However, roughly 2,256 students attended classes with some regularity.  During that time, the schools were understaffed; the children barely understood the English language and children of the upper-class/aristocrats were sent to schools in Martinique, Barbados and Europe.

Did you know in 1897, one Fred Bundy, headmaster of St. Mary’s,  who later became inspector of schools, submitted a report which revealed that outside of Soufriere and Castries, in spite of the English language being taught before reaching standard four only a few children understood the language? Children spoke and heard only creole out of school and Bundy believed that the majority of the people took little or no interest in education.  According to Bundy, many parents were unable to provide clothing, school fees or books and this explained why the majority of the children did not attend school or only irregularly.

The Anglican priest of Vieux-Fort, Rev. R.J. Clarke found that parents considered church and school to be had for nothing or done without. Parents would permit the children to go rather than send them to school.  However, the parish priest of Castries, Fr. Tapon, partially disagreed with these views, he believed parents appreciated education but found it difficult to pay the fees which resulted in non-attendance, especially in the villages.

Truancy plagued the education system for decades then in 1936, an investigator found that attendance at schools were often hindered by the need to wash the school uniform on a weekly basic; some had to assist their peasant mothers on Fridays for Saturday market and others went working in the cane fields.

Both Bundy and Fr. Tapon admitted that the Elementary Instruction Ordinance was not being enforced and having police officers force children to go to school would make education more unpopular.  Instead they fought for the abolition of the school fees and many schools did not enforce the payment of fees which was one penny per child per week.  Bundy also recommended that a reformatory school for vagrant boys/wharf rats be established in Castries and that more practical subjects such as agriculture be taught in schools.

The boys did not want to dirty their hands in the soil; they wanted to become clerks or white collar workers. Teachers had to instill in their minds that there was no other career more independent, healthy and honourable than agriculture.  As a result the St. Lucia Agricultural Society, along with the curator of the botanical garden and two planters, offered to assist with the establishment of agricultural schools.

Did you know the 19th century saw the Anglican and Catholic churches establishing the education system in St. Lucia and it was gradually taken over by the government?  Attendance was poor and irregular and Kwéyòl-speaking children in English, a language they could hardly understand and they were taught in a method of memorising instead of understanding.

It was not until the 20th century that only the working class children, who were spared from farm labour and already had a good grasp of the English language, were the ones who reaped the socio-economic benefits from education.  If these children did well in school and obtained a scholarship to St. Mary’s College or St. Joseph’s Convent they could successfully climb the social ladder.  However for the vast majority, they were taught the alphabet, some basic arithmetic and skills in needlework and singing, but that did not necessarily improve their position in society.  Presently there is a vast improvement in the education system.

– Source:  A History of St. Lucia by Jolien Harmsen, Guy Ellis and Robert Devaux – 2012

Did you know the first female lawyer to be called to the bar and practice law in St. Lucia was Beryl Lydia Edwards?  She was born on June 30, 1928, attended the Methodist Primary School and then the St. Joseph’s Convent. Upon graduation from St. Joseph’s Convent she went on to study law at Gray’s Inn at the Inns of Court in London, England.

After being called to the bar she shared chambers with Winston Cenac.  In 1958 she served on the Castries Town board for four years and she was appointed a senator from 1979 – 1982. Edwards passed away in 1982 while doing what she loved best, discussing important issues in the senate.

– Source:  VF Biographies – Edwards, Beryl Lydia: National Archives

St. Lucia News Online welcomes our readers to this new feature which will run every Tuesday and Thursday. It is written by daughter of the soil Anselma Aimable, a former agricultural officer and former correspondent for Caribbean Net News, who has a deep interest in local culture and history. Send ideas and tips to [email protected]

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2 comments

  1. Nice to know. I think creole/patios should be taught in schools in St. Lucia.

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  2. Keep these articles coming! It is wonderful to discover these historical facts about our island.

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