Expansion of Public Education (1844-1876)
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In 1844, Queens's College was established by the Bishop of the Anglican Church, Rev. William Austin. The aim behind its establishment was to provide secondary education to the sons of the middle and upper classes. The tendency at that period was for the upper classes to send their sons to England for a secondary education. The school was first housed in Colony House, located on the site now occupied by the Victoria Law Courts. It was later moved to two other locations, including the site now occupied by the Bishop's High School where it remained to the end of the nineteenth century.
Bishop's High School, originally called Bishop's College, was organized by the Anglican Church in 1851, first as a theological school which also doubled as a teacher training institution. No too long after, it was decided to expand it to cater for secondary education for the daughters of the middle and upper classes.
The Catholics also expanded secondary education by setting up St. Stanislaus College for boys in 1866 and a high school for girls in 1880.
With the growth of the Indian population in Guyana, the question of the education of Indian children became a matter of concern to the Government and also to the Christian churches. Christian priests moved into the plantation areas hoping to convert the Indians (who were Hindus and Muslims), but they met with little success. Primary schools were established, but the head teachers complained about the irregular attendance of Indian children. It was partly as a result of this that in 1876 the Compulsory Education Ordinance was enacted. It made education compulsory up to the age of 12 years for children in rural areas and up to 14 years for children in Georgetown, New Amsterdam and Buxton. This Ordinance also outlawed employment of children under the age of nine years.
There were many Indian parents who kept away their children, especially the girls, from the schools because they did not want them to be taught by African teachers, and also they feared that the children would be influenced by Christian religious teachings. However, the real story was that many of the Indian parents kept away their children from schools so that could earn money doing jobs on the plantations.
The plantation owners themselves were happy to have gangs of children working in the fields, and it was widely believed that they disagreed with the Compulsory Education Ordinance. The Immigration Agent General, at that time, a close friend of the planter class, wrote later in his 1888 Report that the Ordinance was a source of hardship to the Indian parents since on most estates "large gangs of little children under that age (the age of nine), are often employed in light work such as carrying earth, ashes or manure and this is not only a benefit to the parents but also a source of pleasure to themselves. No one who has seen these children work, each with a little basket in which to convey a nominal load, running backwards and forwards in high glee and spirits, could fail to feel pleasure at witnessing their being thus trained up to active and industrious habits. . . The employment of children under nine years of age may be, and no doubt, open to grave objection, when the condition and nature of their occupations are such as to produce physical and moral degeneracy; but in a country, where their work is as much pastime as labour and is conducive to the promotion of health and vigour, both of body and mind, the necessity of such a restriction does not appear to me to exist."
The Ordinance also specified that the compulsory attendance rule was not to be enforced during the first ten years of the Indian immigrants' arrival in Guyana.