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Free education – don’t forget 1952!


Sherwyn Walters

Free education – don’t forget 1952!

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WE IN BARBADOS are presently making appropriate to-do – with plaque and all – of what started in 1962 as a revolutionary turning away from the latching of educational opportunity to one’s parents’ means.
Fifty years of universal free public education. Hallelujah!
It seems to be forgotten, though, that before that, in 1952, there began a new level of free education, too. Free for many who would have had to end their adventure with school on leaving primary school.
In September 1952 (the 15th I am told) the St Leonard’s schools – St Leonard’s Boys’ Secondary School and St Leonard’s Girls’ Secondary School – as post-primary secondary modern schools (as distinct from grammar schools), began to provide educational opportunity for lower-class Barbadians who would previously have been denied it.
It did not go as far as the 1962 free-to-all, but was a signal step in the progress of Barbados education.
I wasn’t there, people, but I have a li’l clue –Ah talking ’bout wha happen back in fifty-two:Yutes whose parents’schooling din see past eleven,That September morn walk into high school heaven.’Cause before that, yuh know to get into high schoolWas big money or ’nough land or half a Crown jew’l.But now see de masses, see dey faces light up’Cause dey now had a chance to go right to de top.Dey had on dey uniforms, all starchy and t’ing,Even in dog muscles dey was like queens and kings.
Yes, the move towards universal free public post-primary education started at the St Leonard’s schools. The girls’ school ended its run at 45 years in 1997, but the boys’ school is still here in its 60th year.
Now, you might be getting ready to brag to somebody that you went to school at St Leonard’s. Tell that to your former St Leonard’s schoolmates or present students as you help out the school in one of the many always needful areas. The boastful, one-upmanship where-yuh-went-to-school talk in Barbados is a landmine, not a gold mine. I say a man is a man and a woman is a woman. Deal with people in that way.
So this is not about where anybody went to school. This is about the significance of the socially progressive journey that started in 1952.
(A little story: in the early 1970s, fresh out of university, I applied to the Ministry of Education to be a teacher. I was called to the ministry for an interview, whereupon the officer told me that the only opening was at St Leonard’s and promised that, if I wanted to wait, there was a teaching position that would later become available at Harrison College (pick sense outta dat).
Now, in the 1960s I had come under six major influences: the writings of the oppressed Blacks in the United States, a passionate involvement as a prolific teenaged creative writer, with all the sensitivity that brought, and the socially tender example of four people in my circle, my mother being the chief one. I like to think that those forces were at work when I found myself telling the officer that I would accept the St Leonard’s assignment.)
The frequent shouts of “sir”, the countless handshakes, the many beaming faces, the heart-swelling, euphoric, well meaning but obviously inaccurate “You made me, sir” uttered one bright afternoon along High Street make me know that I touched lives beyond what I would think. I am thankful to have been part of that important social move.
Please indulge me as I publish here a jingle I penned (and informally recorded with Mighty Gabby) for the 50th anniversary of St Leonard’s Boys’:
Fifty years!We celebratingFifty years turning young boys into men;Fifty years of the Richmond Gap evergreen.We celebratingFifty years of fearing the Father,Thinking clean, aiming ever higher,Fifty years of St Leonard’s School on the scene.And for the maroon and greyWe cheering “Hip! Hip! Hooray!”’Cause Richmonds open de door,So we shouting St Leonard’s for evermore;St Leonard’s for evermore,(Oh yes) St Leonard’s for evermore,St Leonard’s for evermore.
Change “fifty” to “sixty” and keep aiming high, St Leonard’s – and all you other student beneficiaries in this land of the free education.
Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor. Email [email protected]

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