Elementary education back then

Published: Tuesday | July 17, 2012 Comments 0

This is the first in a series of letters by Rupert Johnson on elementary education in pre-Independence Jamaica.


In celebrating Jamaica's 50th anniversary of Independence, it is worthwhile to be aware of what transpired in the field of elementary education, particularly in the rural areas, during the 1940s and '50s, for example, and then you can compare that to what is in existence today.

It is to be noted that all rural elementary schools, in particular, were divided into what was classified as Lower Division, Middle Division, and Upper Division. The Lower Division was subdivided into three classes, generally referred to as Junior A, Junior B, and First Class. The Middle Division comprised two classes, namely, Second and Third Standards, and the Upper Division was made up of three classes - Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Standards.

According to my recollection during the 1940s and '50s, both teachers and pupils in small elementary schools, each with a population 200 or fewer, suffered immeasurably.

In the Lower Division, all three classes were generally taught by one fully trained or partially trained teacher who was usually the head teacher's spouse. She was sometimes assisted by an untrained teacher. The untrained teacher was usually a pupil teacher or a probationer. The probationer was one who held the Third Year Jamaica Local Exam Certificate and was put on probation for a six-year period, during which time he or she had to obtain additional qualifications.

If that probationer failed to achieve the specified qualifications, he or she would no longer be allowed to teach. On the other hand, the pupil teacher was below the rank of the probationer. Generally, this was a trainee who had passed the second-year Jamaica Local Exam and was preparing to take the third-year exam.

In many instances, the entire Middle Division was taught by a probationer. In each of these small schools, the Upper Division was invariably taught by the head teacher.

It is worth noting that each teacher in these small elementary schools had to teach all subjects, namely: reading, written English (including handwriting and dictation), arithmetic, scripture, geography/history, science, physical education (drill), music, and handwork.

In addition to this heavy workload, one half day per week the female teachers would be responsible for teaching the girls rudimentary sewing and needlework, and the male teachers were responsible for teaching the boys basic agricultural projects or gardening.



Toronto, Canada

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