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Perspectives:A persistent Barrow myth
By Leonard Shorey
One of the very interesting things about Barbados is the way in which certain myths are kept alive and are repeated again and again even though the error is drawn to the attention of the public. Such a myth repeated from time to time is that the late Rt. Excellent Errol Barrow was responsible for introducing free secondary education into Barbados. The most recent repetition of this persistent myth was reported in the Advocate of March 29 where the press item stated that the President of the Senate, Dr. Branford Taitt, “advised those in positions of authority not to interfere with this island’s education framework, as doing so would have a negative effect on poor persons who currently benefited from the ‘free education’ which was introduced (by) none other (than) former Prime Minister, Errol Barrow, coincidentally a past member of the school”. This report has not been contradicted so we can reasonably assume that it is correct.
No intelligent person would seek to deny or minimise the significant contributions which the late Rt. Excellent Errol Barrow made to the development of Barbados, including his taking our country into independence some 44 years ago. None of this is in dispute, but at the same time there is absolutely no justification for giving him credit for something which he most certainly did not do, and the facts on this matter are indisputable. Free secondary education was introduced into Barbados under the wise leadership of the late Rt. Excellent Sir Grantley Herbert Adams, and the significance of this enormously important development is recorded for all time in the Report of the National Commission on the Status of Women (pages 580-583), which provides substantial details about what actually occurred. The Report noted that “Secondary Modern Schools … were intended to provide secondary education for those who did not qualify on the basis of the Common Entrance Examination for admission to Grammar Schools”. Additional information from the Report is provided below.
Payment for pupils in elementary schools was abolished in 1928, but there nonetheless remained considerable hardship for large numbers of parents who were still required to pay fees for children attending the grammar schools. Under the leadership of Sir Grantley, a dramatic change took place with the establishment of a whole new set of secondary schools first known as Comprehensive Schools, sometimes as Secondary Modern Schools and later as Newer Secondary Schools. These secondary schools were established as follows: 1952 – St. Leonard’s Boys’ and St. Leonard’s Girls’; 1955 – Princess Margaret and West St. Joseph (now Grantley Adams), and Parkinson School in 1960. The coming of these schools marked the beginning of a totally new era in education in Barbados, opening new horizons for thousands of youngsters who would otherwise have had no hope of receiving secondary education, and for the first time in our country’s history the State was meeting the cost of secondary education for large numbers of children. Under the Grantley Adams administration, “free secondary
education” had at last become part and parcel of the education landscape in Barbados. It was a remarkable achievement whose effects have continued and will long continue, growing constantly from strength to strength.
However, this was not the end, for those who followed in the political arena built on this solid foundation so it is a matter of record that in 1962, shortly after coming into office, the Errol Barrow administration wisely moved to extend the provision of State-provided education and therefore discontinued the payment of school fees at the other, previously existing, Government secondary schools in the island. Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that by the time all fees were abolished in secondary schools under Mr. Barrow, there were actually more youngsters (4 636) attending the newer secondary schools established under Sir Grantley, than those attending the older secondary schools (grammar schools) (4 325) whose fees were removed under Mr. Barrow. To put it another way, by the time fee paying at the older secondary schools was abolished in 1962, more than half the pupils attending Government-owned secondary schools were already receiving free secondary education in the schools established under Sir Grantley Adams. What we can certainly be proud of is that our country has come a long way through the enlightened efforts of both the Barbados Labour Party, which introduced free secondary education, and the Democratic Labour Party which, in its turn, continued this provision and extended it to the remaining secondary schools – both very worthy achievements.
No one is suggesting that misrepresentations on this important matter are done with bad intentions, but it is nonetheless inexcusable that prominent persons should make misleading statements about this very important and critical development in our country’s education system, seemingly unaware of what actually took place. The persistent myth that the late Rt. Excellent Errol Walton Barrow introduced free secondary education in Barbados should really be allowed to die a quiet death for it serves only to mislead the younger members of our community, and perhaps some of the older ones as well who do not know the truth. Free secondary education was introduced into Barbados under the visionary leadership of the late Rt. Excellent Sir Grantley Herbert Adams, and this should never be forgotten by those in public life for its importance is absolutely beyond question.