A look into Political influence on education: History of education in the Bahamas Part V

In one of my earlier posts, history of tutoring, I talked about how the British government did not get involved with education until 1833. This meant that the colonies would be affected simultaneously because the Governors who were assigned to each colony was in charge of ensuring that the wishes of the Crown were carried out.

Now, this did not necessarily mean that the Crown, and subsequently its host of royal Governors, somehow understood their populace and wanted to help them because the common man at the time had no need or interest in pursuing education.

At all.

Therefore, the real reason the Crown heavily advanced education was because they saw a need for more trained skilled workers to build housing, buildings, and bridges throughout Great Britain. But in order to do that, they needed a large workforce, most of whom were uneducated. Hence, the drive to make education available and accessible to the majority, who were poor subsistence farmers and the only things that they were educated on was arithmetic, writing and reading.

But what did that mean for The Bahamas?

Well first, let’s talk about the establishment of the local Bahamian government (otherwise known as the House of Assembly) and it’s really…tumultuous relationship with the Crown.

Who is the House of Assembly?

The House of Assembly (previously known as the General Assembly) is a local governing body of a commonwealth country that consists of elected Members of Parliament (of which the citizens of the country votes upon). In The Bahamas, the House of Assembly currently consists of 39 seats with each seat representing a constituency in the country.

It was first established in 1729 because King George II and the Commission had specifically instructed Governor Woods Rodgers to do so as the newly appointed Governor of The Bahamas. Actually, this would be the second time that Woods Rodgers became the governor because his first time governing over the country left him broke, sick and emotionally depleted (he ended up using all of his finances to try to improve the dire state of the Bahamas, only to be met with backlash from the locals and having to run back to England to claim bankruptcy).

Upon his return, he separated The Bahamas (which was only Nassau, Harbor Island and Eleuthera at the time) into 5 districts and fixed the number of Members of Parliament to 24. The eligible citizens then took two weeks and voted for their preferred Members of Parliament and the newly formed General Assembly met for the first time at one of the elected member’s house on September 29, 1729. Almost immediately, a fight broke out between the House of Assembly and Governor Rogers and suffice it to say, this power struggle lasted for more than a year until Governor Rogers decided to dissolve the Assembly in December 1730.

From then on, the duration and sustainability of the General Assembly relied solely on the wishes of the Governors. Additionally, the struggles between the Governor and the elected House of Assembly lasted until the country received independence from the British Government in 1973.

So did this fierce political friction affect education?

Actually initially, there wasn’t any friction between the Governors and the House of Assembly when it came to education of the poor. As a matter of fact, by the early 1820s, the government became strong advocates for education as they worked together along with the church to try to bring free education to the poor.

However, it’s important to note that those who were elected into the General Assembly were rich, white merchants. Some of them owned plantations for themselves throughout the colony. So, of course, there wasn’t any problem with educating the poor…as long as they were white. This meant that when governors started to show sympathy and advocated for equal educational rights for the black population, the white slave owners became agitated

And you can only imagine the power struggle between the Governors and the House of Assembly when it came to education of slaves and freed black men.

Sir James Charmichael Smyth

For example, Governor Sir James Charmichael-Smyth (Governor of the Bahamas from 1829-1833), once warmly welcomed by the whites in Bahamian society, was automatically rejected and hated once it was made known that he was a fierce advocate for the abolition of slavery and the advancement of freed colored people. Also, his stance was so strong that he created two schools in both Adelaide and Charmiachel settlements because they were considered experimental settlements for liberated Africans.

Now it is important to note that during this period, there was a rising amount of free blacks and liberated Africans arriving in the colony, which further fueled animosity between the House of Assembly and Governor Charmichael-Smyth as the House of Assembly (remember they are majority slave owners) wanted to maintain dominance over the growing black population.

Eventually, the House of Assembly caved in and established a Board of Education in 1836, which was shortly after the emancipation of slavery but it was a long way and a hard fight to get there. And because the House of Assembly felt forced to accept emancipation, it reinforced the idea that schools needed to be segregated, which became a law 19 years before emancipation.

What about today?

In 1823, the government reduced expenses towards education (including salary reduction of teachers and headmasters, and funding) and also reduced the number of schools in the colony because those they were trying to help, which would have been the poor whites, were not taking education seriously (there were serious rates of drop-outs and absences, among other issues).

Blacks, who probably were the main ones to want education, were never taken into account in those plans and was only thought of us manual laborers who were “beneath” the whites by the Government.

Today, education of the black population still remains on the back burner by the local government and this is unfathomable because we are led by a majority black government and we STILL see the inequalities surfacing such as

  1. funding to public education continues to be cut every fiscal year (and more money is dumped into tourism, fueling a dependent economy)
  2. the current curriculum is completely outdated and needs to be revised
  3. The national exam, the Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE), is an inaccurate measure of a student’s mental acuity because of inconsistencies of its grading system
  4. the rise of learning disabilities such as dyslexia, ADHD and autism, just to name a few, are COMPLETELY IGNORED
  5. the problems of overcrowding in public schools have yet to be addressed, which leads to the issue of proper tutelage between teacher and students.

These issues must be examined and addressed in order to improve as a country, otherwise, we are just perpetuating the wishes of our late colonial slave masters: for the black population to remain low-class laborers.

I then leave you with this quote by Robert Kiyosaki that completely resonated with me:

Do you think the Government could do more in the advancement of education in the Bahamas (or whatever country you are from)? Are they doing enough? do you see any progress? Please leave your comments, suggestions, and critiques in the comment section below! I’d love to hear from you!


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