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Education

The Three ‘R’s

Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.
G. K. Chesterton

Unusually, St Helena was quite advanced in its attitude to education

 

Education

Below: An Overview • Some key people • Premises, Premises • What schools were there, and when? • Recognise anybody? • Read More

Probably the definitive work on the history of education here is Dorothy Evans’ 1994 book ‘Schooling in South Atlantic Islands, 1661-1992’. The section on St Helena covers 194 pages with only a few photographs. We can’t hope to cover that level of detail here, so what follows is a collection of highlights. If you want the detail, you’ll have to buy the book!

This page concentrates on academic education. See also our Lace Making page for the Lace-Making School. Religious ‘Sunday Schools’ are not directly covered.


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The Three ‘R’s in education apparently refer to Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. How educated do you have to be to not see the flaw in that?
Anon

An Overview

The Church had control of the schools in the early years and Clerics doubled as teachers but with an emphasis on religious education{7}. The history of education on St Helena can be portrayed as the gradual transfer of that control from Church to State. The first non-Cleric schoolmaster was appointed at the end of the 17th Century; the last of the church schools were closed when education came under exclusive State control in 1941. In the interim, there were Church schools, Charity schools, schools operated by The East India Company and schools operated by the Crown.

Perhaps surprisingly the original controllers of St Helena, The East India Company, believed it was important for the people of St Helena to be educated. Even as early as 1678 - only 19 years after the island was settled - a memo from the Directors in London instructs the The Governor of St Helena that the people should lay aside all unnecessary and frivolous excuses and be so much friends to thier Children as to send them to the said Schoole, and keep them there as constantly as possibly they may. A proclamation from the period reads:

Whereas it hath pleased the Honourable East India Company to have so much regard and respect unto the good and welfare of thier Island, and all the Inhabitants thereof, That they have ordered and appointed a publick School to be kept at thier own Charge to teach the Children of the said Inhabitants to Read and to Instruct them in the Principals and Fundamentalls of the Christian Religion, As well the Blacks as the English.

Note the last words As well the Blacks as the English. Remarkably, education was not just offered to the children of wealthy landowners. Everybody was given the opportunity to attend school - even Slaves, though in the latter case only if their master would allow them the time off. The Reverend William Swindle was appointed to the island on 3rd December 1673 with the mission to preach once and caterchize every Lord’s Day and to teach or direct the teaching of children as their schoolmaster and also as many of the Negro children as are capable of learning. Exactly who would decide which of the slave children were capable of learning is not made clear. Presumably it was Rev. Swindle himself. Sadly we don’t know how many slave children he actually enrolled in his school.

Of course, in many cases the opportunity to attend school was worthless because for most of their history schools on St Helena required pupils to pay fees. Ordinary people just couldn’t afford that so their children went uneducated.

 

White

Slave

Free

Total

Company Head School

40

-

-

40

Company Lower School

36

2

44

82

Plantation House School

-

37

26

63

Evening School (adults)

-

104

30

134

Other

-

4

81

85

TOTAL

76

147

181

404

Schools developed as the population grew. For a long time there was a two-tier system: The ‘Head’ or ‘Upper’ School focussed on providing an education fit for the children of The East India Company officials, destined for university or a Company career, while the other schools taught a more ‘practical’ curriculum (for this reason the Upper School is often referred to as the ‘Grammar School’). Attendance at the various schools in November 1818 is shown in the table (right) and note that a total of 328 slave or former-slave children were in school - about 2/3 of the total. On the other hand, figures quoted in A History of the Island of St Helena, 2nd Edition, by T. H. Brooke, Esq., published in 1824{8} give the annual contribution from The East India Company as £1,000 and that by the Benevolent Society, who ran the only Charity schools, as £250. A little mathematics shows that £1,000 was spent on 122 pupils, while the remaining 282 pupils shared £250 - a difference per-pupil of ten times. Inequality in education in this form continued right up to 1941 when education came under exclusive State control.

An article in the July 1901 edition of the Parish Magazine lamented that only half the people coming to get married could sign their names in the Register. In 1903 Governor Gallwey was similarly distressed to discover than many islanders seeking to emigrate to South Africa were unable to do so because they could not meet thst country’s requirement for basic literacy. Compulsory Schooling was not introduced until the Education Ordinance 1903, effective 1st January 1904, and then only for children aged 6 to 14. The Secondary Selective School, the island’s first school to provide Secondary education, did not open until 29th April 1946.

Things have improved! Latest figures{a} show there around 50 nursery children, 300 in Primary schools, 230 at Prince Andrew School and 45 doing vocational apprenticeships. 49% of pupils achieve Grade C or above in GCSE English and Maths.

Some key people

Here are a few heroes and villains from the education story:

Rev. Richard Boys
Rev. Boys
Canon Walcott
Canon Walcott
Basil George
Basil George


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Academic education is the act of memorizing things read in books, and things told by college professors who got their education mostly by memorizing things read in books.
Elbert Hubbard

Premises, Premises

Sadly most of the early school buildings are no longer around for you to explore. The old ‘Head School’ building, drawn in 1810 by William Burchell (below) no longer exists, probably a victim of the White Ants, and we don’t even know exactly where it was{10}. The former Boys’ School was opposite St. John’s Church, but there are flats there now. The Girls’ School was probably for a time in Garden Hall in Castle Gardens, now occupied by S.A.M.S. Radio 1 and the St Helena Sentinel, but later moved to the ‘Head School’ building in Napoleon Street. The original Half Tree Hollow school was in a building next to Half Way House in upper HTH which is now a private house{11}. You can probably explore the former Sandy Bay School, now the home of S.H.A.P.E., but note that this is the mid-20th Century purpose-built building; for most of the school’s history it was based in St. Peter’s Church.

Pilling School is said to be haunted.

Note that although our current schools are open during school hours, you can’t just wander in and look around. For reasons of child safety all visitors must report to reception and be escorted around the building, which distracts staff from other important work. If you have a good reason for visiting an active school first contact the Education Directorate and discuss your needs with them.

LONGO POST TEMPORE DELAPIDATUM JAM

TANDEM CONDITUM EST ÆDIFICIUM

GUBERNANTE

 

ALEXANDO WALKER

CONSULENTIBUS

 

T H BROOKE

  

G BLENKINS

D Kinnard

AD

B I Vernon

Op Inspect

1824

Ludimagist

One you can explore is the former School in Napoleon Street Jamestown, now the Community Centre. Built in 1824 by Governor Walker, the school was actually constructed by ‘free men of colour’, i.e. freed slaves. Opening the school the Governor said of these workers: This work may be called their first fruits and pledge that the native population will be adequate to all the labours of the island. An inscription above the main door (reproduced, right), cut by the same Corporal Galway as created the plaque above the main entrance to The Castle, can be (broadly) translated as After a long period in disrepair, this new building is at last completed!

The Community Centre is not in frequent daytime use and is behind locked gates but you can clearly see the building from the street, and if you really must get in you need to ask around and see if you can borrow the key.

‘Head School’, 1810
‘Head School’, 1810{b}

Country School (left) on 1839 map by G.W. Melliss {1}
Country School (left) on 1839 map by G.W. Melliss{1}

Girls’ School, 1906
Girls’ School, 1906

‘Head School’ today {2}
‘Head School’ today{2}

‘Head School’ plaque
‘Head School’ plaque

Secondary Selective, Ladder Hill {3}
Secondary Selective, Ladder Hill{3}

Former Half Tree Hollow school at Half Way {4}
Former Half Tree Hollow school at Half Way{4}

Former school, Sandy Bay
Former school, Sandy Bay

Prince Andrew School
Prince Andrew School

Former Teacher Training Centre {5}
Former Teacher Training Centre{5}

 


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The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.
H. L. Mencken

What schools were there, and when?

The list is (almost) endless! Schools were created and later ceased operation. They were merged and de-merged. Boys were split from girls, then re-joined, then split again, then finally rejoined. It is, as they say, Complicated. Fortunately Dorothy Evans comes to our rescue, publishing the following chart in her 1994 book ‘Schooling in South Atlantic Islands, 1661-1992’:{12}

Dorothy Evans Schools Diagram

Memorise that - there will be a test later!

Note references to the ‘Gosse Central School’, named in honour of Dr Philip Gosse. There are also references to ‘Hussey’ schools, run by the Hussey Charity established in 1865 for the education of the Africans (i.e. freed slaves) of St Helena, and Benevolent Society schools, run by the Benevolent Society founded in 1814 by Governor Mark Wilks.

‘Clara’s School’ (Jamestown, 1814) is also interesting. It was founded by Mrs Clara George, who had been born a slave, married freed slave Charles George in 1814 and hence herself became free. She began teaching her own children, then in 1816 she included her neighbours’ children too, and this developed into an independent school in Jamestown. It later became known as the ‘Ragged School’ though we don’t know why - maybe a comment on the dress of the schoolchildren?

Since Dorothy Evans’ book was published there have been further changes. We now only have four schools:

However, as at the time of writing there are ongoing discussions that would amalgamate all the Primary schools into one, in a new building co-located with Prince Andrew School. Nothing ever remains static in education… Part of the development is to keep the system dynamic.{c}

Incidentally, one effect of the opening of Prince Andrew School seems to have been the near-elimination of the regional dialects that used to exist here. This is explored on our Speak Saint page.

A study reported in the St Helena Sentinel on 20th December 2018 compared St Helena exam passes with those in the UK, and concluded that it seems St Helena’s Key Stage 2 results would put our schools around the level of the poorer schools in the UK..

Recognise anybody?

The two photographs below were taken in the late 1970s (around ). The first was, apparently at the Secondary Selective School, probably in the Staff Room. The second is an unidentified Primary school. See if you recognise anybody…

Secondary Selective School, late 1970s

Unidentified Primary School, late 1970s {6}

Read More

Below: Must Read • Another perspective • Article: An Island School, Thirty Years Ago - A Former Pupil Reminisces

Must Read

Anyone wanting to know about the history of education on St Helena should read Dorothy Evans’ 1994 book ‘Schooling in South Atlantic Islands, 1661-1992’. The book is still in Copyright so we can’t provide a downloadable version but it should be available in specialist booksellers and there is apparently a copy in the Public Library in Jamestown.

Miss Evans is to be congratulated on her fine contribution to the growing bibliography of the island communities of the South Atlantic Ocean - she certainly is a valued Friend to these people.{d}

Another perspective

Rev. Edward Cannan in his 1991 book ‘Churches of the South Atlantic Islands’ devotes half a chapter to education and tells the story from the church-perspective. As he says, the section is confined to the contribution to education made by the Church.

Article: An Island School, Thirty Years Ago - A Former Pupil Reminisces

FoSH Logo

By Elizabeth Thurston neé Cross, published in the ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{13}. Number 5, Spring 1992{14}{12}

The Secondary School for the Island of St Helena was placed on the cliff top above Jamestown in old army buildings and was attended by selected children of secondary school age. Those that lived nearby, as I did, walked to school, but those from other parts of the island were collected by mini-bus. This was red, and ably driven by Charlie Thomas, a popular man with the children.

The Headmaster was called Mr Broadway, and he and his staff taught all the general subjects, but the standard of education was a lot lower than that expected of Secondary School children in England. At thirteen or fourteen years of age, a ‘General Schools Examination’ is taken, and I have a certificate dated 6th October 1959, showing that I achieved distinction in this exam, in English, Arithmetic, History, Geography and General Knowledge.

At one end of the playground, was the main school building, constructed of stone, and next to it a small stone out-house where daily milk was made by older pupils. This was made in large tureens by mixing water with milk powder supplied by UNICEF, and a beakerfull was then given to each child entitled to it. Whether this was for all the younger pupils or just the poorer ones, I cannot remember.

On the landward side of the playground, were classrooms opening out on to a long verandah, the Colonnade, where sometimes large centipedes (much bigger than English ones) appeared. Although not normally afraid of insects, I can remember one incident where I was distinctly unhappy at the appearance of a very large centipede. One also had to look out for scorpions, and as one can imagine, this was particularly treacherous for island children who were usually bare-footed.

The playground's seaward side had a wall which sloped towards the sea, with a sheer drop below of some 600 feet and no protective railings. At breaktimes, many children sat on this wall with their backs to the sea, showing no fear whatsoever, but it took a lot of courage for me to sit there, and I rarely did so.

Just outside the school, at the far end of the playground, was the ‘Redoubt’, a stone-built circular look-out point, which looked down on Jamestown and was near the top of the ‘Ladder’. This was the iron ladder which ran from Jamestown straight up the cliff-side to the top.

The pupils who attended Secondary School used to toil up this ladder, and at the end of the day, go down using the traditional method, face up across the step, forearms on one rail, feet or ankles on the other, and then sliding all the way down. I mastered this and went down on a number of occasions, but did not need this for school, as I lived on the cliff top nearby.

On New Year’s Day, the Annual Treat was held on Francis Plain, in which all the schools on the island took part, everyone sharing in the general festivities, races, competitions, etc., and then having a sort of giant picnic. Here in England, we cannot imagine what it is like to do all this on New Year’s Day, where we are likely to be indoors with the heating on, and wearing thick jumpers.

This is just a general picture of life at Secondary School, where we also did sport as well as the academic subjects, and most of us were happy and contented. The few English children on the island, such as myself, fitted in perfectly well, and we were all like one big family.

Laugh at funny Education humour - LOL

Credits:
{a} SHG State of the Island report, 2015{12}{b} William John Burchell{c} Basil George, Chief Education Officer, 1992{12}{d} Tony Cross, writing in the ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{13}. Number 9, Spring 1994

Footnotes:
{1} Father of John Melliss.{2} Now the Jamestown Community Centre.{3} Currently the Fire Station and Public Solicitor’s Office, but both of these are‘temporary’ (though they have been there for around a decade!){4} Commonly but incorrectly known as ‘Half Way House’.{5} This 1950s building has quite a history. First it was the Infant’s School, then the Teacher Training Centre, then the Adult & Vocational Education Centre and then the police headquarters. Before any of that the site was the Middle Graveyard.{6} The conclusion reached on Facebook™ was that this is the Secondary Selective School, and the teacher is Mrs Mabel Yon.{7} In 1677 an invoice records the delivery of 264 books worth £18 2s (£18.1), though actually only about 30% of these were educational; the rest were bibles and other religious books.{8} A revised and updated version of A History of the Island of St Helena, by T. H. Brooke, Esq., published in 1808.{9} We can only guess…{10} Some think it was in Napoleon Street on the site of the later Head School, now the Jamestown Community Centre, but features in the drawing seem to suggest upper Jamestown and in the Records the building is sometimes referenced as the ‘Upper School’. It is not identified on Lafitte’s map of 1781, but this is no surprise because it was not a military institution.{11} By a peculiar twist of circumstance the original Half Way House building is now a ruin and the former school seems to have inherited the name Half Way House!{12} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.{13} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{14} Now, of course .

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