President David Granger: Mr. Chairperson, Honourable Carl Greenidge, Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs; Honourable Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine, Minister of Education; Honourable Amna Ally, Minister of Social Cohesion; Honourable Nicolette Henry, Minister within the Ministry of Education; Regional Chairman, Mr. David Armogan (always good to have a David at your side); Mr. Charrandas Persaud, Member of Parliament; Deputy Mayor; Head Mistress of the Berbice High School; members of the centenary committee, particularly Dr. Grantley Walrond, who I understand is a live wire; Alumni of the BHS; teachers; students; members of the media. Again, it is trite to say that I am happy to be here. It is an honour to share this important event with you and I will try to be brief but that may mean a sort of contradict on my profession.
It is said that a child’s education begins long before birth and I quote from the Anglican Dean of St. Paul’s, Dean William Ralph Inge: “The proper time to influence the character of a child is about one hundred years before he is born”.
I suppose the Anglican Dean meant that the quality of a child’s education is rooted in the values inculcated in that child by his or her parents and grandparents – values which have been distilled over a long period of time. The best education of a child begins at home and in the family. Again, I turn to the wisdom of a Ghanaian educator James Emmanuel Kwegyir Aggrey, who reminds us of the Fante proverb, and I quote: “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a nation.” My wife didn’t tell me to say that; it is a Fante proverb.
The Berbice High School is the embodiment of both family-based religious tradition and the education of young men and women. This pattern started in the 19th century, it flourished in the 20th century and it continues to transform citizens’ lives in the 21st century. The majority of Guyanese, as you have heard particularly from Sir Shridath, are descendants, by and large, of very poor folk, people who were brought here under different circumstances to labour on the cotton and sugar plantations, mainly through enslavement and indentureship.
They, even without schooling, soon realised that education was the passage out of poverty and the gateway to social mobility in colonial society. The majority of Guyanese also are religious and from the start, religion and education combined the sacred with the secular, the spiritual with the temporal.
Emancipation in 1838 enabled the emergence of a formal system of primary and secondary education. The first and oldest secondary school, Queen’s College, was established by an Anglican Bishop, six years, only six years, after emancipation. St. Roses High School for young women, founded by the Roman Catholic Church, opened three years later.
Other church-based high schools, particularly St. Stanislaus and St. Joseph were to follow. This all shows that Guyanese, once they were freed from the human bondage of enslavement and indentureship, ignited a movement in secondary education and that movement caught fire in the 20th century.
Our colonial governor, Governor Swettenham promulgated a circular making entry into the civil service dependent on competitive examinations. Partly as a result of that, the churches and the schools rose to the occasion to prepare their candidates to qualify to enter the civil service.
One hundred years ago, the parents of what is now East Berbice-Corentyne, what was simply called Berbice County, understood that the worth of education was without equal. They were eager because of the conviction to enrol their children in a secondary school, often at great personal sacrifice.
Education, as they understood it, was the gateway to increased opportunities and a better life. Knowledge, they knew, would provide enlightenment and liberation. Liberation from ignorance, education, would equip their children with the skills and values that they needed for personal development.
Several private secondary schools were founded during the post primary education movement, as I call it, in early 20th century of which the BHS was a part. These included (some of you may not know these names) the Alleyne High School. In fact, the name is still preserved; on a clear day you can see it in Regent Street tucked behind a church. Always there was a school and a church.
Central High School, the Guyanese Academy, Matthew’s High School, Modern Educational Institute (and I think Sonny Ramphal would remember that name), Modern High School, Progressive High School, Trinity Methodist High School, Tutorial High School, which still survives, Ray High School and many others. So there was a rush to create secondary schools to train the children of Guyanese.
The Berbice High School is one that survived. It was founded in response to the growing demand for a good life. It would become the bellwether of secondary education in the county of Berbice. The school, as you heard, was the first secondary school to be founded in the county and for one hundred years it has remained a leader in secondary education. (Applause.)
BHS unlocked the doors that were previously closed to poor people. It unveiled the potential, a potential for students to improve themselves, it unfolded new opportunities for them in society. Its graduates augmented profession and skills throughout the country.
The school remains one of the foremost in the region, which as you know here in East Berbice- Corentyne, possesses seventeen secondary schools and Berbice High School is one of only three that attained the category of ‘A’ grade. Congrats Berbice High School.
BHS emerged as the best performing school in the region at the June 2016 sitting of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate Examinations. It was among the leading secondary schools in terms of pass rate at those examinations. Two of its students were among the top national performers. (Applause.) I congratulate you.
You all know the history of the BHS and I wouldn’t try to repeat what I am sure Dr. Tulsi has written about the foundation of the school between the Presbyterian Churches of Guyana and the Presbyterian Missionary Society. But what we do know is that Reverend James Cropper arrived in 1896 and he revived the practice or the intention to evangelise East Indians particularly in East Berbice.
Reverend Cropper headed the British Guiana Mission of the Presbyterian Church of Canada, which is responsible for establishing this school on the 5th September 1916, a hundred years ago. Again, you can see from the banners celebrating the heroes of this school how the school evolved over the years and of course, as you can see from the bright young women in 1920, the school became – it opened a second branch for women, young women – and it became a public school in 1966, exactly fifty years ago in our independence year.
BHS was established with the express purpose of preparing students for the important tasks of life. It has now accumulated a hundred years of proud tradition of service in this county. The school is a beacon of academic distinction and has produced Guyanese of eminence in all walks of life.
The school started with a modest initial enrolment but it expanded exponentially over the years. It was viewed as the incubator of the region’s professional class and so many academics, as Dr. Tulsi said, ten thousand academics – attorneys, diplomats, doctors, educators, engineers, entrepreneurs, and sportsmen and women – have graduated from this school.
The school at all times aimed at ensuring that a solid moral foundation was laid for its students. The school was committed to high moral standards. It encouraged the students to always speak the truth, always to be righteous in their thoughts, their words and deeds. The school values emphasised the building of character, the enforcement of discipline with that obsolete instrument that the girl had in her hand (called the whip) and, of course, order.
The school aimed at ensuring that its curricula were balanced. It was noted not only for its academic achievements but also for its performance in sports and culture. Its curricula emphasised students’ cultural development including in music and the fine arts. Its cricket teams were acclaimed. Its athletes were applauded. Its students distinguished themselves in major debating competitions in the region.
Education must aim at producing persons of quality who can be integrated into adult society. Education at the secondary level must edify the mind, elevate values and enhance skills but education can achieve these ends only if it embraces certain values and standards. I identify two elements, tradition and transformation, which inhere in this school’s past and which I urge should be embraced by the present generation.
The first – tradition: Students, I don’t have to tell you, ought to be proud of this great historic institution. They ought to be inspired by their forebears and to follow in the footsteps of the school’s outstanding graduates of whom there are so many.
Students ought to observe the school rules to ensure that indiscipline does not erode the foundations that have been laid for effective learning. Students ought to develop among themselves trust and, between themselves and their teachers, respect; and the second value is that of transformation.
The school must embrace innovation. This is the driver of global competitiveness. Education in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics, what is now called STEM – S-T-E-M, is the key to innovation and transformation. Guyana’s capacity to compete in global markets will rely on our ability to innovate.
Innovation requires that greater emphasis be placed on education, particularly S-T-E-M education. The greatest innovation in global economy is in the scientific and information technology fields and that is why, today, I would like to announce that the government of Guyana will give the Berbice High School one million dollars to improve its computer laboratory.
I make this announcement at this stage because I know Dr. Tulsi is pulling out his chequebook. (Applause.) So the hurdle is high.
It is education that will transform East Berbice-Corentyne. This is a vast region, a blessed region; over 36,000 square kilometres. This region is bigger than Belgium, bigger than Belize. It is three times the size of Jamaica; it is five times the size of Trinidad and Tobago. This region is rich in resources but it has not been able to convert its potential into economic prosperity for the last hundred years. The present generation must reverse this situation. It is up to you. Do no rely on the alumni. You are the future, not them. The region, given its diverse landscape, its coastal plain, its rainforests, its savannahs and wetlands, some of which I’m sure many of you have never explored. This region has borders with two countries, with Suriname and Brazil and I hope that someday you all can go to the southernmost tip of Guyana, the Kutari, and tell the other people that it belongs to us. (Laughter.) You know who I mean.
This region is also a cosmopolitan region. It comprises large populations of African, Amerindian and East Indian people and smaller but still significant populations of European, Chinese and Portuguese…. So this region is renowned for its human resources and, as you know, it has produced some of the nation’s finest sports personalities as you saw on the stage just now.
Students, this is your day. This centenary must set the stage for perpetuating the traditions which have long been associated with BHS’s golden years. Those golden years are not a matter for nostalgia and memory and reminiscences. They must be relived constantly and taken into the future. BHS must continue the process of transformation, which kept it relevant, which kept it resilient and which kept it responsive to the needs of this changing region and our changing times.
You students are the heirs of one hundred years of BHS traditions, values and standards. I urge you to educate yourselves about the school’s traditions and to emulate the successes of the scholars who have passed through these doors. I urge you to embrace the new information technology and I commit myself, once I am advised by your headmistress, to continue to augment your IT resources as the years go by. (Applause.) Not weeks or months. I urge that by your ardour, your behaviour and your demeanour, you continue to declare to the nation that you are students of a school with an excellent scholastic tradition, with a solid moral foundation.
I urge the present generation to embrace the standards and values which have brought acclaim to the BHS over the past hundred years. I congratulate the administrators, teachers, staff and students and the alumni of the Berbice High School on this centenary. May God bless all of you and carpe diem.

Leave a Comment