Queen’s College: education transformation

Guyana is on the threshold of a transformational stage of development. The country which you will enter as educated citizens in the next five or six years will be different from the one into which your parents and grandparents were born fifty or sixty years ago.

Guyana plans to become a more gentle, a more ‘genial’ state in which everyone would enjoy a good quality of life. It will expend the expected revenue from petroleum production to eliminate extreme poverty and inequality, enhance economic growth, extend public infrastructure and deliver better public services, especially public education, to the population.

Guyana plans also to become a ‘green state,’ in which emphasis will be placed on the protection of the environment; on the preservation of its biodiversity; on the promotion of the generation of energy from renewable sources and the adoption of practical measures to ensure climate adaptation.

Guyana plans to become, also, a ‘digital state’. It aims to place increased emphasis on information communications technology. It aims at connecting every household, every school, neighbourhood, community, municipality, region and government agency and will integrate the country, more completely, with the Caribbean and the rest of the world.

Science and technology education

Education is at the heart of the Government’s plan to prepare succeeding generations for these transformational changes, to ensure that College graduates enjoy the best opportunities available and to develop an internationally competitive economy.

Guyana is not an island unto itself. It must compete with other countries in a constantly changing and rapidly developing world if it is to sell its products and to seek investments.

Science and technology are at the centre of those changes. Studies suggest that the rate of automation will continue to increase by 2030 [such as the Mc Kinsey Global Institute’s December 2017 study on job transitions in the workplace]. These studies point to an increasing need for engineers, information technology specialists and other scientists to drive economic growth.

The world is experiencing its fourth industrial revolution. The first witnessed the use of water and steam energy to mechanize production; the second involved the acceleration of production through the use of electricity; the third witnessed the widespread diffusion of digital and electronic technology; and the fourth is witnessing the wider, deeper and speedier integration of technologies – physical, biological and informational.
Many small states, including Guyana, are faced, still, with the challenge of the third industrial revolution of reducing the digital divide and of advancing into the fourth industrial age. Guyana must not allow itself to be handicapped. We must move ahead or we’ll be left behind.

Science and technology education is essential to mastering the skills needed for establishing knowledge-based industries and for modernization. There is good reason to continue to emphasize this form of education which is:

 essential to acquiring the skills necessary for social, economic and industrial transformation and which will play a more transformative role in making Guyana internationally competitive;
 fundamental to scientific innovation and will allow for the development of a more technologically competent workforce which is needed for making Guyana internationally competitive.

Science education played a historically functional role, rather than transformational role in this country’s economy. It did produce doctors, engineers and other scientists, many of whom went off to work in society. Many worked in the bauxite, the timber and sugar industries.

Those industries, in days gone by, owned largely by foreign trans-national corporations, for decades, were extractive industries with little value-added production and they were not necessarily transformational for the economy. Their production was geared towards meeting the needs of metropolitan markets rather than fulfilling the needs of our population.

A robust, local, industrial sector did not emerge in the shadow of these giant, traditional multinational corporations and the country has never really been able to recruit and employ the human resources needed for new industries, such as the petroleum industry.

Many educated scientists were employed in the Public Service in Government ministries, especially in Agriculture, Public Health and Public Infrastructure rather than in emerging enterprises. Such employment was necessary, but it was not sufficient, to ensure economic growth.

Guyana still needs and will continue to need new skills to populate occupations in the ‘green’ environment, in the petroleum sector and in digital economic sectors in the evolving state.

Guyana will need an ‘A-to-Z’ corps of scientists – from agronomists, architects, biologists, botanists, chemists, doctors, engineers, environmentalists, geneticists, geologists, hydrologists, information systems specialists, and physicists to zoologists – for transformational national development.

Decade of Development

Guyana plans to launch a ‘Decade of development’ next year during which education will be accorded the highest priority. The national University will be developed into a world-class, tertiary educational institution, offering the finest science and technology education.

I have announced that free university education, in accordance with the Constitution, will be restored. No qualified Guyanese student will be required to pay for education at our public university.

The ‘Decade’ will emphasize science and technology education in every secondary school. This emphasis, however, will not diminish attention in the humanities and social sciences; the country will continue to need accountants, attorneys, bankers, economists, linguists and managers.

The ‘Decade’ will place higher priority on creating a corps of science scholars who will become the future captains of the country’s industries. It will focus on promoting the essential elements – four ‘Is’ – of science and technology education:

– Infrastructure: Every secondary school will be equipped with laboratories to advance science and technology education; smart classrooms will be installed to allow students to benefit from modern pedagogies and every secondary school will be connected to the internet and have access to e-libraries; the laboratories at the Cyril Potter College of Education have been modernized to improve teachers’ competence in the delivery of science and technology education.

– Investment: School administrators will be provided with increased budgets to allow them to employ qualified staff and to procure services and materials which are necessary for proper science instruction, for the replacement of equipment and for the maintenance of science and technology laboratories. Government will offer incentives by providing scholarships to encourage excellence in science and technology;

– Institutions: Science and technology education is to be institutionalized more extensively, countrywide; it will be driven throughout the public education system by a strong and capable Department of Science and Technology.

– Information Communications Technology: Information communications technology will be the means through which the country will become more fully interconnected and integrated; ICT education is essential to equipping and preparing students for the knowledge-based industries of the present and future.

ICT development will transform the economy. It will to add value to our service sectors, diversify the economy away from overdependence on primary production, move manufacturing up the value chain and tap into larger external markets.

The ‘Decade of Development’ will introduce transformative changes in education, particularly in science education. These changes will enhance schools’ scientific infrastructure – classrooms, and laboratories; increase resources available to schools’ administrators and improve opportunities for science and technology education for students and teachers.

Education and culture

I recall stating earlier, elsewhere, that education and culture are connected inextricably. Education prepares people to adapt to society. It preserves and transmits ideas, skills and technologies and propagates beliefs, customs, traditions and values.

The history of humanity is one of cultural interactions. Conquest, communication and migration have exposed people to different cultures. Education has been transformed through these contacts.

Culture and education interact in the classrooms which, in many secondary schools, consist of a constellation of ethnicities – African, Amerindian, Chinese, Indian, Portuguese and persons of mixed ancestry – and religious denominations, such as Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Rastafarians.

Each cultural group has its own customs, dress, festivals, food, holy days and traditions. Schooling exposes children to these diverse influences. Schools like this expose children to these diverse influences.

The public education system takes account of this cultural diversity and contributes to creating a socially ‘cohesive’ state. The College’s customs, codes of conduct, clubs, societies and houses are all part of the culture which contributed to conditioning the moral character of students. The College graduates students in whom the values needed to become useful citizens in a ‘cohesive’ state have been inculcated.

The College’s customs created a distinctive camaraderie and esprit de corps from students’ first ‘Salvete’, or welcome, when they were received on entry until their final ‘Valete’ or farewell – Latin expressions associated with initiation and graduation.

The College’s identity is reinforced by its symbology – including its name, Reginae Collegium; its anthem, Carmen Reginae Collegium − still sung only in its original Latin; its motto, Fideles ubique utiles − also never translated from its original Latin, inspires students and reminds alumni of two of life’s important values; its emblem is still the 19th century, three-masted, Royal Navy barque depicted on the colonial coat-of-arms of British Guiana.

The College retains its annual ‘Remembrance Day’ ceremony which pays homage to staff members and students who were killed in the service of the British Empire’s armed forces in the World Wars.

The College, from the outset, was a creature of the Church of England and the Anglican Bishop of Guyana, the Right Reverend William Piercy Austin, was the first principal. The weekly General Assembly would be incomplete without singing from the hymnal  – Songs of Praise – some of which, like the touching “Lord dismiss us with thy blessing, thanks for mercies past received” [No. 333], have been known to move graduating students to tears.

College students were socialized in the importance of scholastic success. Educational excellence was encouraged through a system of honours and awards. Prizes were presented for the best class and subject performers and for attainment at the General Certificate Examinations (Ordinary and Advanced levels) and ‘colours’ for success in sports.

The College’s houses – named for ten historical personalities – served the primary purpose of stimulating solidarity and team spirit. They are the basis, also, of competition in sports and other activities organised along inter-house lines.

A web of debating, drama, geography, literary, music, religious and science clubs and societies; active aquatic, athletics, chess, cricket, football and hockey teams and a Cadet Corps [up to the mid-1970s]  –  fostered fraternity and friendly rivalry among students.

The College’s newspaper, the termly Lictor; the annual Queen’s College Magazine; and a newsletter Quid Novi [now defunct], testified to its classical and grammar school origins.

The College’s rich academic and extra-curricular activities helped to broaden students’ ambitions and interests.

The College’s code of conduct nurtured generations of disciplined students, more by self-discipline and the pressure of peers than by punishment from the principal and his staff. Discipline was reinforced by the system of ‘prefects’ introduced in 1915 and ‘monitors’ in 1924. Cooperation with one another and conformity to the College’s values and standards rather than confrontation has always been the preferred path.

The College’s character, coupled with the obligation to excel in personal endeavours, helped to build moral qualities through which students understood the need for scholarship in the classroom and sportsmanship on the playfield.

The culture of conventions, customs and codes of conduct created the conditions for the continuity of the College’s ‘class’ despite the changes and challenges of the past 175 years.

Queen’s had to be good to nurture four out of eight executive presidents, three prime ministers, three chancellors of the judiciary, several chief justices and high court judges, numerous ministers and public servants and thousands of academics, bureaucrats, businessmen, diplomats, scientists and other professionals.

Professor Norman Cameron, in his History of Queen’s College, stated that “The scheme of work was based on that of King’s College, London.” The original curriculum was to be classical and commercial – to combine theological training with study of Classics, Mathematics and Modern Languages”. The major concern, then, was to “keep up efficiently the full course taught on the classical side of an English Public School or First Grade Grammar School.”

The College’s stated purpose was: “to provide an efficient system of education at a moderate expense − open to all members of the community without distinction” [according to Ordinance of 14 August 1848 to incorporate the College].

Despite its claim to be open to all boys, irrespective of race or class, it was perceived to be aimed at providing education for the sons of the colonial élite whose parents could not send them to Britain for their schooling.

There has been substantial change to this original objective, even as there has been continuity, over the past seventeen and a half decades. The College started:

– as a private fee-paying institution grammar school for boys in 1844; it is now a publicly-owned, co-educational, secondary school with a cohort of 15 students; it accommodates forty times that number – more than 600 students – today;
– as a custodian of Anglophile values; its curricula, culture, customs and codes of conduct reflected English mores; its early ‘grammar-school’ curricula included subjects such as European History, French, Greek and Latin and its drama, literature and music, were mainly English;

– as the preserve of the privileged progeny of expatriates; the College today is more socially diverse and cohesive with students reflecting the country’s multicultural character albeit after post-War agitation for the liberalisation of admission practices; and
– with a staff of male, expatriate clergymen; laymen, only much later, were its principals drawn exclusively from local educators or women, albeit after agitation for the ‘Guianisation’ of its employment practices.

The College started at Colony House [located where the High Court in Georgetown now stands], in 1844; was relocated to Main and Quamina Streets, in 1845; to Carmichael and Quamina Strerts, in 1854; to Brickdam, in 1918 and, finally, to Longden Park in Thomas Lands, in 1951.

The last movement to Thomas Lands sixty-eight years ago was, probably the colonial Government’s single largest investment in education in British Guiana [of over G$ 0.5 M], led to transformational changes.

The Thomas Lands estate [of about 5.9 hectares] became the permanent home of a much better, bigger, brighter and breezier College. Professor Winston F. Mc Gowan, an erudite alumnus – writing in A Concise History of Queen’s College: 1844-2009 – noted that the new location:

… allowed for more spacious facilities, with 24 classrooms, six modern science laboratories, a library, a workshop for woodwork, a large auditorium with an excellent stage and an extensive playing field ensured better academic offerings, an increase in student intake and an expansion in the school’s recreational, cultural and extra- curricular activities.

A fourth form student wrote a poem [for The Queen’s College Magazine: 1951-1952] entitled Our New School, describing the new building as being of ‘tremendous’ size, possessing ‘stupendous’ architecture and with ‘wide and so very long’ corridors.

There was also housing for the principal, senior masters and expatriate staff. The commodious building quickly became the main centre of a wide array of non-academic events – banquets, concerts and music festivals. The building provided the first classrooms for the University of Guyana and, most inconveniently, temporary barracks for British Army soldiers during the ‘Disturbances’ of the 1960s.

The College’s occupation of a bigger building and a larger campus in North Georgetown’s ‘green belt’ allowed it to expand its science programmes which had been introduced in 1896, with the construction of a science classroom and laboratory. Students, prior to this, had to walk from the College – then located on Brickdam – to the Government laboratory in Charlestown to do their ‘labs’.

The Thomas Lands estate permitted more space and better facilities for science education. The College developed first-class science laboratories. It introduced a special fifth form known as ‘Remove Modern’ which allowed students from other schools enter in order to prepare for the General Certificate of Education ‘O’ and ‘A’ level examinations.

These changes led the way and set a standard of excellence in science education. An increasing number of science students started winning the coveted Guiana Scholarship which had been introduced in 1882. The College won 80 percent of all Guiana Scholarships from 1882 to 1945. [Its centenary was celebrated in 1944].

The College, as a consequence, has been creating a cadre of science-educated professionals for more than a hundred and thirty-six years. It helped to produce doctors, engineers and other scientists to work within the country, particularly in the bauxite and sugar industries, in the pre-Independence period.

The College retained its sacred symbols. It maintained its position as the country’s most successful secondary school and as a centre of academic excellence. It remains Guyana’s longest surviving secondary school because it assured continuity while adapting to change.

Change has been constant at the College, more important. It continued to produce excellent science graduates.

175th anniversary

Queen’s College has epitomised academic excellence for 175 years. Professor Winston McGowan − writing in his A Concise History of Queen’s College − cited a UNESCO Educational Survey Mission to British Guiana from November 1962 to March 1963 reported that:

“Queen’s College has won for itself the unenviable position of the premier school of British Guiana…there is a great deal of evidence to support the claim for it as the premier school of the Caribbean. The whole tone of the school is permeated by the tradition and reputation built up over the years”.

It earned the reputation as a leading secondary school in Guyana and the Caribbean. It won the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) School of the Year Award three times in the past five years and won the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) School of the Year Award three times in the past six years.

Students’ performance has been exemplary. They won the prestigious Dennis Irvine Award – the symbol of academic excellence in the Caribbean – three times in the past five years. Students dominated, consistently, the top regional awards at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations. They won the CSEC premier science award six times in the past seven years.

The College has been a leader in all forms of education but, particularly, in science and technology education. The nation looks to the College to continue to generate the skills necessary for economic transformation.

The College can be the Caribbean’s foremost college of science and technology. The College’s 175th anniversary is an occasion to recall not only its glorious past but also to envisage a much brighter future. The College must be forward-looking.

Students in years to come should imagine what the College would be teaching and what they would be learning when it celebrates its bicentenary 25 years from now in 2044.

The College, in the next 25 years, can reach the apex of academic accomplishment. It can set the standard for other schools, particularly in the field of science and technology education. This will not happen by accident.

The College’s future plans should be carefully crafted and conscientiously executed. Provision should be made, now, for introducing incentives for students who wish to pursue science education; attracting and retaining science teachers; continuously upgrading of its laboratories; ensuring financial security and developing competencies in the field of science and technology education.

The College demonstrated its capability to lead. It earned recognition and respect and it deserves the resources to continue to be an exemplar of educational excellence.

The College provided a platform for its students to pursue higher scientific education. It benefitted from qualified teachers and principals who guided it to the summit of scholastic supremacy.

The College pioneered the promotion of science education from the turn of the 20th century. It is suited to do the same during and beyond the Decade of Development: 2020-2029. The nation reposes its confidence in QC to generate, once again, the scientific élite to drive Guyana’s future growth.

Guyana, this day, gives praise and thanks to the vision of the founders in the motivating words of its memorable anthem:

Laude gratemur scholae, nostrae conditores;
Disce nam iubent ludo, et labore mores;
Corpus sic tibi sanum, sana mens servabit;
Reginae Collegium, sic honor ditabit.

May God bless Queen’s College, now and forever.

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