Education and tradition

The Bishops’ High School was a pioneer in education, particularly for girls. The School’s 150th anniversary is an occasion to look back with pride on its numerous accomplishments and an opportunity, also, to plan for its future over the next ten to fifty years. That plan is linked, integrally, to the type of students who will graduate from this school and the type of country which we intend to build.

Bishops’ was established by the Anglican Church to extend education for the girls of the colony of British Guiana. It adopted its name in 1922 after its benefactor, the Anglican Bishop Edward Archibald Parry.

The school started as an all-girls school at a time when the clamour for greater educational opportunities, particularly for girls, was heard only faintly. Bishops’ was seen as the counterpart of Queen’s College, established 26 years earlier by the Anglican Bishop, William Piercy Austin, as an all-boys school.

The Bishops’ High School is a member of the sorority which I like to refer to as the ‘six sisters’ of secondary education. Secondary education is dominated today still by these ‘six sisters’ (in chronological order):

– Queen’s College (est. 1844), is 176 years old;
– St. Rose’s High School (est. 1847), is 173 years old;
– St. Stanislaus College (est. 1866), is 154 years old;
– Bishops’ High School (est.1870), is 150 years old;
– St. Joseph High School (est. 1897), is 123 years old; and
– Berbice High School (est. 1916), is 104 years old.

The ‘six sisters’ share several common characteristics. They are all over one hundred years old; they are all the products of Christian endeavour and they are all, still, the ‘gold’ standard of secondary education. Five of the ‘six sisters’ are located in Georgetown.

Bishops’ has reshaped the face of education of girls. It provided girls with a solid foundation of knowledge, values and standards of conduct with which to assume a greater role in society, for the first 106 years of its existence. It has continued to provide quality education, for both boys and girls, over the past 45 years since the introduction of co-education.
Bishops’ has earned a reputation and created a tradition of academic excellence. One of its students, Ida Tengely, won the coveted Guiana Scholarship as long ago as 1899. The School’s students have also won the Guyana Scholarship, the Open Scholarship, the University College of the West Indies Scholarship and Exhibition award, and Regional awards of the Caribbean Examinations Council.

The School’s extra-curricular activities stimulated the social and cultural lifestyle of its students. Its clubs and societies included, over the years, the Chess Club, Coop Canteen Society, Coop Thrift Society, Dance Club, Dramatic Club, French or Spanish Club, Girl Guide Company, Historical Society, Literary and Debating Society, Music Club, National Service Cadet Corps, Photographic Society, Scientific Club and Scout Troop as well as religious clubs – Inter-school Christian Fellowship, Hindu Society and Muslim Society.

These clubs have enhanced students’ academic performance, equipped them with valuable life, leadership and social, skills and increased their self-confidence and self-esteem. The School once had a formidable reputation of excellence in the fine arts allowing it to excel in the performing arts, particularly dance, drama, music and song.

Bishops’ was always attractive because of its aura of graceful social life and decorum or, conversely for its apparent immunity to coarseness and vulgarity. The words of the School Hymn tell of that quality of life, of loving and of tenderness:

In all our joys and sorrows,
We know Thou hast Thy part,
May we too show to others,
A loving tender heart;
Bound by the ties of friendship,
From schooldays to the end,
May each to each prove ever,
True comrade and true friend.

Bishops’ has survived for a century and a half because it has adapted to changing times. The School began as a small, fee-paying institution with a cohort of only 26 students. It catered, originally, for the children of British Guiana’s élite – government officials, managers of the sugar estates and ministers of the Church – who were mainly of British descent.

The School’s teachers, similarly, were predominantly expatriate, even as late as 1949. Both the teaching and student populations now reflect the country’s ethnic diversity.

Bishops’ has changed over the past 150 years. The country is in the throes of economic, political and social change. The public education system must be realigned to the needs of a rapidly changing country. Four major economic transformational processes are occurring simultaneously at present in the country.

Guyana is in transition towards becoming a ‘green’ state; an education nation and a digital state and is now, also, a petro-state. These transformational processes have far-reaching implications for the country’s public education system.

• Guyana became a petro-state when the production of petroleum commenced on 20th December 2019 which I declared ‘National Petroleum Day.’ It is the most transformative economic development in the country’s history. Petroleum production will boost economic growth, create opportunities for employment and generate increased revenues for social investments, especially in education.

• Guyana has embarked on a ‘green’ path of development. And why should it not be? Guyana has all the attributes which predispose it to becoming a ‘green state’. More than 80 per cent of the country is covered by forests. The country’s diverse ecosystems are the habitat of some of the world’s rarest species of flora and fauna. It is blessed with spectacular natural attractions. It is net carbon sink – its forests absorb more carbon than the country’s activities generate.

The ‘green’ state will emphasise the protection of the environment, the preservation of the country’s biodiversity, the promotion of renewable energy and the implementation of practical measures to ensure climate adaptation.

• Guyana is developing into a ‘digital state’ by placing increased emphasis on information communications technology. It aims at connecting every household, neighbourhood, community, municipality, region and government agency and will integrate the country, more completely, with the Caribbean and the rest of the world.

• Guyana is also becoming an ‘education nation’ in order to acquire the skills for economic transformation. The ‘education nation’ will be characterized by Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE) with every child attending primary school, every child graduating from secondary school.

The ‘education nation’ will promote access to quality and inclusive education in schools equipped with smart classrooms, science and information communications technology (ICT) laboratories and qualified teachers.

Social transformation will accompany the economic changes taking place. Guyana is an unequal society. Inequality between the coastland and the hinterland and between urban and rural areas must be reduced if ‘true’ development is to be realized and a cohesive state established.

Education is the great equalizer. It is the gateway to greater economic opportunities and can help lift people out of poverty, thereby reducing inequalities. It fosters greater upward mobility and facilities a more creative and resilient life.

Education is essential to ensuring that our citizens can benefit from the country’s transformational processes. It is the principal means of producing a corps of highly-skilled and trained citizens who will drive the agenda of our ‘green state’ and ‘digital state’ and propel national development in the ‘petro-state.’

– Science education is essential to the success of economic transformation and to equipping students with the skills needed for them be integrated into a modern workforce. The country will need an ‘A-to-Z’ corps of scientists – from agronomists to zoologists – for transformational national development.

– The country will be unable to maximize the returns on its natural resource endowments unless its education system is reformed to allow for the generation of highly-skilled persons, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

– Bishops’ started teaching biology in 1943, using the laboratories of her brother, Queen’s. The first science mistress was employed in 1947. Biology and Chemistry laboratories and, later, a physics laboratory were added.

Educational changes
Guyana’s education system is undergoing change in order to support economic transformation. A Decade of Development: 2020-2029 has been launched and is aimed, inter alia, at creating a world class system of education for our children. The decade will ensure that every child has access to school, attends school and graduates from secondary school.
Free university education, financed by anticipated petroleum revenues, will be reintroduced at the University of Guyana. No eligible student will have to pay again ever for education. This is not an election gimmick. It is mandated by the Constitution which states [at Article 27(1)]:

Every citizen has the right to free education from nursery to university as well as at non-formal places where opportunities are provided for education and training.

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 within the Ministry of Education.

– Information Communications Technology: ICT 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.

Access to and attendance to school will be made easier. Every child must have a place at a school. Every village will have at least at elementary school so that children do not have to travel long distances to attend school. Education is being supported through a number of initiatives. These include:

∙ The Public Education Transport Service (PETS, known popularly as the 3Bs Initiative) – which provides free transportation by buses, boats and with bicycles – is making it easier for children to attend school. This initiative will be expanded during the initiative during the ‘Decade’. No students should be deprived of the chance to go to school because their parents cannot afford the cost of transportation.

∙ The Public Education Nutrition Service (PENS) –known as the school-feeding programme – will be expanded. Every child whether in the hinterland or coastland, will be entitled to a free school meal each school day.

∙ The Public Education IDEAL (Improving Digital Equity, Access and Learning) Programme is enhancing educational delivery with a total of 175 primary schools, 106 secondary schools and 34 technical and vocational institutions connected to the internet to support remote-access learning, online research and to help students with their academic assignments and homework. Every primary and secondary school will be connected to the internet by the end of the Decade of Development.

∙ The Public Service Scholarship Programme (PSSP) awarded 1,888 scholarships to students drawn from every administrative region, as part of its policy since 2015 to provide education and training to youths.

∙ The National Endowment for Science and Technology (NEST) is promoting science education in schools. Teacher training is being improved. Investments, totalling more than G$ 50M, have been made to improve science laboratories at the Cyril Potter College of Education.

∙ The Public Education Assistance Services (PEAS) will provide incentives for parents to send their children to school. Cash-transfers will be provided for parents whose children attain a desirable attendance record.

Education will be Government’s foremost priority over the next decade. This is where the petroleum revenues will be deployed, principally. Revenues will support the development of a modern, world-class and inclusive system of education.

Bishops’ High School has been a frontrunner in the provision of education services for the nation. It is most fitting that, today, the celebration of its 150th anniversary coincides with the observances of the country’s 50th Republic anniversary.

Republican status brought forth transformative changes in the country’s educational system. It removed gender segregation from our schools. It tailored the schools’ curricula to the needs of the nation. Public educational access was expanded across the country. Free public education was extended from nursery to university.

Bishops’ adapted to these changes. It sustained high standards of academic education. Its educators have delivered a rounded education for students. Bishops’ remains an exemplar of public education in this Republic.

I congratulate Bishops’ High School on its 150th anniversary. I thank the school for its service to our students. The school is assured of a revered place in our country’s educational history. I wish Bishops’ continued success in the future. May it enjoy a memorable anniversary!

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