“My Story” Chapter 25

“My Story” – by Randall Butisingh.

(Reminiscences during my life beginning 1914)


Soon, I again found favour with the priest who was manager.  There was a vacancy at Lusignan for a senior assistant in one of the schools he had managed.  I applied for the post; he recommended me and transferred me to the school.  This seemed to have tied the hands of the governing body and I was appointed.  This school, like Nonpareil was predominantly Indian.  It was a Grade A School with more than 400 pupils.  The atmosphere here was more conducive to the education I envisaged.  I was allowed to teach sewing to the girls, practical school gardening, military marching to the boys, drama, miming and drawing.  I was good in Calligraphy, so I designed posters with short sayings which I put up on the walls of the school.

The year was 1962 and there was political upheaval and strikes in the country, which had racial overtones. There began an exodus of children from one community to the other.  Pupils from predominantly African or Indian communities migrated to where their ethnic groups predominate.  Teachers, mainly Indians who did not strike, were transferred temporarily to schools where Indians predominate.  The population of the school at Lusignan swelled from four hundred to over six hundred.  There was not enough accommodation for all; the pupils sat in benches packed like sardines in a can.  Proper instructions were impossible. Sanitary conveniences were deplorable, and teachers were frustrated.  Dawdling and gross negligence were evident on part of the teachers and there was general chaos.

Moreover teachers came from different social backgrounds, some with very little qualifications and no training.  The behaviour of some was uncouth; they used profane epithets when addressing their pupils.  They disrespected authority, and some as soon as the afternoon session ended hurried to the liquor bar.  A few performed well in subject teaching, but most were not good role models.

At one time during the strike a hostile band, led by a young African teacher from the neighbouring village of Buxton were heading towards the school.  Some of the children saw this and began running out of the school.  I tried to restrain them but a fellow teacher thought it the right thing to do to let them go.  Seeing this, the hostile band changed direction and departed.

In the villages where Africans were in the majority, the pupils stayed away from school and joined marauders;  some serving as cat’s paws for looters of Indian businesses… This was a sad state of affairs which did not augur well for education in Guyana, and from that time the system has downgraded in every aspect, the chief, being the maintenance of discipline which is so vital a prerequisite for education.

During this time, the sugar estate at Lusignan and nearby estates, on the recommendation of the Venn Commission, gave the sugar workers loans for building decent houses on small plots in an area which was called the Nuclear Housing Scheme.  The owners were to pay only a dollar a week only from their wages and eventually to possess both house and land.  This was a windfall to the workers.  They easily repaid the loans and were able to live in middle class comfort: many with radios and refrigerators.

In the late 1950’s, the sugar estate also built a Community Centre next to the school at Lusignan, for the residents with a large playing field for cricket, volley ball and soft ball, a library, cinematograph and facilities for table tennis, weight lifting, body building and drama.  Some of the elders took the advantage with the help of a Welfare Officer to organize Adult Education and Drama groups.  I was elected chairman of the Adult Education and Study Groups.  I worked in close cooperation with the Welfare Officer and we arranged to have lectures in Parliamentary Procedure, Village Administration, Traffic Education, Four H, and other relevant topics.  There was also a weekly showing of Feature Films and occasional documentaries.

In the compound, in a separate building was a Domestic Centre under the supervision of a woman Welfare Officer. Here the older girls of the school were given instructions in Home Economics.  The situation flourished until 1962 when race animosity flared and violence erupted.  Indians were forced to flee areas where Africans predominated and vice versa.  The African teachers who were in the majority at Lusignan School at that time had to leave and Indian teachers came and took their places.

At this time also, the inspection of schools came to a halt   Inspectors were renamed Education Officers and the commissioner of Education, Chief Education Officer.  In the Legislature was the Minister of Education who formulated policies and controlled the system.

Another cause of the deterioration of educational system was the shortage of competent teachers.  With a growing young population there were not enough trained or experienced teachers and so recruits came from young teachers with passes in the College of Preceptors, or two or three GCE passes.  In some cases, on account of political patronage, a birth certificate was all that was needed.  This placed a great strain on the head teachers to preserve discipline and obtain a good school tone.

Time and again crash courses were held after school hours and on holidays in order to try to beat the untrained teachers into shape for their vocation.  But that was hardly enough for the men and women who were to help to mould the nation.


1 Comment »

  1. faisal said,

    nice story

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