The U.W.I. and the Teaching of West Indian History

By Goveia, Elsa | Caribbean Quarterly, December 2008 | Go to article overview

The U.W.I. and the Teaching of West Indian History


Goveia, Elsa, Caribbean Quarterly


When the History Department of the University College of the West Indies first came into existence in 1950, there was very little West Indian history being taught in the schools of the region, and even that followed a syllabus which had as much European as West Indian history in it. Most of the undergraduates reading History were coming into contact with the formal teaching of West Indian history for the first time. Consequently, much of what they learnt came as a revelation to them.

Nowadays, however, this situation has changed; the schools are teaching more West Indian History and using a syllabus which has been thoroughly revised; the undergraduates are rather better acquainted with the facts of the subject when they begin their University course. It is therefore possible to concentrate more on the interpretation of the facts, while still emphasising the relevance of studies in this field to their own experience as West Indians.

The increase in the teaching of West Indian History in the school owes a great deal to the co-operation between the University and the teachers. In Jamaica, for example an Association of History Teachers was formed in 1956 and lectures were provided for them by staff members of the University. Miss Shirley Gordon of the Department of Education and Dr. Roy Augier of the History Department also arranged several conferences to help history teachers to collect teaching material for use in their classes, and to improve their command of their subject matter by means of lectures and discussions.

The first of these conferences was held in Jamaica in 1956, and the participants decided that a source book, a text book, and a bibliography for use in the schools should be produced and that the authorities responsible for overseas examinations should be asked to provide a special paper in West Indian History for candidates taking the General Certificate of Education at A level. In keeping with these decisions, Knox College published a book of documents collected by the teachers and edited by Miss Gordon and Dr. Augier; they subsequently edited a further collection of documents, entitled Sources of West Indian History which replaced the collection published by Knox. The text book entitled The Making of the West Indies was later produced by Gordon and Augier with Dr. Douglas Hall of the University and Mrs. Mary Reckord, who was then a school teacher in Jamaica.

Other conferences of history teachers were held at Barbados in 1958, at Trinidad in 1960 and again at Jamaica in 1964, and the possibility of holding another is currently under consideration in the History Department at Mona. These West Indian Conferences, combined with the flow of graduates from the University into the schools, have made it possible for West Indian History to be taught in most of the secondary schools in the Commonwealth Caribbean today.

Another result of those conferences was the decision of the teachers to propose changes in the existing syllabus to the examining bodies in Cambridge and London. After some discussion both bodies accepted the changes proposed and by the end of the 1 950s, the result of cooperation between the History teachers and the examining bodies was the new history papers in the Overseas examinations.

Some idea of the importance of these changes and the willingness of teachers and pupils to take advantage of them can be gained by a comparison of the figures for students taking the Cambridge A level special paper on the post-Emancipation History of the British West Indies. In 1959, when the paper was set for the first time, 42 students wrote this examination. By 1965, the number of candidates had increased to 145 and by 1969 there was a further increase to a total of 230. This development has also owed a considerable debt to the interest of the University, which has collaborated with Cambridge on the setting and marking of the papers, since this new paper was first introduced, and continues to do so.

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