Education and Socialization among the Indo-Muslims of Trinidad, 1917-1969

By Kassim, Halima-sa'Adia | The Journal of Caribbean History, January 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Education and Socialization among the Indo-Muslims of Trinidad, 1917-1969


Kassim, Halima-sa'Adia, The Journal of Caribbean History


Definition and Historical Background

Education within the Muslim community facilitated controlled acculturation.1 Education is defined as the transmission of knowledge through learning and socialization,2 which take place in the formal, non-formal, or informal "space". Drawing from Jayaram's typology of education systems in India, education "spaces" can be defined as follows: "formal education [refers to] the teaching of certain knowledge or instruction in a particular branch of learning or trade, in a structured and programmed way. Non-formal education refers to the programmed (i.e., consciously organized and patterned) and purposeful instruction in certain areas of knowledge and skill or some other element of culture, which takes place outside the 'school' or similarly designed institutions."3

The formal education model was associated with secular educational institutions administered by the state and/or Christian denominational educational institutions that received state aid. Such denominational institutions offering a mainly secular education had a Western-Christian thrust and focus in their curricula and the content of schoolbooks. The language of instruction was English. Through the "hidden curriculum", then, the values of the Western-Christian society were inculcated. Such inculcation would not seek to honour or encourage the preservation of the learners' cultural and religious differences. Conversely, the non-formal education model sought to embrace the various ethnic and religious institutions that transmitted knowledge and ensured the preservation of cultural and religious practices. Consequently, religious associations, maktabs (religious schools), missionaries, the literary and debating societies (LDS) and the linguistic schools became agents for transmitting knowledge critical to the maintenance of culture and religion.

Muslim (and Hindu) children who attended primary school were educated under the Christian denominational system. Children of the labouring classes, including Hindus and Muslims, were able to attend school from 1851 with the establishment of the Ward schools by Lord Harris. Few Indian children attended these schools, a consequence of the transient nature of their residence, language and the complete secular nature of schooling. Following the 1870 Keenan Report, a dual system of education was introduced. This allowed Christian denominations to receive state aid for their schools and coexist alongside the government educational institutions. It was these Christian denominational schools that Indian children of all religious backgrounds generally attended from 1870 to around 1948, when non-Christian denominational schools were recognized by the state as being eligible for government assistance.

For many Muslim parents, formal education increased the chances of their sons' and daughters' assimilation into the wider society's culture and values. The society was constructed upon a Christian value system and every attempt was made to encourage conformity to the prevailing system. Education was the route to becoming socially mobile. It was a means of attaining a job in the non-agricultural sector, which many parents encouraged their sons and daughters to seek. Education, employment and the social interaction with "others", which the school and the workplace encouraged, invoked a fear of religious and cultural loss. The Indians were faced with a double-edged sword: the desire to acculturate for a better standard of living and the threat of the erosion of their religion and culture. Thus, the non-formal education models offered these young adults a means to develop their intellect without the threat of overt assimilation.

The Indian population was an expanding one, still residing mainly in the rural areas of the island. Agriculture formed the mainstay of their livelihood. To an agricultural population, formal English education was of little use in the conduct of their daily lives. …

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