Minister Balram Singh Rai played a major role in the ending of denominational control of schools

Stabroek News
August 15, 2001

Dear Editor

Mrs. Janet Jagan reminded us that "the concept of equality of religion was established in 1957" by the PPP government (ll.8.200l). No one will challenge her personal commitment to end religious injustice. It was her statement about another injustice whereby "non-Christians were denied employment in schools" that caught my attention because most of the meaningful education reforms occurred later in the PPP administration.

The latter injustice was addressed, and became institutionalized under the tenureship of Balram Singh Rai who served as the PPP Minister of Community Development and Education from 1959-61. Rai firmly believed that the education system had to be reformed because Guyanese, particularly Indians, were being discriminated against in various ways, especially in the education curriculum and hiring practices. In the field of secondary education, he decided that future government secondary schools and private ones receiving government grants should be co-educational. In the area of primary education, he implemented a national system in place of a denominational system.

Reflecting on the fact that dual control involved 90% of all schools, he argued that just as in the case of the Local Government Board, this system should be abolished. Rai explained that he wanted the highest quality staff for the schools, irrespective of religious persuasion, and that it was important for the schools to inculcate in students a national consciousness in preparation for an independent self-governing country. The existing system, wholly financed by taxpayers' funds, discriminated against other denominations, and against Hindus and Muslims who constituted about 50% of the colony's population. Nevertheless, the church leaders remained adamant in their opposition. Rai offered to have Christian religious teaching in schools not built with public funds done by teachers of the same persuasion as that of their present governing bodies and to set up a Teachers Service Commission on which they could serve.

What was clear to Rai was that the church leaders felt they would suffer a loss of status, and funding, and that they would no longer be able to use the schools to proselytize Hindu and Muslim children through their appointed teachers. They conducted a vigorous campaign against the proposed government policy. Clad in their ecclesiastical garb, they staged public meetings at Bourda Green. Others threatened legal action. The editor of the Daily

Chronicle, no doubt under the influence of the denominational bodies, charged that Rai was anti-Christian. He later apologized after Rai filed notice of legal proceedings for libel. As a last resort, when the Bill was passed in the Legislative Council vesting control in the government of 51 primary schools built entirely from public funds they petitioned the Queen of England.

Not only did Rai have to deal with opposition from the outside, there was also internal opposition. Cheddi Jagan, who supported the Bill in principle, with impending elections, was unwilling to have the proposals implemented at the time Rai did. Before the Bill was up for debate, and with a general election impending, Jagan invited Rai to a meeting with John Jardim, chairman of the United Force, at the latter's request to discuss the proposals. After the meeting, Jagan suggested that Rai further defer action on the Bill, apparently in return for some sort of support from Jardim and the United Force on another issue. Rai explained to Jagan that he was merely carrying out party policy set out in its public manifesto. Jagan, however, noted that "a political party is not under a duty to implement all its proposals in one legislative term." Sensing that Jagan had already made up his mind on this

issue Rai requested a meeting of the executive committee of the party to resolve the matter. Jagan's proposal for a deferment was defeated and the way was clear for Rai to proceed with the measure.

Through amendments in the Education Act and relevant subsidiary legislation, which abolished the system of Christian denominational control in many schools, qualified Hindus and Muslims were able to compete for and secure appointments as teachers. Two Hindu primary schools were established, the Reliance Sanatani Hindu Primary School at Canje, Berbice and the Rama Krishna Dharmic Sabha Primary in Kitty village, East Coast Demerara. Indian teachers at these schools were paid salaries by the Government and they enjoyed the same status and conditions of service as teachers in the Christian denominational and Government schools. At least four other established, predominantly Hindu/Muslim secondary schools received financial support from

the Ministry of Education, namely, the Guyana Oriental College, the Indian Education Trust College, the Muslim Educational Institute and Tagore Memorial High School.

More important though, was the fact that secondary education, which was previously centered mainly in Georgetown and New Amsterdam, was extended to the rural areas. Several secondary schools were established by the Ministry of Education. Teacher training was upgraded and expanded. The intake of Indian students, including female students, increased under the new scheme and many Indians were trained at the Teachers Training College in Georgetown, and on bursaries or scholarships in universities and colleges overseas. In addition, grants for the teaching of Hindi and Urdu in evening classes in schools operated by mandirs and mosques were increased. Two Inspectors of Schools, one being Pandit Lalman Sukul, were responsible for overseeing these

schools. Previously confined to low-level positions in the Indian Immigration Department and the Magistrates Department, Hindi and Interpreter Clerks were permitted to transfer to classified positions in other Departments of the Civil Service, thereby rendering valuable services to the Indian community.

Since the former First Lady can vividly recall the details of her Port Mourant experience, perhaps she can also remember the above.

yours faithfully,
Dr. Baytoram Ramharack