A magnificent enterprise
June 10, 2001
A speech by David de Caires,
editor-in-chief of the Stabroek News, at the dedication of the Marian
Academy on the 27th May, 2001)
In these harsh if not desperate times one seeks solid signs of hope
for the future. The opening of this school and the re-entry of the
Ursuline Nuns into our educational system is such a sign. It signifies
that the Catholic church has accepted a responsibility, despite what
happened before, to commit time, funds, energy and skills in this
vital area. It is a splendid commitment and I was also happy to hear
that there are two Jesuits and a Mercy Sister among the teachers. Many
of us and our children have in the past benefited from the
ministrations of all of these good persons.
Much has been done already and the challenges ahead are enormous and
exciting. As former Prime Minister Lee Kwan yew of Singapore had
famously realised good schools and a good educational system are an
absolutely vital part of genuine national development. There are
already a few other private schools doing a good job. The challenge to
the government is to strengthen the dominant state system. Minister
Henry Jeffrey has indicated that he will be setting up a national
education advisory council. They will no doubt point to the shortage
of qualified and experienced teachers and the poor salaries and
working conditions. Hopefully, too, they will urge him to revisit
current plans for the imposition of absolute uniformity.
I have had the pleasure of visiting the school and was impressed by
how much has already been achieved, given that the new building was
only occupied this year, and is still a work in progress. There are
periods for physical education and there is an exercise room. The boys
have access to cricket and the students have participated in national
school sports. I hope there will be a continuing emphasis on sports
and games which have been sadly neglected in schools in recent times.
They are a vital part of a rounded education. An exposure to
athletics, cricket, football and tennis is not only good for health
and the physique but teaches important lessons of how to compete, to
win and to lose.
There is a laboratory and two more are planned. It is no secret that
the nation is desperately in need of scientists of all kinds. The bulk
of students at the University are still in the social sciences, many
of whom find it difficult to get a job after they graduate. I am
convinced that this is at least partly due to a lack of opportunity
for learning the sciences at the schools and inadequate career
guidance. Sister Marie has assured me that career guidance is on the
agenda and I believe the Marian Academy can in due course make a
substantial contribution to producing the physicists, chemists,
biologists and technologists of all kinds that are so badly needed.
Music is already being taught on a recorder and there are plans for
development. Perhaps by 2006 we can look forward to a school band or
There is a computer room and students are involved in computer
studies. This is an area, of course, in which the possibilities are
open ended. In our neck of the woods Barbados is perhaps the leader,
Prime Minister Owen Arthur having opted for Edutech 20 as a
developmental priority. Funds and training will be the bottlenecks.
At the end of the day, education is of course much more than the sum
of its parts. I asked Sisters Jacqueline and Marie about moral
education and they gave me a book called `Examining religion -
contemporary moral issues' published by Heinemann Educational
Publishers. I read it with great interest. It is nothing less in parts
than a tract for the times, a liberal/radical exegesis of what Bernard
Shaw might have called, everything an intelligent young man or young
lady ought to know about the modern world. There are three basic
divisions of the types of issues covered, Personal Issues (does God
exist, human suffering, Christian ethics, ideals, the family, single
parent families, love, sex, pornography, AIDS, contraception,
homosexuality, marriage, divorce, drugs, suicide), Social Issues
(social ethics, racism, the Holocaust, euthanasia, abortion, sexism,
crime and punishment, homelessness, work) and Global Issues
(nationalism, human rights, animal rights, war and peace, Chernobyl,
world poverty, the arms trade, world hunger, world population,
refugees, liberation technology, the planet in crisis, indigenous
peoples, world religions). This gives some idea of the scope, all
presented in a challenging down to earth style, which is sure to
provoke a great deal of interest and debate.
Students will have an opportunity of engaging a whole panoply of
topical issues in the classroom. What a wonderful subject to teach,
and to be taught. Endless topics here for school debates, and why not
bring in outsiders from time to time.
In his book `Education and the good life' first published in 1926
Bertrand Russell used the phrase `a free citizen of the universe'. The
concept may on its face seem too radical and freethinking for a
Catholic school (perhaps not, in view of the book I just mentioned)
though I believe the best Catholic education has always been
distinguished by the fact that it takes ideas seriously. Indeed both
James Joyce and Fidel Castro were products of a Jesuit education.
Though not noted in later life for their devotion to the church, the
idea of a good education surely is to open the mind, not to steer it
in a particular direction. Education, Russell suggested, should give
the child a sense of setting out upon a voyage of discovery.
One of my great regrets in life was that I only woke up to the world
of the mind relatively late. I almost completely wasted my formal
education, getting through by doing as little as I could with no real
interest or excitement. I remember how it started. I read a book
called `Contem-porary Capitalism' by the English Marxist John
Strachey. Somehow it caught my imagination. I read another book by him
`The end of empire', then something by GDH Cole and then on and on. I
did not become a socialist but that book is what created the spark.
The search for knowledge is the only thing in life that never palls.
Once you catch the virus, your appetite is insatiable. You want to
read everything in every field.
My son was more fortunate. He was infected with the love of
literature and the thirst for knowledge when he was at school. When he
was 16 he had an English teacher who inspired him with a boundless
enthusiasm for good books. He has since that day been a voracious
An essential part of a good education is to acquire a thirst for
knowledge and ideas and a love of literature. But it is more than
that. A healthy society wants children who are not bigoted, who are
not fearful, who have opinions which they are willing to express, who
have some respect and sympathy for others who are different or less
fortunate. Parents have much to do with this. It is hard for healthy
children to emerge from unhappy or narrow-minded homes. But teachers
also have a major role to play, starting from the nursery schools. A
lot depends on how children are dealt with in school and the attitudes
that are inculcated. Ideally, the imparting of knowledge must be
combined with affection.
The Ursuline Nuns have undertaken a magnificent enterprise at this
time. We must all be grateful that they have seen fit to do so. I have
no doubt that they are capable of staying with the project and seeing
it through to a success we can only now dream of and wish for. May the
Lord be with them.