Conrad Luke, MS (1919-2004)
June 20, 2004
The high level of adult literacy of which Guy-ana boasted during the late colonial and early post-independence era was based largely on the system of Anglican, Congregational, Church of Scotland, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic Church schools. The period between the introduction of compulsory primary education in 1876 and the secularization of the schools in 1976 was, indeed, a glorious century of education.
Despite their barrack-like structure, open-hall setting, congested classes, meagre materials, and rudimentary furniture, the old schools were successful not necessarily because they were Christian but because they were served at all times by a corps of capable and committed teachers. The names of some of the most outstanding of those teachers have become household words and will always be remembered with respect and affection both by the churches and congregations they served and by thousands of pupils who passed through their hands.
Many Guyanese who were grounded in those primary schools were able to rise to high office, enriched as much by their academic qualifications as by the sterling qualities of character inculcated by their teachers. Leslie Ainsworth, Edward Lugard Dolphin, Imlah Friday-Durant, Basil McGowan, John Edward Owen and Robert Wallace are some of the outstanding teachers of that era whose names readily come to mind.
Conrad Alexander Luke was a scion of that corps of stalwart schoolteachers to whom present-day Guyanese are deeply indebted. His entire working life, from 1934 to 1994, was spent in the service of this country's education system. Born on July 10, 1919 at Plaisance Village in the Demerara- Mahaica Region, he grew up in Georgetown, attending St Saviour's Anglican School before moving to St Stephen's Presbyterian School under the legendary headmaster John Edward Owen.
He obtained his Primary School and Pupil Teachers' Certificates by the age of 15 and started working as a Pupil Teacher in December 1934. Within a few years, he obtained his Trained Teachers' (Class 1, Grade 1) Certificate as a member of the 8th batch of trainees (1940-1942) at the new Teachers' Training College (TTC) in Georgetown. Thereafter, he advanced steadily in the profession as master, senior master, deputy headmaster and headmaster.
Conrad Luke first taught at St Stephen's Church of Scotland School, his alma mater, before being transferred to the Skeldon Church of Scotland School, between 1940 and 1956. In 1956, he was appointed temporary Headmaster of the newly-built Tain Primary School on the Corentyne, where he embarked on a voluntary programme teaching unqualified and under-qualified teachers. The following year, within six months of its opening and under Luke's sure hand, the school was granted Grade 'A' status.
While serving as Headmaster of Gibraltar-Courtland Primary (originally St Columba's Church of Scotland) School on the Corentyne from 1959 to 1964, he was appointed the first Head of the Port Mourant In-Service Teachers' Training Centre (ITTC) while still Headmaster of Gibraltar-Courtland Primary in 1963. That school enjoyed several successes under his stewardship, attaining its highest number of passes at the School-Leaving Examinations, its first Booker's Scholarship for children of sugar workers, and a few Music Festival awards. He was then transferred to Diamond Government School, East Bank Demerara, in 1965.
Some years earlier while on the Corentyne, Luke had been awarded a scholarship to pursue advanced studies in education at Moray House College of Education and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland where he obtained the Certificate in Education. He now had the opportunity to put that knowledge to work when, after a mere six weeks as headmaster at Diamond, he was appointed Education Officer for the North-West District (now the Barima-Waini Region) and Interior Areas, supervising 83 schools. As Education Officer in the hinterland, Conrad Luke taught, toiled and travelled literally throughout the length of the country from its northernmost settlement at Morawhanna to Achiwuib, becoming the first to streamline education among the Wai Wai nation at Konashen, its southernmost settlement. He was reputed to be the first Education Officer to set foot in the Itabac and Kanapang Roman Catholic schools in the Potaro-Siparuni Region to certify them for grants, and the first to reach Konashen in the Upper Essequibo-Upper Takutu.
Wherever he went, from the Corentyne to Konashen, Luke walked the walk. But he was concerned not merely with chalk, talk and exam results. He took pride in promoting extra-curricular activities, achieving satisfying results in his schools' performance at inter-school cricket and athletics competitions and music festivals. With the help of Edith Pieters, he organised a successful music festival at Mabaruma in the Barima-Waini.
He retired from the teaching service in 1974 as Senior Education Officer (Primary) and was promptly recruited to serve as full-time lecturer at the In-Service Teachers' Training Centre in Georgetown, until its merger with the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) in 1985.
He also served as visiting lecturer at the Linden In-Service Teachers' Training Centre and Critchlow Labour College (CLC). Even in retirement, he continued lecturing to Industrial Relations classes at the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education, University of Guyana.
Conrad Luke was also a deeply committed adult educator, beginning in the 1940s by assisting AA Thompson of the University of the West Indies Extra-Mural Department; then Newton Profitt of the Adult Education Association (AEA); and finally, in more recent times, Samuel Small of the University of Guyana's Institute of Distance and Continuing Education (IDCE). As a part-time lecturer, he contributed to the curricula of Police and Prison Officers' courses.
Conrad Luke's decades of selfless service did not go unrecognised. He received the national award of the Medal of Service (MS) for long service with exceptional dedication in the field of Education in 1985; the Guyana Teachers' Union's Centenary Gold Medal in 1984; the Ministry of Education's Long Service Award for 60 years of service to Education in Guyana in 1994; and, on the occasion of its 75th Anniversary last year, the Cyril Potter College of Education's Award for his dedicated service to teacher training.
Conrad Alexander Luke, MS, died on May 29 , 2004.
Cyril Potter College of Education; Institute of Distance and Continuing Education of the University of Guyana; Emancipation Magazine