A Tribute to Francis Ashley Vaughn Cooke 1913-2001

History This Week
By Samuel A. Small A.A.
Stabroek News
December 9, 2005

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This tribute to Francis Ashley Vaughn Cooke was given recently on behalf of the members of the 75th Anniversary Committee and the Principal, staff and students of the Cyril Potter College of Education. It was presented by Mr. Samuel Small, the Director of the University of Guyana's Institute of Distance and Continuing Education, on the historic occasion of the unveiling of the bust of Mr. Vaughn Cooke and the naming of the library of the College in his honour.

The Tribute

Mr. Francis Ashley Vaughn Cooke was born on the 4th of April 1913 at Vergenoegen on the east bank of the Essequibo River. His early schooling was from his parents - his father, the Head Teacher of Great Troolie Island School, and his mother, a teacher in this small river school of about 70 pupils.

In 1922, when only 9 years 4 months old, he won a Berbice Scholarship which his parents did not accept, but in the following year, 1923, be obtained a place at Queen's College.

Throughout his secondary school career he was the youngest in each form and performed brilliantly. He was admitted to the Teachers Training College, then called the Teachers' Training Centre (TTC), in 1932. There he acquitted himself with great distinction as a student of the illustrious Third Batch (1932-1934). He was the first among the entrants and maintained this position throughout the two years.

On graduation he was appointed to St. Stephen's Church of Scotland School in Georgetown, where for many years he taught pupils for the Blair Scholarship which was awarded on the basis of performance at the Preliminary Cambridge Examina-tion, an overseas secondary examination for which various Primary Schools competed. From the time Vaughn Cooke joined St. Stephen's this scholarship was won every year by a pupil of St. Stephen's.

Meanwhile Francis Vaughn Cooke continued the process of upgrading his qualifications through the medium of correspondence courses, the forerunner of today's Distance Education courses. Through this means he secured the external Bachelor of Arts Degree of the University of London in 1947. Other well-known persons who had been successful previously at this examination were Messrs A.H. Moore, R.C.G. Potter and Frederick W.E. Case.

Between 1947 and 1950 Vaughn Cooke acted for two six-month period as Assistant Master at the Government Teachers Training College and was confirmed in the position of Assistant Master in 1950. In 1955 he was awarded a Common-wealth Scholarship and proceeded to London, where he completed successfully the Diploma in Education at London University. In 1956 he was elevated to the post of Acting Principal of the Training College and in 1957 he was appointed Principal. His upward mobility was therefore rapid.

As Principal of the College he was instrumental in requiring equal competence in academic performance and professional ability, the latter including actual teaching experiences and competence. He was also responsible for replacing the old Education Department Library, which had consisted of three presses of ancient and out-of-date books, by a library of over 7000 volumes of the most modern texts, including works of Guyanese and Caribbean authors. The naming of the present library today in his honour is indeed significant.

Vaughn Cooke tried to make the college the focal point of education in Guyana. He arranged seminars and courses for teachers who would be able to take back what they had acquired to their colleagues. He responded positively to the challenge of increasing the percentage of trained teachers and the reorganisation of Teacher Training. He worked closely with Dr. Germanacos, a consultant to the Government on Teacher Training, and together they set up the system of Pre-Service and In-Service Training as well as the requirement of secondary training for Pre-Service entrants.

The challenge of liquidating the backlog of untrained teachers led to a major step in 1959. The two-year course was replaced by a one-year course providing for the training of one hundred and fifty students instead of twenty every two years. Naturally there was some resistance to the change, but the Principal was eloquent in the defence of the measure. His refrain was "Be innovative and give change a chance". Other measures were a Crash Programme of six-weeks which was intended to expose all serving teachers who already held positions of responsibility but who had not had institutional training, an in-service course conducted in the evenings at Centres to be established in selected areas and a two-year pre-service course that was to be the main component.

The implementation of this Plan, nicknamed the Germanacos Plan, brought new challenges to the Principal and his young staff, some of whom today, although retired, recall with nostalgia his role as mentor, as he forged a strong cadre of competent teacher educators.

The Plan, which was launched in 1963, heralded a long-term developmental approach to teacher education and provided a firm foundation for the organisation, institutional arrangements and provision of teacher education that exist today. During his tenure as Principal, the College moved from 61 Main Street, to Battery Road. He retired in 1965 and did not have the opportunity to come to these premises at Turkeyen. In his own words, penned when he sent some information for a series of radio talks on education, he opined

"My greatest regret was that the new Training College for which I had worked and planned, was not completed before my retirement. In my final report given at the 1963 graduation, I compared myself to Moses viewing the Promised Land."

Francis Ashley Vaughn Cooke was multifaceted and a man of great poise and courtesy. He was, however, firm and disciplined in his approach to situations, he was also an exemplar of clarity and precision in whatever he spoke and wrote.

The overall success which he achieved is attributable in no small measure to his input at the tutorial, leadership and managerial levels. He inspired both staff and students. He had a vision for the development of education generally and teacher education specifically. He had the ability to identify the special skills and competencies of those whom he supervised. He believed in meaningful delegation, but at the same time promoted maximum coordination. His past students, members of staff and colleagues laud his memory. He has certainly earned a place in the hall of fame in the edifice of teacher education in Guyana.