TO UNDERSTAND the significance of Linda Baboolal’s life and legacy is to understand the role St George’s College played in shaping the lives of its students.
The story of St George slaying the dragon could be taken as metaphor for life. The early influences of the school song with its rallying cry, “On to victory!” and the school motto, Ex Fructibus Cognoscetis Eos, which translated means “By their fruits you shall know them,” were imprinted in our minds.
When Linda started secondary school, TT was a crown colony which meant it was administered by Britain through a governor and officers of the British crown in a colonial public service.
Secondary education was up to that time provided either by religious bodies or private citizens. The only state secondary school was Queen’s Royal College (QRC), patterned on the British grammar school system and curricula. Primary schools had been established by the churches, but state secondary schools were non-existent.
The colonial government had struggled since emancipation to develop a relevant education system. The history of the provision of education in TT was a battlefield on which the interests of state and church were fought, as evidenced by the reports of numerous commissions and committees.
The Marriott-Mayhew Report 1931 called for a new type of secondary school. The Moyne Commission Report 1939 found curricula outdated and ill adapted to students and recommended the establishment of junior secondary schools to bridge the gap between primary and secondary. The Missen Report of 1945 pointed out that the recommendations of previous reports had little effect on the system and noted that in the schools that existed, a drop-out problem was being created.
By the mid 1950s, it was a period of political and labour ferment in a Caribbean emerging from the effects of the Second World War and moving forward slowly towards self-rule. The villages east of the city were becoming home to many who migrated to the city for work as the colonial presence retreated and jobs were becoming available in the public sector and in the fledgling manufacturing sector.
Chanka Maharaj, a member of the Legislative Council, saw the need for a secondary school in the Barataria/El Socorro area and mobilised the constituents, virtually pushing the colonial authorities to establish a secondary school in the area. It was hoped that the school would seize the opportunity to experiment with new curricula.
Arthur Farrell, the vice principal of QRC and acting principal at the time, was appointed the first principal of St George’s. The initial staff was Noel Louis, Solomon Tancoo (graduate Master’s); Arthur Bailey and Avis Rampersad (UK-trained non-graduate specialist teachers for industrial arts and home economics), and Freida Farrell (Higher School Certificate).
I learnt from Ms Valere many years later that Mr Farrell told the ministry he wanted the teachers only for a full term before taking in students. During that term she was told they planned the curriculum, developed codes of discipline for a co-ed environment, and agreed on school management issues taking into account the needs of the society.
What emerged was a curriculum that blended classical grammar and technical and vocational elements. In many ways it was different from the prevailing classical one at QRC which was developed to enable sons of colonial civil servants to gain admission to UK universities.
The first intake in September 1953 was just one class and Linda was in that class. In January 1954 another group was admitted and Miss Constantine (now Valere), graduate teacher, joined the staff. She had specialised in teacher training for teaching in a co-ed school so Mr Farrell gave her responsibility for the girls.
Students at St George’s knew that something different was happening for us. Exactly what we did not know beyond the fact that our parents were strong in their encouragement for us that we make good use of the opportunity being provided by the State, especially as it was not free at that time.
St George’s was the first secondary school built by the State in over a century since QRC. That seemed to matter a lot to the religious bodies but to students who had spent all their school life at the primary level in coeducational institutions life simply continued.
St George’s was considered a rural school and Barataria in the 50s was a well laid out rural village with broad streets and neat bungalows. Students came from as far as Arima in the East, Port of Spain in the West, Chaguanas and California in central. The train was the preferred mode of transport for many students, the majority of whom came from the surrounding villages of Success, Morvant, Barataria, Aranguez, San Juan and El Socorro.
The ethnic composition of the school, pre-independence, reflected the composition of the villages – African, East Indian, with a few mixtures of Chinese and Portuguese. Many of the students played cricket and football in the Aranguez Savannah or engaged in activities at the Himalaya Club.
It was at Himalaya, as an active member of its teenage fraternity, that Linda began to hone her skills in public speaking, debating and leadership as she was its president on more than one occasion.
Part 2 tomorrow
Marcia Riley is a former secretary general of the TT National Commission for UNESCO and a Georgian
Dr Linda Baboolal