The Negro Education Grant (NEG) and the Problem of Establishing Popular Education
From 1834, the year of emancipation of slaves in Dominica and the other British West Indian colonies to 1845, the popular education that was existent was really religious education. The concept of a state system of education in the West Indies emerged in Britain in 1833 as part of the act to emancipate slaves in British custody. Prior to that, the masses of the people had practically no formal education.
In Dominica, from 1834 onwards, the British subsidized primary education through grants but basically, education was imported and promoted mainly by missionaries. The content of education was divorced from the interests and needs of the masses and the community. Emphasis was on the classics and the arts. There is little doubt that the churches original interest in education was the creation of influential educated elite. In practice, their interests were denominational, especially seen in the establishment of secondary schools.
Proposed educational policies depended greatly on the availability of funds, which were always insufficient. Therefore, changes and reforms were minimal. The newly elected legislative councils and their leaders gave little support. In reality, education, in practice was for a privileged minority. The populace remained virtually ignorant and illiterate.
The pre-emancipation society was therefore not in any sense an educated one. Where slaves received any instruction at all it was of a religious nature provided by the church at long intervals. The authorities had no aims or standards; hence there was no system of formal education.
It was against this background that the British Imperial Government incorporated an education grant in the 1833 Act of Emancipation to assist in the educational development of the Negroes. Establishing schools for the masses was provided for by the Act, which included grant money from the imperial government to provide education in the ex-slave colonies. This grant money is known as the Negro Education Grant. It was regarded as an urgent matter. The total grant amounted to a mere £30,000 per annum for five years for all the BWI of almost one million people.
The decision to allocate the grant was executed through the local legislatures and the religious bodies. The grant was decreased each year and ended in 1845. The denominations were offered financial help to build schools, and later to assist in the payment of teachers’ salaries as the best means of developing a system of education.
Dominica’s share of the Grant amounted only to £600 to be spent on 14,000 ex-slaves. This amount was very insignificant and was spent mainly by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPCK).
After two years it became apparent that the desired and intended results were not forthcoming because of the many difficulties faced. Some churches were unable to accept more grants because they could not bear the recurrent expenditure on their schools. In August 1837, the grant was switched to pay one-third of teachers’ salaries instead. This was insufficient, and the societies did not expand their operations further.
As the expected expansion did not materialise the imperial government was disappointed. Hence, the union of the imperial government, local legislatures and the churches could not fulfil the early ambition to create a viable education system.
Thus, in 1841, the imperial government started to withdraw the fund. The Mico trustees who had done the most protested, but to no avail. In 1845 it came to an end, and so the burden fell on the West Indian legislatures and workers to increasingly support the education of their own children.
In Dominica, the drive towards education for the masses was assisted by the local legislature, thus complimenting the work done by...