Students in the Caribbean should not have to compete for places to attend high schools, says Barbadian-born McGill University professor emeritus, Dr. Glyne Piggott.
As part of the admissions process for selective academic secondary schools, students take the Common Entrance Examination. Successful students are eligible to attend top high schools in the region while those who do not do well are enrolled in educational institutions in close proximity to their homes.
Dr. Piggott feels this exam should be scrapped.
“High schools should be far more available to students than they are right now,” he told Share. “If you want to develop and build good citizens, then you want to guarantee their primary, secondary and perhaps even university level education. But, at the very least, secondary education should be guaranteed. That, I think, is one of the weaknesses of the educational system in Barbados and the Caribbean.”
Piggott was honoured at the Modernite Association Toronto’s 30th annual celebration last Saturday night in Scarborough. He graduated from the now defunct Modern High School founded by the late Louis Lynch, who was also the president of the Barbados Olympic Association and Mayor of Bridgetown.
Starting with just two students in 1944, Modern was considered one of the best private schools in Barbados before its doors closed in 1978.
Lynch acquired a science laboratory, established a sixth form to prepare students for advanced level exams, held Saturday morning tutorial programs and provided scholarships to help challenged students receive a solid education.
In Piggott’s opinion, Lynch single-handedly contributed more than any other Barbadian to the advancement of education in the country.
“Barbados is a highly literate society and at the time when Modern started, there were very few places for high school students,” said Piggott, who graduated in 1959 and did his undergraduate studies at the University of the West Indies Mona campus before coming to Canada to complete graduate studies in linguistics at the University of Toronto in 1974.
“Louis Lynch saw the value of education and the importance of developing an educated citizenry. He saw a huge need for education that would be a catalyst for actually developing a people and a nation. He was also a very astute businessman. I don’t think he has been sufficiently recognized for his contributions. I am optimistic that there will be some greater recognition of the role he played.”
After a year at the University of Windsor, Piggott moved to McGill, where he spent 37 years before retiring four years ago.
In addition to Piggott who was vice-president and president-elect of the Canadian Linguistics Association, Modern produced students who have excelled in various professions around the world. They include retired registered nurse, Margot Blackman, who has lived in Montreal since 1961.
Graduating from Modern a decade earlier, she taught at both the primary and secondary school levels in Barbados before accepting a scholarship to pursue nursing studies at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital School of Nursing in New York.
After completing her studies, she came to Canada and joined the staff at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, where she enjoyed a stellar career as a staff nurse, team leader and charge nurse in the paediatrics department. She was also a nursing instructor at Vanier College for 23 years until she retired in 1994.
“Modern played a huge part in shaping my life,” said the 81-year-old Blackman. “I was empowered because of the school and Louis Lynch.”
Other honourees included University of the West Indies chancellor Sir George Alleyne, who was unable to attend the event because of business commitments in Geneva; youth activist, Kwesi Johnson, who has a Master’s in sociology and equity studies; Rev. Peter Fenty, who was last year ordained the Anglican Church of Canada’s first Black bishop; former Canadian cricketer, Glenroy Sealy and Sickle Cell Association of Ontario founder, Lillie Johnson, who was the first Black director of public health for Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District.
Johnson’s sustained passion as a sickle cell advocate resulted in the province’s Ministry of Health and Long Term Care including sickle cell disease on the list of 28 genetic diseases for universal newborn screening in 2005.
The Modernite Association Toronto was the brainchild of the Rev. Gay Nicholls, who died in 1985. He graduated from the United Theological College of the West Indies and served as a Methodist Church minister in the Caribbean and the Americas before migrating to Canada.
Nicholls, who collaborated with Modern graduates George Headley and Trenton Douglas – the organization’s current president – to start the alumni group that was incorporated in October 1984, was posthumously honoured.
In the last three decades, the alumni organization has delivered bursaries and organized lecture series to coincide with Barbados’ independence anniversary on November 30. The guest lecturers have included the late Prime Minister David Thompson, novelist George Lamming, Sir George Alleyne, trade unionist Robert Morris, medical practitioner and former West Indies cricket manager Dr. Rudi Webster and University of the West Indies pro-vice-chancellor Dr. Hilary Beckles.
In his message, Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart thanked the Toronto alumni for keeping the school and its founder’s memory alive.
“Louis Lynch was one of the outstanding educators who helped Barbados to use education as a tool for development,” said Stuart. “During the decade preceding the provision of universal free education and subsequent independence (in 1996), he responded to the almost insatiable demand for secondary education in Barbados by establishing Modern High School. Under his astute leadership, this innovative school became one of the island’s largest and most popular private schools, setting very high standards. Not only did he enrich the curriculum to equip his students with ‘modern’ skills, but he also helped to open the doors for employment for many past students in Canada, the United States and England. Even though the Modern High School and the Louis Lynch Secondary School no longer exist, the culture they inculcated in their students lives on.”
Lynch died in 1969 at age 52.
To honour his contributions to education, the Barbados government named a school – Louis Lynch Secondary – after him in 1978. The school was closed eight years ago due to chemical pollution from a dry cleaning business opposite the educational facility.