Thursday, March 30, 2023 - 1:05 am

History of BHS

On September 5th, 1916, the Berbice High School for Boys was established in a modest way on the ground floor of the residence occupied by Rev. J. A. Scrimgeour, BA. Mr. C. A. Pugsley was the first Headmaster who laid the foundation of the instructional programme of the school. The first pupils enrolled on this historic day were nine in number, and on this day of the Handing over of the School to the Government, the enrollment is 741 pupils.

Its aim was to prepare boys for the important tasks of life, to seek after truth and righteousness and to build a character worthy of emulation by others. In a report of the Daily Argosy of September 8th 1916, there appeared the following statement: “The courageous venture upon which the British Guiana Mission of the Canadian Presbyterian Church has embarked in New Amsterdam will be watched with greatest interest and sympathy by all whom have paid any attention to the educational problems of this colony. The High School which has been opened, although interested primarily for East Indians, makes no stipulation as to race or creed. Its purpose is to provide in the county of Berbice a public Secondary School.” Only time was necessary to realise these high ideals of the School and prove true the prophecy as contained in the last sentence of the statement that appeared in the column of the Daily Argosy.

From this humble beginning in an enrollment of 9 pupils, the number of students grew until there was need for a separate building. This project was embarked upon with high hopes. These hopes were not in vain, for, with the generosity of the public and the Government, the first section of this building was opened in February 1918. Work continued on this project and in 1920 the building, known as the ‘Boys Building’, was completed.

So encouraging was this venture that the Canadian Mission Council of the Presbyterian Church of Canada established a School for Girls. It was housed in the lower flat of the Missionary’s Residence and was under the charge of Mrs. McLeod, wife of the Minister. It was not until the Church acquired the “Brick Building” that Miss McKay was appointed as the first Principal and the school, as well as the Girls’ Dormitory, were removed into this building. There were thus two distinct schools, one for the boys and the other for the girls, housed in two different building, namely the Boys’ Building and the Brick Building. These two schools continued their separate existence until 1924 when a move for closer co-operation was made by making the pupils of the Fourth and Fifth Forms work together in their preparation for the Cambridge Junior and Senior Certificate Examinations. By 1931, the Berbice High School for Girls was moved from the Brick Building on the corner of Ferry Street and Princess Elizabeth Road to the building formerly occupied by the Missionary. The Brick Building was then sold.

In 1933 the decision was taken to amalgamate certain of the Upper Forms of the Boys’ School and the Girls’ School. Complete amalgamation was not affected until 1941, when the enrollment had reached 190 pupils, and the school became known as the Berbice High School. As the enrollment continued to grow, the need for greater space became more imperative. Consequently, the Science Building was remodeled to provide for a few classrooms in addition to the Laboratory proper. When this measure was unable to stem the tide of an ever increasing demand for more places, the Canadian Presbyterian Church in Canada dispatched a representative to British Guiana to look into the situation and to investigate how far the Government was prepared to help in solving this problem.

Dr. E. H. Johnson, Secretary for the Board of Overseas Missions, succeeded in getting the Government’s consent of contributing 50 per cent of the cost of putting up the buildings in a “Master Plan” for the Berbice High School. The concrete structure of eight classrooms and washroom is the first phase in this Master Plan which has been realised on this co-operative basis. When will the entire plan be realised? That depends on the Government and it is our fervent hope that this feature will not long be delayed since the school is packed to capacit

The establishment of the Berbice High School for Boys and the Berbice High School for Girls was the sole responsibility of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. From their foundation, both schools were wholly financed by the Church, but, in an effort to erect the Boys’ Building, an appeal was made to the Government that was readily answered by a special grant. Thus began a close co-operation between the Church and the State in matters of education which was to last half a century. The Government followed up this gesture by making a capital grant of $45,000 towards the building of the first phase of the Master Plan and a grant of $15,000 to provide equipment for the Science Laboratories. The first aid which was received from the Government towards teachers’ salaries was made in April 1919 and this was given at the rate of $100 per month. This was followed up by a grant of $60 per month towards the Berbice High School for Girls when this school was founded in 1920. The total received suffered a setback in 1929 when the annual grant of $2,000 was reduced to $1,500 on account of the depression which hit the colony at this time. Not unmindful of its obligation to the school, the Government increased the grant after the years of depression until it reached the sum of $8,000 in the forties. This generosity has been elicited through the efforts of such heroes as Hon. Joseph Eleazer, Hon. E. A. Luckhoo, Hon. Peer Bacchus and Hon. T. T. Thompson, who jointly supported an appeal for increased aid. There is evidence, too, of cogent arguments in the Combined Court and Legislative Assembly to bring the Government to see the need for increasing its aid to the Berbice High School.

In 1951, the Hon. W. O. R. Kendall, on his own initiative, convinced the Government to increase its grant from $8,000 to $13,000. In 1955, the Government was again approached for an increase in the grant and as there was a consciousness of the value of education among the ranks of Government, the annual block grant was increased to $27,500. In its aid to the Berbice High School, both capital and salary, the Government was preparing the way for the final taking over of the school when the time was most opportune.

On the establishment of the Berbice High School for Boys, the administration was placed into the expert hands of Rev. J. A. Scrimgeour, BA, as acting Principal, and the Berbice High School for Girls in the hands of Mrs. McLeod as acting Headmistress. Mr. C. A. Pugsley took over the reins of administration of the Boys’ School after being appointed as Principal by the Presbyterian Church of Canada, as did Miss McKay at the Girls’ School. The foundation of these two schools was so thoroughly laid that their successors in office found it easy to continue to build and carve a name for the Berbice High School. After a succession of very capable leaders, the time came for replacing Canadian leadership and the first Guyanese to succeed to this high office was Rev. D. W. Hamilton Pollard, B.A (Hons.) in 1952. He was followed in 1956 by Mr. Basil Beharry, BA, M.Ed. (Toronto), the present holder of the office of Principal.

Besides the valuable contribution made by these able administrators, valuable and meritorious service was rendered by Messers A. A. Bannister, B.A, later to rise to rise to the high office of Director of Education, J. I. Ramphal, founder-principal of Modern High School and later Commissioner of Labour, J. C. Yansen, M. M. Beeramsingh, J. C. Chandisingh, Principal of Corentyne High School, J. A. Rodway, BA, and Ben-O Yisu Das, BA, appointed headmaster in 1933. At the Girls’ School, Miss Glasgow (Mrs. L. D. Cooper, M.B.E) gave commendable and meritorious service for 40 years and during this period acted as headmistress on several occasions. Miss. S. Remington (Mrs. S. Merriman), Miss. Griffith (Mrs. Barker) and Miss. A. Akai, BA (Hons.) are among the others who have given very valuable service to the Berbice High School.

The curriculum in the early years of the school was geared for the teaching of academic subjects, but later expanded to include needlework, sewing, cookery etc. for the girls and woodwork for the boys. Physical education and games were later introduced, but more significant was the teaching of music by Miss. Glasgow after a piano was acquired in 1927. Science became a prominent feature in the curriculum from 1926 when the Science Laboratory was opened. This broad curriculum gradually became restricted to the teaching of Arts and Science subjects because of a scarcity of skilled personnel.

The curriculum, at the outset, was geared for prepare the pupils to become useful citizens of the country but it soon became evident that examinations must be considered seriously. Thus history was made for the school when Mr. J. I. Ramphal became the first candidate to pass the Cambridge Senior Examinations in 1919. Mr. Simon Mook Sang then obtained his Medical degree at Edinburgh after gaining University Standing from Berbice High School in 1926. The school continued to prepare candidates for the Cambridge Examinations until 1954 when candidates were presented for the Oxford and Cambridge examinations, and later, at the instance of the Ministry of Education, for the G.C.E of the University of London. New ground was broken in 1954 when a Sixth Form was started, but the response was so poor that it had to be abandoned. It was again organised in 1956 when there were 4 candidates, reduced to 3 subsequently, and these were presented for the examinations. The results were so heartening that a Science Group was started in 1958. After these had written their examinations in 1960, the Sixth Form was again abandoned because of poor support. Today, however, interest has skyrocketed and demand for places is exceeding accommodation. The batch of 14 boys and girls will be writing both Arts and Science subjects at the G.C.E Advanced Level in June of this year. The results of the G.C.E Ordinary Level has always been good and has never fallen below 60 per cent on the average. Peak years are 1962 when the School obtained 70 percent, the highest in the colony, and 1966 with an average of 67 percent. The facility for preparing pupils for the G.C.E Advanced Level was made practicable in 1955 when the Government made a grant of $16,000 to purchase equipment for the laboratory.

In the early years of the school, games formed a prominent feature in the curriculum. Through the generosity of the Governor, Sir Wilfred Collet, the School acquired the present playing ground and from then on, games became compulsory. In 1934, the School began to participate in the Intercollegiate Athletic Meetings, vying with Queen’s College and St. Stanislaus College for the coveted Denham Cup. This competition ceased with the outbreak of World War II and was not revived again. However, a new feature succeeded this; the rivalry for the Jacob Cup and the Dias Cup. The School has been able to carve its name twice on the Dias Cup and once on the Jacob Cup. Besides the competitions, the School has entered the Adams Cup competition and the Firestone Cup competition. Both these competitions have been started within recent years and the School has demonstrated its superiority over over the schools in the New Amsterdam area on several occasions. Rivalry for athletic honours was revived and the organisation of the School into Houses has made it ideal for the pupils to participate in this extra curricular activity. Recently, a Secondary Schools Athletic Meeting for Girls from the Berbice area was arranged through the Ministry of Education and the girls from Berbice High School stole the honours to emerge champions of this meeting.

Other features of the extra-curricular activities on which the School has had emphasis include leadership training and spiritual self-satisfaction. in the case of the former, Literary and Debating Societies have been organised for all the forms and, apart from the regular features of the programme in such a society, the pupils have been trained to speak extempore. Besides this effort in getting pupils to express their views in the presence of large audiences, they have been trained in the art of debating, with the result that the School always participated in the debating competitions for the Patrick Dargan Shield. Other societies, sponsored by the school, include the Historical, the Geographical and the Scientific. To cater to the spiritual needs of the pupils, a religious group – the Inter-School Christian Fellowship – meets every week. This group forms part of a country-wide movement embracing the majority of Secondary Schools and has further links with Trinidad and Jamaica. In itself, it has influenced the formation of similar groups at Berbice Educational Institute and Victoria High School. Last but not least, a Current Affairs Club has been started so that a greater awareness of the study of Civics will help clear-thinking among the pupils of the school.

Community Affairs
During the early years, when the Berbice High School for Boys was founded, an effort was made to train teachers through the organization of workshops. In this way, the School was making a bold effort to prove its usefulness to the community. This effort lapsed after a while, but we are happy to see that the Berbice High School has once again become the center of Teacher Training, although this programme is solely the responsibility of the Government. Last but not least, an effort has been made to hold an Adult Education class by the Staff, and this operated successfully for quite a few years, after which interest declined. Though this class was abandoned three years ago, yet it is heartening to see this effort resuscitated at the School through the initiative of the Ministry of Education.

The Berbice High School certainly has an outstanding record behind it and may well be proud of its achievement. For the 50 years of its existence, it has lived up to the ideals of it founder by providing the training which has fitted many of its sons and daughters to hold prominent positions in the Government, Judiciary, Civil Service, in the Legal and Medical professions, in Teaching, in Business, Trade and Industry. As an institution, it has risen from its humble beginnings to be the premier High School in the county of Berbice and compares in its achievements, at least up to the G.C.E Ordinary Level, with such schools as Queen’s College and Bishop’s High School. The years that lie ahead will no doubt reveal its equality with these institutions in its training for higher education, especially from its improved Staffing, furniture and buildings and equipment in its Science Laboratories. Today, therefore, marks the proudest moment of the Canadian Presbyterian Church, when it hands over not a third-rate, nor a second-rate, but a first-rate school to the Government and in doing so, ends 50 years of denominational control in favour of Government control of the Berbice High School. Thus private control has given way to Governmental and in so doing, to public control, as was contained in the statement of the Daily Argosy of September 9th 1916.

(The preceding was taken from an address made on the occasion of the assumption of adminstrative control of Berbice High School by the Government of Guyana in 1966. It is taken from the 1966 B.H.S Yearbook.)