Jamaica Gleaner / Mr Swan’s email brought a number of pieces together, and the light came on. John Swan was an expatriate teacher from the UK during my time in high school. I have subsequently learned, specifically Irish.
I had come to Morant Bay High School (MBHS) in 1970 with a Common Entrance Examination pass from a one-room school at the Back of Nowhere which I had attended barefooted and which had never had a pass before, only to find a whole heap of white foreign teachers on staff. The staff photograph that John Swan sent me a little while ago, having picked me up online through this newspaper column, confirmed that at least 50 per cent of the small staff was expatriate.
This was my first working encounter with white people and with foreigners. I attribute much of the breadth and depth of my high-school education, the most transformative phase of my whole education, to this dedicated bright band of mostly very young people from several countries who opened the eyes of the bush boy to the big world out there, not just through content but by their sheer diversity and their warm interest in students.
So what were so many expat teachers doing in a country school, without brand name, at the time? I fired off an email to John Swan: “I have been meaning to ask you since you sent me that staff picture and your notes on that cast of characters: During my time at MBHS, many teachers came from UK, Canada, USA. How were they recruited? And what was the name of the programme under which they were brought in?”
His reply was electrifying, energising the historian in me. I had been separately delving into the 1973 DaCosta Commission of Enquiry Report out of my engagement with anti-corruption advocacy.
One of the first things the Michael Manley government that came to power in the February 29, 1972 general elections did was to set up a three-member Commission of Enquiry into the Award of Contracts, the Grant of Work Permits and Licences and Other Matters.
That 1972 general election was my political awakening and first conscious engagement with national affairs. I sat up deep into the night listening on radio with great excitement as the results were announced and the seats declared.
The new government declared the old JLP government it had replaced corrupt and set up the commission of enquiry to dig up and expose the corruption. The Ministry of Education and the World Bank-financed school building programme of the 1960s got the fullest treatment in the report of the DaCosta Commission of Enquiry.
On September 30, 1966, a loan agreement had been signed between the Government and the World Bank for US$9,500,000 earmarked to build 50 new junior secondary schools, expand four teacher-training colleges, as well as the College of Arts, Science and Technology and the Jamaica School of Agriculture, and provide staff housing for junior secondary-school teachers in rural areas.
As a student at Morant Bay High at the crack of the ’70s, I witnessed the construction on the high-school campus of what was earmarked to be the Morant Bay Junior Secondary School. The impressive new buildings never really became a separate junior secondary school but were simply added to the building stock of MBHS, greatly expanding its capacity. The concession that was made was the admission into third form of students from the Grade Nine Achievement Test. St Thomas was the very last parish to receive a grammar high school, Morant Bay High in 1961; and the intended Morant Bay Junior Secondary School came at the very end of the World Bank School Building Programme.
John Swan’s historical recall brought several pieces together. Those expatriate teachers and the World Bank Education Development Programme came hand in hand.
I’m patching the story together from John Swan and another past teacher of the period that he contacted on the matter, Michael Lehane, who spent 10 years teaching in various schools in Jamaica. I’ve ironed out kinks and corrected errors of recall that I could spot: The extension to Morant Bay High School was certainly funded by the World Bank Programme, which financed the extension of secondary schools all over the island, including junior highs. Under the programme, the Ministry of Education financed contracts for foreign teachers in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
These contracts offered full salary, tax-free and with a handsome completion gratuity (recalled as 10 per cent of the total earnings over the contract period). Airfares to and from Jamaica at the beginning and end of the contract were paid by the government.
One of the World Bank conditions for the loan support was that the funded schools had to recruit necessary English-speaking teachers from abroad over a minimum of at least four years. Initially, recruitment was supposed to be only from Commonwealth countries, but the USA was subsequently included. I certainly remember very clearly having a mix of British, Canadian and American teachers at Morant Bay High School.
Recalling his own experience, John Swan says he saw an advert in a London paper in 1971 and was interviewed at the Jamaican High Commission by a team from the Ministry of Education, whose top official, the venerable Reginald Murray, was on the interview panel. Murray gave Swan a choice of schools. Many wanted Kingston, Swan says, “but I chose Morant Bay, being a country hick.”
He reminded me that the present leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, came at the same time for one year but on a Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) Programme. He taught “in the middle of Jamaica somewhere.”
“I (and others) extended the tenure, but on different conditions,” Swan writes. “We were paid at Jamaican rates with no perks. Some teachers felt guilty after a while on seeing poverty, etc., and donated their gratuities to school pupil benefit funds. [Principal Stanley] Parkins set up such a one at MBHS.”
World Bank loan money for education was supposed to have been generously siphoned off or wasted and the DaCosta Commission of Enquiry went in hot pursuit. Having read its August 31, 1973 report, bungling incapacity to manage big projects comes across as a far bigger problem than outright tiefing.
The report began its preliminary observations in the Ministry of Education section by saying, “So far as the building operations of the Ministry of Education were concerned, the picture was one of utter, utter chaos and confusion, that almost beggars description … .” That ministry might well be described as ‘Chaos Incorporated’. The commission found the Minister Edwin Allen to have been “out of touch” with the building programme. The parliamentary secretary in the ministry, Dr Arthur Burt, was the man in charge.
The World Bank money was supposed to have built 50 junior secondary schools, but the PNP, in the 1972 election campaign, Michael Lehane recalls, alleged that only 48 schools had, in fact, been built. When Minister Allen was challenged about this discrepancy he is supposed to have replied, “There is Duckenfield Junior Secondary, and that is one. There is Trinityville Junior Secondary, and that makes two. There is Port Maria Junior Secondary, and that makes three; and a whole lot more, and that makes 50.”
“The missing World Bank funds issue I do remember,” writes John Swan. “Mike [Lehane] used to say that poor Mr Allen (Mr Allen was a former school head in a remote district plucked out of obscurity to become an MP) was incompetent – he was a loquacious speaker – but he was not the culprit. The last I heard of the issue was that they were searching for Dr Burt and one of the election posters that was going around was ‘WHERE IS DR BURT?'”
The commission of enquiry ended its preliminary observations by saying, “Finally, the Ministry of Education had purported to enter upon a building programme when it was completely unequipped staff-wise to deal with what would be the tremendous strains of such an endeavour. It clearly lacked the necessary expertise. This was pre-eminently so in the case of the administration of the Junior Secondary Schools Programme; it applied equally to the Primary Schools Programme. Despite all this, the ministerial motto at the ministry appears to have been ‘press on, regardless’. In short, the odds against the successful completion of the building programme were enormous. It is no wonder ‘the massive and momentous building programme’ ground to a halt.”
Earlier on, the report had said, “If any private individual conducted business in the way the Ministry of Education did, there would not be the slightest doubt in the world that he would find himself in the bankruptcy court. The whole system at the ministry reeked in incompetence. Added to this there was a completed break-down in the financial control of expenditure. The permanent secretary complained severely of a shortage of manpower and there is obviously a great deal of truth in his complaint.”
The circle is squared. Thank you, John Swan. My expatriate high-school teachers were part of a grand loan-financed scheme to expand educational opportunity in the first decade of independence, a scheme that became mired in corruption and inefficiency and ended up being part of our debt burden. But as I argued last week, when corruption, inefficiency and waste are factored out, there is an even larger chunk of the national debt attributable to bona fide development financing. I am a beneficiary.