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By Walter Edey
Women are in the majority across many facets of society, resulting in positive changes for all. Specifically, many businesses, churches, universities and organizations benefit immensely from their leadership and participation. It is therefore timely to repurpose family, the first pillar of education, community and the city. In this regard, the imminent closure of Ursuline Convent school in August 2023 presents a ready-made renewal educational opportunity.
The Ursuline Convent is a historic heritage institution in the city of Bridgetown. It educated male and female infants, junior, and senior girls. It offered quality academic programs, focused on excellence and church values, while mentoring students in a student-friendly campus space. This institution is a symbol of pillars of education; education values that take time to create and establish.
An open campus, for example, encourages the exchange of ideas, fosters meaningful relationships, enables student growth and gives them valuable personal and relationship skills in formative social learning spaces. These are education values and value spaces which cannot be purchased from a store or supermarket, but must be etched in any education ethos. Every school needs this kind of safe haven – some schools need them more than others. The Florence Springer Memorial school is a case in point.
The 59-year-old Florence Springer Memorial School is a secondary all-girls school with many academic and athletic awards of success. These include the 2013 upgrade to sixth form status, 16 successive secondary school girl’s championships wins, and more recently several CAPE commendations.
On the way to success, the school’s grit was sharpened by location constraints such as the lack of a playing field, no assembly hall, and a congested highway nearby. However, at one point, it was helped by the widening of the sidewalk along Government Hill, which had a positive effect on student behaviour and disposition; an expanded staff room and large open air gym. Using St Ursula’s school’s space as an annex of the Florence Springer Memorial school will be a significant reward for effort, raise the profile, and improve the perception of the newer secondary schools.
Imagine the integration of two school spaces as an incubator for future decision making:
a. The Florence Springer Memorial School Annex on Collymore Rock as an innovative school complex housing four schools: (1) The Springer Memorial Upper School. (2) An infants’ school (3) a primary school for city-dwelling children and (4) The Aurea Kirton/Joan Blackett Women’s Institute for Women’s education.
b. The Women’s Institute is named after two principals of the Springer Memorial School and provides adult education courses on evenings, weekends and summers that include family education and parenting, targets remedial education – and the academic basics to enrich career paths like hair dressing, baking and dress making.
c. The Complex would have art, music and photographic studios and performance space open to the public and tourists for enjoyment and purchase of parent and student work.
d. The renovated Springer Memorial School space at Government Hill would house (1) Junior Secondary school, offering instruction up to age 15 (2) A referral remedial centre for girls staffed by retired teachers, mentors, and counsellors. The remedial centre’’s goal is to transfer students back into the educational system. (3) Offer adult evening and weekend classes.
Linking new women’s education initiatives and community space is a presence and incubator experience that will empower Bridgetown City folk, and one that can be replicated in the five other urban cities.
Fifty-one years before the Ursuline Convent started, Queens College began in a building on Constitution Road in 1883 as a first-grade school for girls, with 33 students aged 3-19, and with a purpose to raise the education of girls to English standards. Then, in the late sixties, its academic status was further upgraded when its students completed math and science classes at Harrison College. More recently, it was given a new campus, with its old premises used for other educational purposes.
While there has been some upgrade of the physical school space of the Florence Springer Memorial school, the opportunity to immediately advance women’s education at this time outweighs any other considerations. The reclamation of the family and charitable values, which the Ursuline Convent owned and practiced, is the centerfold of any better version of Barbadian society.
Ultimately, the response to closure of the Convent school will mirror and reflect Barbados’ perspective on education – and by extension, what kind of society it wants. Will Barbados choose to remain a society of borrowers rather than lenders? Know that the transition into a society of lenders can be advanced by utilizing the concept of shared resources. There, all around the Ursuline Convent, a cluster of schools stands waiting to board the new bus of women’s education driven by the concept of shared human potential and education plant.
Walter Edey is a retired maths and science educator in Barbados and New York. he was the chairman of the Florence Springer Memorial school’s Governing Body and Board from 1978 – 1986.