The story of schools in Seychelles


13-April-2013

On Monday November 29, 2010, the University of Seychelles at Anse Royale was inaugurated by President James Michel and Princess Anne. This institution of higher learning is based in the building of the Seychelles polytechnic that Former President France Albert René opened on January 11, 1984. It then formed part of the government’s capital investment programme which had allocated R210,530,000 to implement under its education policy. The university had actually received its first batch of 300 students on September 17, 2009.

The opening of the university was a milestone in the history of education in our island nation, which began almost two centuries ago…

In April 1829, Major William Colebrooke (1787-1870) a commissioner of the Eastern inquiry paid a brief visit to Seychelles to report on the situation of the slaves, a task he had been appointed to do since 1822 in all the British colonies. At that time, the civil agent was George Harrison and the population amounted to about 8,000 inhabitants, most of whom were African slaves.

Commissioner R.W. Keat’s correspondence on education

In his report to Sir George Murray the secretary of state for the colonies, Major Colebrooke expressed his concern about the introduction of education in Seychelles. Although he was satisfied as to the welfare of the slaves he found on the various plantations, he stated that both a church and a school were needed here. He even recommended that a clergyman from the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church be sent to Seychelles for the spiritual needs of the inhabitants.

But, the importance of having an educational establishment did not interest the British administration in Seychelles then, for obvious reasons. Education would be practically useless in a small colonial outpost where slavery provided the only important labour for the foundations of an agricultural economy.

However, a Scotsman named James Moses Collie (1805-1872) arrived in Seychelles in 1830 and shortly after, established a small school for the children of the English inhabitants. As for the daughters of the French settlers, they received tuition from the home of the D’Offay sisters.

When Charles Augustus Mylius arrived in the February of 1839 to take up his appointment as the new civil commissioner of Seychelles, he was somewhat appalled by the existing circumstances of the population, especially the conditions of the African slaves whose lives had changed with the Emancipation Act of 1836. He made recommendations to the Governor of Mauritius, Sir William Nicolay for the building of least two churches and two schools on Mahé that were to be entrusted under the responsibility of the Anglican and the Catholic. If he was echoing Major Colbrooke’s concern of a decade earlier, it became evident right at the outset that the introduction of education in Seychelles would be attained only in concomitance with the establishment of religion – schools and churches would be adjuncts in the social development of Seychelles throughout the entire nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth century.

Mylius’s concern was slightly appeased two months later, with the arrival of two English catechists, George Clarke and his wife Jane, who had been sent by Rev Jean Lebrun (1789-1865) of Mauritius to open a school for the children of ex-slaves under the auspices of the Lady Mico Charity. Lady Jane Mico inherited most of her husband’s fortune in 1666 when he died. Samuel Mico was a trader with the East India Company and dealt in the importation of spices and silk. Lady Mico who was a great philanthropist used her wealth to establish alms houses for the poor widows of London and training institutions in many British Colonies.

The Lady Mico Charity Trust School was the first free school ever to be established in Seychelles and it was the beginning of Anglican mission schools in the archipelago which was then governed as a dependency of Mauritius.

Schools for boys and girls

In July 1843, George Ferdinand Delafontaine (1811-1879) was appointed first civil chaplain to Seychelles and within a month of his arrival, he immediately took over the work of the Lady Mico charity trust school and established two free schools for boys and girls under the patronage of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The Clarke couple left Seychelles and returned to Mauritius that same year. Their educational endeavours in Seychelles would not have lasted long anyway, because parliamentary grant for Negro education to the Mico charity ended in 1847.

On the July 26, 1850, Mylius’s successor, Robert William Keat (1814-1873) arrived in Seychelles and immediately became aware of the imperative need to improve the conditions of education. The first person he contacted to express his interest was James Moses Collie. In his correspondence of August 6, 1850, he sought the schoolmaster’s judicious recommendations “to help me in my endeavours to form an opinion of the practicability of extending the means of education among the inhabitants of these islands”.

However, the utter lack of pecuniary resource prevented Keat from realising his altruistic goals for the 6,811 souls in Seychelles. It would be during his successor, George Thompson Wade’s administration that education in connection with religion would actually sprout and begin to flourish.

It was on September 30, 1853, almost one year after a Vatican decree of November 26, 1852 had established Seychelles as an apostolic prefecture of the Roman Catholic Church that Father Theophile Pollar (1826-1889) and Father Jeremie de Paglieta (1820-1871) arrived in Seychelles. Before the end of that year, a Catholic primary school for boys opened in Victoria and was entrusted under the management of Napoleon Lefevre. There was an enrolment of 42 children.

With the blessing of the church of the Immaculate December 8, 1854, the Catholic Mission Governor Davidson’s correspondencezealously embarked on its evangelisation crusade by building churches and chapels with their attendant schools on Mahé, Praslin and La Digue. Early in 1861, Father Jeremie, who was the apostolic prefect, brought the sisters of St Joseph de Cluny to Seychelles to open a convent school for girls and an orphanage. Since most of these elementary school were fee-paying and the fact that the Catholic missionaries were not British subjects they were barred from applying to the government in Mauritius for grant-in-aid to which they would have been entitled under Ordinance 6 of 1856. However, generous donations from the French inhabitants and from ecclesiastical sources abroad ensured that their programme of expansion did not lose its momentum.

They received a salary of £150 each. Meanwhile, the Anglican ministry under the responsibility of Adolphus Vaudin was also gradually instilling its share of the population with the principles of the Church of England. At least seven schools were established with an annual grant of US $100 from the society to spread the Gospel.

In 1863, Father Ignace Galtione replaced Father Jeremie as apostolic prefect. He was eager to initiate new developments for the progress of education in Seychelles. The ambitious projects he had in mind included the establishment of a secondary school for boys in Victoria. This was achieved in 1867. It was called the School of Notre Dame de Sacre Coeur. In order to manage the school and to put into place a paper curriculum, Father Ignace decided the best option was to seek the help of a Religious Teaching Order. In fact, this was the only recourse he had, since at that time there was nobody in Seychelles who was academically qualified to teach.

Poorly paid teachers quit

In 1867, five brothers of the Frères des Ecoles Chrétiennes arrived and assumed control of the school which was like the rest that were established by the Catholic church since 1853, a fee-paying institution. Unfortunately, the brothers became disenchanted with the remuneration they got and by December 1875, all the five brothers had left the Seychelles.

During the ensuing decade, the school was mostly run by lay teachers from Mauritius. In 1884, Brothers of the Religious Teaching Order of Frères Mariste arrived and the school was renamed College St Louis.

Early in 1870, it became obvious that the social dichotomy that existed between the Catholic and Anglican communities would create a vexatious problem for the improvement of the education system. The population had by then reached over 11,000 inhabitants, and since it was virtually impossible to establish two schools in all the districts in order to satisfy the religious faith of both denominations, Protestant parents were reluctant to send their children to a Catholic School in the fear that they would be indoctrinated and likewise Catholic parents had the same concern for their children. Moreover, the colonial government was not envisaging the establishment of an undenominational school to assuage the religious concerns of the inhabitants. It was true that the fee-paying catholic schools catered mostly to the children of the French inhabitants while the Church of England schools cared for the African children.

In 1872, Seychelles was granted administrative and financial autonomy. Thus, a board of civil commissioners was appointed over which the chief civil commissioner William Hales Franklyn (1816-1874) presided. The following year, on January 10 1873 the board of civil commissioners passed Regulation Number 2 of 1873 “for the promotion of Education in the Seychelles Islands”. It was the first piece of educational legislation ever enacted in Seychelles. It was signed by Franklyn and Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon the governor of Mauritius. This regulation was a veritable watershed event for the progress of education in Seychelles. It authorised the Board of Civil Commissioners to constitute itself into the board of education from time to time to examine teachers in order to give them certificates, which would determine their salaries. It also provided for an inspector of schools. Clause 4 of the regulation which became known as the Conscience Clause stated that “no child should receive any religious instruction objected to by parent or guardian of such child or be present while such instruction be given”.

This was preceded by clause 3 which stated that all schools were to be open “to children without distinction of colour or race”. On March 20, 1876, Venn’s Town at Capucin, Sans Souci was opened by the Christian Missionary Society, a branch of the Anglican Church. It was an institution that gave education and shelter to children of liberated slaves who were rescued by ships of the Royal Navy and brought to Mahé between 1861 and 1874.

Grants to primary schools were first given in 1874 under the provisions of Regulation No. 2 of 1874. These grant-in-aid allowances were taken after a vote of the Legislative Council from the funds of the dependency, which at that time earned much of its revenue from the exportation of coconuts and timber.

Grants for schools

In 1874, four schools with 421 pupils got grant-in-aid allowances totaling R2,631.

From 1875, the Catholic Mission expanded its programme of education so that, with the tenacious support of its succession of Apostolic vicars and bishops resonated well into the first decade of the 20th Century.

In 1875, two schools for boys and girls opened at Anse Royale. In 1886, the sisters of St Joseph de Cluny opened schools at Grand Anse Praslin and in 1888, one at Beauvoir, La Misere, two at Anse aux Pins in 1889, two at La Digue, the same year, one at Cascade in 1891, one at Anse Boileau in 1893, one at Glacis in 1894, one at Baie Lazare in 1896, one at Bel Ombre in 1899.

Nuns and pupils at the St Joseph’s convent

By 1899, there were 23 Roman Catholic schools with a total of 2,129 pupils on roll and six Church of England schools with a total of 348 pupils on roll. The Catholic schools earned a total of R8,450 whilst the Church of England got R1,549. In 1899, the annual provision for educational grants was increased from R8,000 to R10,000. Nevertheless, it was becoming difficult for both denominations to meet the heavy expenditure which the maintenance of their schools entailed.

Since the educational welfare and religious enlightenment of the Seychellois children were administered by two opposing churches, there were instances of strife and confrontation between the two ecclesiastical establishments. One particular issue of contention was educational grants. Both claimed that the other was receiving an unfair portion of the grant. It even upset relations between the churches and the colonial administration. The Catholic church constantly accused the government of giving the Church of England a disproportionate amount of grant-in-aid allowances. If this was so, it was in compliance with Regulation No.2 of 1873 which stated that the amount that a school received would depend on the qualifications of the teachers from Ireland whilst most of the mission district schools were in the charge by uncertified teachers.

The issue of language also kept the two churches at loggerheads. In the Catholic schools, French was taught whilst in the Church Of England schools, English was taught. It seemed that this would be the ideal state of affairs in a situation of polarised principles. However, the prospects of education was a priority on the chief civil commissioner’s agenda, and consequently the Apostolic Vicar was incensed when the government insisted that the teaching of English both as a medium of instruction and as a subject should be introduced in all the schools. But what really filled Mgr Marc Hudrisier with ire was the sale of St Paul’s boys’ school to the government in November of 1890. Thomas Risely Griffith the administrator wanted to transform it into a government undenominational school for boys, where a proper system of English education would be implemented. It caused uproar among the Catholic Community who saw it as a Protestant school in disguise, although the government emphasised the fact that there would be no religious instruction in the school. From the pulpits, all across Mahé, the Catholic clergy threatened that families would be excommunicated if they sent their children to the school. The school was opened on March 2, 1891 with 59 boys on roll.

On the January 4, 1884, the Mariste Brothers took control of the College St Louis. The director was Brother Seraphim. The college gradually established its place at the forefront of educational institutions. The syllabus included algebra, geography, natural history and translation of poetry in both languages. The longest serving director of College St Louis was Brother Cyrus who took over in 1894 and remained in the post of superior until his departure from Seychelles on March 11, 1935.

Schools inspector

The duty of the inspector of schools who was appointed by the secretary of state for the colonies at an annual salary of $50 was to visit each school and evaluate each pupil by means of oral and written questions. During the 1880s and late 1890s the syllabus of the primary schools comprised of arithmetic, dictation, reading, grammar singing  and needlework (for the girls schools) and of course religious knowledge. In some schools, the medium of instruction was Creole. Throughout those years there were over a dozen inspectors of school; Dr William Macgregor (1873), Lasserre (1878), James Brodie (1882), Alfred Furteau (1892), John Driver (1895), Sebert Batty (1897), E.G. Rowden (1903), George Mackey (1911), David William Mcleod (1914), A.H. Philips (1915), JHT Ellis (1921) J.D. Harter (1924)…

In 1891, the government undenominational school consisted of a free junior, primary and a paying secondary department. In 1910, the junior school was moved to a separate building and named the Government Free School. In 1990, the other department was known as Victoria School, and on January 23, 1911, it opened as King’s college with 12 pupils on roll. This was Governor Walter Edward Davidson’s (1859-1923) personal venture to make it the only secondary school in the colony in terms of the secularisation of education in Seychelles. This came in the wake of ordinance 11 of 1910 which provided for the establishment of government schools, affiliated and grant-in-aid Schools.

Davidson’s predecessor, Ernest Bickham Sweet (1857-1941) had enacted Ordinance No. 30 of 1900 with a view of providing a legal framework for the development of education in Seychelles. He had ambitious plans that he wanted to achieve since he would become the first governor of the Seychelles in 1903. One of the fundamental aspects of that ordinance was that it provided for the compulsory teaching of English in all the schools.

Ordinance No 11 of 1910 therefore incurred the wrath of Catholic Bishop Thomas Bernadin Ordinance No.30 of 1900Clarke who got 2,659 inhabitants to sign a petition which he sent to Governor Davidson who was adamant to maintain his stance on secular education. The fee for Kings College was R16 per term.

Both Kings College and St Louis College prepared students for the Cambridge Certificate and the London University Matriculation examination. Since 1894, the St Louis College was affiliated with the Royal College of Mauritius, which meant that students of both establishments followed the same course of studies and underwent the same examinations. The girls at the St Joseph’s convent sat for the local Cambridge examinations. In 1915, four years after it opened, King’s college had 61 pupils, and St Louis College had 162. The attendance for St Joseph’s convent school was 159. By 1919, King’s college began to experience a shortage of qualified teachers and a reduction in pupils. Governor Joseph Byrne (1874-1942) decided to close the institution and to offer it to the two churches which were eager than ever to increase their educational control over the population. First, since the college consisted of two establishments, it was decided that the Catholic Church would take over and assume control of the section that was used for the purpose of Victoria School, and that the Church of England assume control of the section that once served as the Government Free School.

So on December 29, 1923, a memorandum of agreement was signed by Sir Joseph Aloysius Byrne, Mgr Justin Gumy and Reverend Henry Hope Buswell the civil chaplain, who was between 1919 and 1925, commissary in Seychelles for Lord Bishop of Mauritius and Seychelles. This put an end to the government’s hope of providing secondary education in Seychelles. So between 1920 and 1947, there was no government school in the colony.

Church-led schools

With their newly-acquired buildings, the two churches provided primary education for the youths of Victoria, each with their own respective, theological bias. In 1924, new regulations were introduced for the 27 grant-in-aid schools in Seychelles.
These were the primary schools that had to conform to a programme of studies framed by the governing body of education and approved by the governor in executive council. At one time, during the early 1920s, there was much debate and arguments about whether the district schools should follow the same syllabus and curriculum as schools in Victoria. It was considered that there should be a pragmatic approach to education regarding the needs and environment of school children of the country and those of town and that an important though subsidiary objective of the school was to discover children who showed promise of exceptional capacity and to encourage their special gifts. There was indeed a general belief that children were being educated to an end which was ill-defined.

In 1927, a scholarship known as The Seychelles Scholarship was established. It was awarded to the most successful candidate who sat for the London Matriculation examination. The laureate could pursue his studies to any part of the British empire with all his or her expenses paid by the government.

In 1936, a dispute erupted between the Mariste Brothers and the Catholic mission over the future of St Louis College. The Mariste Brothers wanted to retain control of the college which pursuant to an agreement which had expired in 1933, after over 50 years that the Mariste Brothers had managed the college, whilst the Catholic Mission wanted to take over the establishment which any way, was their property. It was absolute control of the college that the Catholic mission wanted, whilst allowing the Mariste Brothers to continue their educational functions. The contentious issue kept them at variance for over a decade.

In 1944, the government under William Marston Logan (1889-1968) made a meticulous evaluation of the educational system. Some fundamental proposals were contemplated and outlined which eventually led to the enactment of new legislation – ordinance No.15 of 1944 “An ordinance to provide for the Development and Regulation of Education.” The new law gave the government absolute control of the educational system in the colony and entrusted it with the responsibility for educational policy and for the efficiency of an educational system. A 10-year plan of educational development was prepared for which the sum of $100,000 from the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund was allocated. Under this new ordinance, the board of education was replaced by an Advisory Council for Education. The ordinance also made it obligatory for the medium of construction to be English. Wilfred Giles was appointed as director of education. He had the onerous task of ensuring that all the objectives of the plan were fulfilled. These include the construction of new buildings, the supply of text-books and stationery for all schools and the recruitment of teaching staff.

In 1946, the Mariste Brother left Seychelles in great discontentment, and the government had to assume responsibility for boys’ secondary education at short notice. In 1949, Giles was replaced by W. D. Gregg. That same year, the first secondary modern school was opened in Victoria.

Seychelles College founded

Seychelles College

In 1950, new buildings at Mont Fleuri were completed and the establishment was called Seychelles College. It was under the management of the Brothers of Christian Instruction of Ploermel, a French Canadian branch of a French teaching order. A most tragic incidence occurred on July 27, 1951 when the director of the college, Father Ambrosius Meek was found hung in his office. He was 41 years old.

On the January 27, 1957, the St Joseph’s Convent School for girls moved into new premises at Mont Fleuri that had been constructed at the cost of $47,000. The new secondary grammar school for girls was named Regina Mundi Convent School.

The 1950s were a period where extensions of various schools were carried with unrelenting progress. The physical conditions of schools were seen as a requisite conducive to the success of learning. In 1959, a teacher training college was opened where experienced but uncertified teachers could attend a one-year course. In 1960, there were a total number of 244 teachers in the 33 schools of Seychelles attended by 6,094 pupils, 68 trained and 186 untrained.

The population at that time was 41,425 inhabitants. A significant development that began in 1965 was to provide education to all children up to the age of 15 years which meant that all children who had completed their primary schooling were given the opportunity of at least two years of secondary education. During the years 1966-1969, the new secondary modern schools that the Catholic mission built met the growing demand for post-primary schooling. Catholic Bishop Olivier Maradan (1899-1975) made it a priority of his episcopal duties to re-build many of the old mission district schools that had fallen into dilapidation, (Cascade School 1964, Baie Lazare School 1966) and also to construct new ones ( St Agnes 1966, Dominique Savio 1966, St Clare 1969).

The Regina Mundi convent

The educational system remained more or less in status quo until after independence, because in 1979, two years after the socialist government had assumed control of the republic, it launched its first five-year development in which a reorganisation scheme for education in Seychelles was elaborately outlined. A zoning-system was introduced whereby each school got its intake of pupils from the district where the school is situated.

On March 1, 1981, the First National Youth Service village opened at Port Launay. Later, that same year, on Sunday July 5, at the end of the third Seychelles People’s Progressive Front congress, President France Albert Rene announced that as of January 1982, Creole would be the language of instruction in all primary Schools.
On June 23, 1982, Act 15 of 1982 came into force with the aim “providing for the organisation, promotion and development of education in Seychelles”.

From then on, the government embarked on a protracted programme of building schools on a wide-spread scale. This was a pivotal element of its social welfare manifesto.

And, then, the 12 various departments of the polytechnic were opened to accommodate 1,700 students for a variety of courses. Humanities & Social Science, Business Studies, Art and Design, … and then, Plato was unveiled.

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