The following is a commentary by Dr. Charles H Wheatley.

The fourth B. V. Islander who was engaged in our struggle of and for self-determination through available education was Norwell Elton Harrigan. His fight for available secondary education locally in the 1930’s and 1940’s should not be forgotten. We tend to overlook the contributions of our forebears to our struggle for self-determination, the struggle in which we are currently engaged in the political order. More on that later.

Norwell Harrigan was a teacher in primary and secondary schools 1937-1952, Supervisor of education 1953-1956, Chief Education Officer 1957-1961 and Secretary to Government and member of the Executive and Legislative Councils 1961-1966.

Durìng the late 1930’s and 1940’s B. V. Islanders were waking up from their education slumber as they began to agitate for Secondary education within the Territory. As late as the early 1950’s parents had to send their children to St Kitts and Antigua to complete Secondary eduation. The children of parents who could not afford to pay for that schooling, although eligible, could not advance beyond the Standard Seven Examination locally. In 1938 a delegation from the Teachers Association met with the West Indian Royal Commission and delivered a petition with ten recommendations.  The following is an excerpt from an account of the struggle for secondary education by Norwell Harrigan:

“The islands marshalled their forces in 1938 and the first shot was fired before the West Indian Royal Commission. Two delegations gave evidence. One represented the Teachers Association led by Olva Flax and myself and the other, a civic organization, led by H.R. Penn and H. A. Abbott. The teachers put forward ten recommendations including the following:

1. A whole time education officer should be appointed to supervise and direct local education, and the education department constituted or organized along more effective lines.

2. Some higher school should be established to provide for industrial and academic training up to the Cambridge or Oxford certificate.

The teacher’s memorandum was really mild in tone but even before it was dispatched to the Commission, the powers that be had attempted to intimidate the delegates and indeed some of our colleagues left us by the wayside. But the appearance before the Commission was a triumph for two young Virgin Islanders. Sir Walter Citrine came down from the courthouse dais and put his arm around our shoulders. “Boys”, he said, ” your case was well put”. The reaction from the local dignitaries (of course of non-Virgin Islands origin) was very different and took the form of a threat. Flax escaped having been awarded a scholarship to read for a degree at Codrington College. My pay as Acting head teacher of the West End School was cut. I resigned. The dice had, however, been cast. Education had its day in court. Now a school was to be built. The material was assembled on-site, three local persons, Miss Loubelle Penn, Mr. Monroe Donovan, and I, were selected and sent away for training. By the time we returned even the material had vanished; no provision had been made for our salaries and for nearly two years we were shunted from place to place in an attempt to keep us employed. If the situation had not been pathetic it would have been amusing.

Shortly after that T. D. Green (an Oxford man) was appointed supervisor of education, and a department was established (moving education from the Methodist parson’s house,) & and headmaster of a non-existing school.  Government then decided after all four teachers were on payroll, to open a school in rented quarters.  A selection examination was held and on 3 May 1943 the Virgin Islands Senior School came into being.  The school was a new invention. The concept of a Junior Secondary School worked out by an English expert in education was followed as closely as possible. But this whole scheme was not the Virgin Islands idea of Secondary education.

In 1948 Henry Creque, Jose O’Neal, Mac Todman and I wrote in the “Torch” the organ of the Social Welfare Council:

…Instead of developing into a distinctive secondary school and working out a curriculum which was in truth and in fact secondary in that it was adjusted and determined by the needs and creative developments of these adolescent pupils, the school became a means of perpetuating a system of education which had long been in need of reform. The Senior School was not a step forward but an adventure into the dark.

The fight for a Secondary School became hotter when the Teachers Association, the Methodist Church, and the Anglican Church joined forces demanding a Secondary School against the will of the government. The dispute brought the Governor from Antigua to settle the matter and after a very heated debate the Governor agreed to establish a Secondary School in the British Virgin Islands. This came in effect in 1948.

The Territory should respect the valiant effort of Norwell Harrigan in this battle. From that seed in 1948 you now have Secondary/High School education available throughout the Territory.