“From these walls and from these grounds, we were sent out into the world, not so much to subdue it as to exalt it . . . to leave it a better place than we found it.”
– Rishi Singh
Corentyne High School, now renamed “JC Chandisingh Secondary School”, was built in 1938 when the final drama was being played out in Europe to push the world into war. The school was a modest two-story building on a small plot of land two blocks away from the Rose Hall public road. Since the colonial power, Britain, did not provide free secondary education, Corentyne High School, imbued with true pioneering spirit, zealously sought to provide that vital bridge to allow the youths of the predominantly agrarian Corentyne coast to further their education so that they could proceed to university.
Unquestionably, the individual who had the greatest impact upon the school and who single-handedly transformed the education of the entire Corentyne was Joseph Chamberlain Chandisingh. Being one of the founding fathers of the school, and becoming Principal in 1940, he saw the school through its most arduous period and shaped it with absolute single-mindedness, vision, and selfless dedication into one of the finest secondary institutions in Guyana, standing up favourably to Georgetown’s best and brightest schools. Britain acknowledged his contribution to education for more than a generation by awarding him an MBE in 1960.
But, lest posterity forget, we must single out some of the school’s pre-eminent benefactors who stood should to shoulder with J. C. Chandisingh. One of them was Rev. A. E. Dyett, a former Minister of Auchlyne and affiliated branches of the Church of Scotland. He contributed to the school’s building fund and was one of the first members of the School’s Board of Governors. Another such original member of the Board was A. L. Swamber, Chemist and Druggist. He saw to the building of the street for access to the school. The street was named Sharples Street, in honor of the then Government Medical Officer of the district, Dr. R. Sharples. But the name fell into disuse in preference for the more relevant Corentyne High School street. The third person was Edna K. Goodwill of Canada, Art Teacher of Berbice High School and of Corentyne High School. Since her return to Canada, she contributed immensely to the school’s library.
The year 1959 was a watershed year for Corentyne High School. Up until then, the school had accommodation for eleven forms (or classrooms) and an enrollment of just over 400 students. In 1959 the colonial government of the then British Guiana began to give the school financial aid in recognition of its invaluable service and prodigious accomplishments. As the school’s first periodical, THE RECORDER, July 1959, reported, the school Board with help from the public and the government, decided to erect a new building to accommodate sixteen classrooms and three science laboratories at a cost of over fifty thousand dollars. The main hall would be 90 feet by 30 feet, with two wings, each 60 feet by 30 feet. Due credit should now be given to two other benefactors who helped to materialize plans for the new school. The first was L. Satnarain, who was then President of the school’s Board and Factory Manager at Albion Sugar Estate. Through his intervention, Bookers Sugar Estates Ltd magnanimously donated the old Albion Estate Hospital to be used for the contruction of the new school’s capacious auditorium. Bookers also granted ten acres of land, adjacent to the old school, on which the new school was to be built, complete with a cricket field, volley ball court and facilities for other sports. The other person worthy of praise and gratitude was James I. Ramphall, formerly Commissioner of Labor in the Government, who helped to refine the architectural plans for the school and give advice for the utilization of the spacious school compounds.
The new school became operational in January, 1960 and its opening predictably entailed the revamping of the school’s curricula so as to align the syllabus with new contemporary demands of a post-colonial world. For instance, tropical countries should not burden students with the ridiculous task of writing compositions on the games they like to play in the snow. The introduction into the curriculum of Chemistry, Physics, and Biology had to be balanced with the exclusion of Latin and Religious Knowledge. Guyana is politically and economically part of the Caribbean Basin, but is geographically in a continent that is predominantly Latin-American. It made greater sense therefore for students to learn Spanish rather than French as a foreign language.
Although Corentyne High School for most of its existence was a private school (becoming government-controlled by 1978), it always accomplished very much with slender resources. That is to say, its Spartan discipline produced Herculean wonders, thanks to its superb staff of teachers. The school never established a Hall of Fame but many names of former teachers who in the good old days helped to put the school on the map will remain deeply embedded in the hearts of graduates and in the legends of lores of the Corentyne. Among the hallowed heroes are Haroon Samad, Cecil A. Parkinson, Claude Vieira, Salim Khan, J.P.Deonarain, Clive Drepaul and Parsram Singh.
But time has brought about many changes. Since its establishment in 1938 up until 1963, the school prepared students for the Cambridge School Certificate and Ordinary Level examinations. From June 1964, however, the London General Certificate of Education (GCE) superceded the Cambridge examinations. But since 1980, while the London examinations were retained for most subjects, the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) took over the testing in certain subjects such as English, Literature, History and Geography.
Time has also taken its toll on the school buildings. In the decades of the 70’s and 80’s, because of the volatile political climate, rural education in Guyana was calamitously neglected. Consequently, text books were in short supply, and buildings cried out most piteously to crassly deaf ears for repairs. Luckily Guyanese expatriates, notably alumni of the old Corentyne High, from Guyana, Canada, USA and Britain responded generously and were able to oversee and defray the cost of repairs.
On this historic occasion, when this school has reached the ripe old age of seventy and is still going strong, its graduates both at home and abroad can look back with pride and satisfaction. Guyanese residing abroad aver with unshakeable conviction that this school laid the foundation for all their academic accomplishments by whetting their appetite for knowledge and infusing their minds with the requisite discipline for the continuous struggle for the acquisition of wisdom and happiness.