75 years  

The Colonial Dept 1927-1953

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John Cameron : student 1946/7, lecturer 1962-1980.

This entry is an extract from the Alumni Magazine (1996) in which John recalls his time as a student at the Institute:

"In the academic year 1946-47, along with 400 other students, I completed the course then called the Teacher’s Diploma for Postgraduate Internal Students, the precursor of the present Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE).  I was based in what was in those latter days of Empire called the Colonial Department. It has since been through several changes (should we call them reincarnations?)……The Colonial Department title was justified in those days, for its job was to produce teachers and educational administrators for work in the colonies, or provide courses for those already working in them. Most of its staff were experienced colonial teachers or administrators, and it was subsidised by the Colonial Office.

We students formed the first big post-war influx and the Institute staff, to begin with at least, were on the defensive. So many of us, either directly or indirectly, had until recently been bombing, shelling, shooting or torpedoing the King’s enemies all over the globe. The staff feared that they were about to be overwhelmed by a wave of licentious soldiery. They need not have worried. By and large we were are good as gold. We were so glad to be there. The bliss of being able to sit reading in a quite library surrounded by books; the flattery of being asked in a seminar for your opinion!

We wanted to forget the war; we were too close to it to indulge in reminiscences and nostalgia. In any case, almost everybody had been in it, one way or another; everybody had a war story, women as well as men. The demure woman student sitting next to you in a lecture might well have been in the women’s services overseas, or have fired shells in an anti-aircraft battery near London; have been in the London Fire Service during the Blitz, or worked in the Land Army; or even piloted new RAF bombers across the Atlantic from American factories.  If she had, she would not have bothered to tell you.

In the Colonial Department, headed by Dr Margaret Read, the soldiery were leavened by several missionaries from the colonies, because the colonial governments were beginning to insist that for grant-in-aid purposes their mission schools should be staffed by qualified teachers. The other leavening was a much bigger one – of African, Asian and Caribbean students taking the one-year, non-graduate Teacher’s Certificate course. They were non-graduates of very high quality, who had no universities in their own countries in which they could graduate.

The Diploma course itself consisted of the not unexpected mixture of lectures, seminars, tutorials and teaching practice in local schools. The highlight was the series of “Foundation” lectures on the Psychology, Sociology and Theory of Education, usually given on Friday mornings in the William Beveridge Hall of the University. They were given in a grand, formal style by the important members of staff, H R Hamley, Karl Mannheim (who was sadly to die at the beginning of the second term), Joseph Lauwerys, Charlotte Fleming, and others. Pencils and fountain pens poised, we lapped up their pronouncements. There were the usual “Special Subjects”. It was inevitable that I, who had a degree in Classics and was going overseas, took History and Geography, which were also my teaching practice subjects. The authorities had more sense than to let me, a Scot, loose to teach English in London schools.

The Department had other lecturers from outside to deal with overseas topics; they included Arthur Creech Jones, the then Colonial Secretary, and Directors of Education on home leave from the colonies. In seminars we were expected to deliver a paper on an agreed topic, defend it and later submit it to the seminar tutor for assessment. There was quite a lot of other written work, leading up to a longer essay which had to be handed in at the beginning of the summer term. In the first two terms those of us going to Africa for the first time studied an African language at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Because I was going to East Africa, I did Swahili. Wednesday afternoons were free, being ostensibly reserved for sports and games.

As students on teaching practice we were welcomed with open arms. We were the fresh troops relieving a beleaguered garrison. There was a great shortage of teachers and many of the staff had had to stay on during the war after retiring age to keep the schools going. Euphoria was widespread. We believed that we had won the war; the Welfare State was in its healthy infancy and the great 1944 Education act was being implemented. with enthusiasm. So many school staffs were helpful, committed, forward-looking and cheerful.

Having thankfully passed my practical examination in the spring term, I was sent on my own at the beginning of the summer term to Oundle, Northamptonshire, still water-logged after the March floods, to carry out my three-week County Survey.  There I was attached to a newly designated secondary modern school under a new and very enthusiastic headmaster. He even begged me, a mere student, to report to him without delay anything I thought his school could do better.  Not only had I to teach in the school itself, but also to discover, and write up for submission on my return to London, how the school fitted into and served the local community. So I visited, with the school inspector, “contributory” primary schools, attended meetings of the village boys’ club and young farmers’ club and went to watch local football matches. When I could afford it, I had the odd drink in the local pub.

When the official Diploma pass list was published at the end of July to my great relief my name was on it. Three weeks later I was on the high seas, bound for Mombasa via the Suez Canal. From Mombasa a two-day journey took me to Uganda, my first posting. I did not dream that seventeen years later I should be back at the Institute, this time to join the staff of the same Department in which I had been a student."

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Compiled and edited by Clare Bentall and Angela Little. First issued Spring 2005.