Seychelles moves to unveil monument to honour role of Seychelles College & Regina Mundi Convent on 40th Anniversary of Independence
The 40th Anniversary of our Independence will certainly be an occasion to showcase our successes and achievements as a Nation and the tremendous strides the country has made in every field since 29th June 1976. Everyone can be justly proud of his or her contribution towards the progress made as we forge ahead towards greater heights. As we take stock, it is proper to reflect upon the roles played by various people and institutions that have helped in the task of nation-building.
Two of the many institutions that can certainly claim to have contributed to this success are Seychelles College and Regina Mundi which produced the many professionals both in the private and public sector who helped shape the destiny of our Nation. Many of our teachers, doctors, engineers, architects and politicians – amongst others – are all products of these two great schools. Presidents James Mancham and Albert René as well as the Catholic and Anglican Bishops, Monseigneur Felix Paul and Archbishop French Chang-Him, and Chief Justices Georges Souyave and Mathilda Twomey number among the numerous graduates of these schools.
The initiative of a monument was first mooted with the formation of the Regina Mundi Convent and Seychelles College (RMSC) Alumni following a get-together of former students of these institutions at Le Meridien Barbarons in 2010. Since then the project gathered momentum and the monument, now under construction at the entrance to the former Seychelles College, has been conceived, designed, built and funded by the ex-students.
Seychelles College which opened its doors in January 1950 and closed in 1982 was ran for the most part by the Plöermel Brothers of Christian Instruction with the first Seychellois Headmaster, Mr Zotique Pragassen, taking up the post in 1976. The Regina Mundi Convent School opened in January 1957 and closed in December 1980. It was run by the Sisters of Saint Joseph de Cluny.
The establishment of the two schools was the initiative of the then Director of Education, Walter Giles, who made it one of his priority projects having identified improving the level of Education in the Colony as a key objective. At that time the Catholic Church was the body responsible for education having built schools in its various parishes around the islands. Mr Giles had to negotiate the construction of these two schools with the then Bishop of Seychelles, Monseigneur Olivier Maradan. The negotiation started in 1945.
The Bishop agreed to the construction of the schools as long as they were run by Catholic Christian Brothers and Sisters. Mr Giles consequently approached the Brothers of Christian Instruction in Quebec, Canada and the Sisters of Saint Joseph de Cluny in Ireland to run the schools, but using English as opposed to French as the medium of instruction as had prevailed before.
After several years of toing and froing, the Seychelles College was finally opened in 1949 and the Brothers took charge in 1950. After a further 6 years of negotiations with the Bishop Maradan, the Regina Mundi Convent was finally constructed and opened its doors in 1957.
Seychelles College was by and large a boys’ school although in the ‘70s it admitted girls to the Advanced Level Course ran only at the College. Regina Mundi was always a girls’ school although in its early years admitted boys at kindergarten level. Throughout their existence both schools employed several expatriate (mostly from the UK) and Seychellois lay teachers.
The Second Republic which came into being on 5th June 1977 ushered in its wake a comprehensive review of the country’s education system including ‘zoning’ which required that all children attended schools in their districts. Education was made compulsory and free. The new scenario resulted in both College and Convent being closed down. Regina Mundi shut its doors in 1980 and Seychelles College likewise in 1982.
Some moaned the closure of the two institutions while others saw them as ‘elitist’ and incompatible with the agenda of the new socialist-oriented government which placed heavy emphasis on equality of opportunity in education where the ability to pay had no place in access to universal education.
Nearly 40 years on, the ‘elitist’ label attached to College and Convent at the time of their closure is seen in a different light by some – not least by their former students. Both schools were fee-paying although a bursary programme was in place for students from other schools who excelled at the national entrance examinations held yearly to admit students to the secondary sections of both schools. True, the majority who met the admission criteria came from the College and Convent primary schools which had an advantage over other parish schools in terms of the quality and quantity of resources at their disposal. The defenders of the College and Convent point to the social context of their existence as being responsible for the limited access to the schools. Both offered high quality education and did not discriminate against new entrants from other schools who qualified but some who gained admission contest this assertion.
Another significant element which has to be highlighted to put things in perspective is the existence for many years of the additional stream referred to as ‘Special Standard Six’ which was run for those whose entrance exam results did not immediately qualify them for admission but who showed an aptitude for further academic studies with some extra tuition and coaching. Most of them, who were bursars even at primary level for the extra year, met the admission criteria the following year. It has to be acknowledged here however that there are claims by some that although they met the academic threshold for admission to the College and Convent, they were denied the opportunity of entry on grounds of a subsequent ‘means test’ which determined that their parents could not afford the school fees.
It should also be noted that the College and Convent did not always depend entirely on the income through school fees for their existence as they were heavily subsidised by the Government. The fees paid by parents/guardians represented only a fraction of the cost of running the schools.
Notwithstanding all of the above, the crucial roles these institutions have played are today generally recognised and acknowledged. As was pointed out by the Tourism and Culture Minister Alain St Ange, in a broadcast interview on the SBC last year, it is important that we do not forget history and heritage. Minister St Ange – himself a product of the College – commended the committee that initiated the RMSC monument project and looked forward to the setting up of similar monuments to remember other institutions for their historical roles. Minister St Ange cited the National Youth Service (NYS) as deserving of a monument to honour its place in history.
The Committee behind the RMSC project have also recommended to the National Monuments Board to declare some of the buildings in the College and Convent compounds as national monuments. The idea has been well-received but it may take a while before a formal declaration is made to this effect. There is already a conscious effort at preserving something of the past even in the reconstruction and renovation of buildings, the latest example being the new Glacis Primary where a block of the old school has been neatly incorporated into the new, modern facilities Glacis pupils now enjoy.
The monument to honour the College and Convent will be unveiled on Wednesday 29th June 2016 by, it is hoped, a Brother and Sister who taught at these schools. All former students, teachers and other staff as well as friends of the Seychelles College and Regina Mundi Convent are warmly invited to attend the event scheduled to begin at 10:00 in the morning. The ceremony will end with a cocktail and an opportunity to reminisce and renew old acquaintances.