Old Technical Institute had great merit
Sixty years brings with it the working value of two generations and September 2016 happens to be the 60th anniversary of the opening of the former Bermuda Technical Institute.
The school opened in 1956 and closed in 1972 — basically a 16-year existence that had a profound effect on Bermuda. So much so, that its demise is felt and talked about frequently.
The big question of why it closed, and all the associated theories, is still an emotive topic.
Whether or not one subscribes to the most vehement of theories as to why it closed, it is indeed the strangest of phenomenon when something that absolutely works and bears good fruit is stopped.
I have my own theory but let me refer instead to what I recall the chairman, Sir David Gibbons, said when addressing a Tech students' reunion sometime in the early 1980s at the Bermudiana Hotel.
He said: “We can all remember the atmosphere of the period and the Technical Institute was a victim of that time.”
He also said he was not in favour of its closure and registered his voice against it closing. The closing of the Bermuda Technical Institute was a joint decision between the Tech school Board of Governors and the Board of Education. The relationship between the two over the period of its existence would be worthy to investigate.
The Technical Institute was started with the vision and push from the industry with persons such as Sir David, Sir John Plowman, John Burland and Richard Gorham to name a few. The school was an anomaly for its time, which resulted in the first fully integrated public school coming into existence before the Theatre Boycott and years before the formal integration of Bermudian society.
The school for its time was equipped state-of-the-art and fostered a technical syllabus that was radically different from the approach of the top academic schools, such as the Berkeley Institute, Warwick Academy or Saltus Grammar. With its concentration on technology, science and mathematics, it geared its approach to creating students who could navigate through every level of industry. The students would have the foundation for trades and their extensions, where they could not just become a carpenter or builder, but they could go on if desired to be an architect or engineer. They could be a motor mechanic or electrical mechanic, or a mechanical engineer or electrical engineer.
The pro academics of the era, including many at the Department of Education, never fully appreciated technical education, often dubbing it as a school design to relegate students to manual work.
However, the industry experienced something completely different because these students not only filled the need for tradesmanship, but they became supervisors, business owners and leaders in many fields.
There was a tug-o-war and the Tech Board of Governors acquiesced to the Board of Education, which wanted to change the function of the school to become a coeducational facility and to shift to the softer demands what was then called secretarial and clerical education.
The Board of Governors, unlike its visionary approach in 1956, regressed knowing better but like the biblical Pontius Pilate, folded its arms and facilitated a death blow by conceding to its closure when it had the political might to do as it willed.
The school, rather than expand to accommodate additional science or technology, capitulated leaving any vestige of its role with the newly formed Bermuda College.
The Bermuda Technical Institute was more than just a school: it was a functional institution that was integral to the sustainability of all aspects of Bermuda's industry.
Since its closure, Bermuda has become increasingly dependent on outside technical support, and the trend will go on unabated because society is in reality co-dependent on technology and technical training.
We cannot replace the BTI with nostalgic thoughts; it was entirely adequate for its time, but today is a new day with higher technology and we would need to evolve our educational system to deal with where we are now.
The Bermuda Technical Institute alumni will be celebrating its 60th anniversary at The Fairmont Southampton on September 6. Join us.