Press release on Mr. Arthur Williams (Nov 24 2003)

JADOL Honours Pioneer Distance Educator, Arthur Williams

In today’s world of the Internet, the term “distance education” is often interpreted to mean on-line learning. But distance education is “as old as the post office”, with its origins in the 1800s when correspondence courses were first developed. Many eminent Jamaicans pursued their education through correspondence courses, many with British-based institutions.

One of the earlier developments of correspondence courses in Jamaica is attributed to veteran educator and former parliamentarian, Mr. Arthur Henry Winnington Williams, OD, JP, ACP, who in the late 1950s for a period of three years on his own initiative and with his own finances developed and offered correspondence courses for the eight courses in the Third Jamaica Local Examination. Himself a beneficiary of a correspondence programme, gaining his degree as an Associate of the College of Preceptors (ACP), speaking at the Award and Fund-raising luncheon hosted by the Jamaican Association for Distance and Open Learning (JADOL) on November 19, 2003, when he was inducted as an honorary member for his pioneering work in distance education, Mr. Williams described his experiences:

“Sometime late in the year 1957, the parents and guardians of some seven students from districts not very far from Pratville in South Manchester, where my family and I then lived and where I was Principal of the primary school and my wife [ Mary Letetia Robotham ] was a member of the staff, came and asked us very earnestly indeed to find some way to give extra lessons to some seven of their children for the Third Jamaica Local Examination.

Two of the students had just passed the Second Jamaica Local Examination and the others had failed the Third Jamaica Local Examination. Most of them had to stay away from school because of pregnancy. After some long and deep consideration and on seeing the plight but ambition of the parents and the willingness of the children to continue their studies, we came up with the idea of running correspondence courses for the students. We sent assignments by mail and they did the work and sent it to us by mail on a fortnightly basis. All were in time very successful.

All that I have here outlined was done without any charge whatever. This we have never regretted. Both the parents and pupils have always showed their gratitude.

When we saw how well our method of teaching by correspondence worked, we then started to do correspondence courses for the Third Jamaica Local Examination on an island-wide basis. Students from almost every parish enrolled for the courses. Many who enrolled were unemployed and needed passes in certain subjects to gain employment. Some were employed but wanted to improve their educational standards.

We now had to make a reasonable charge to cover the expenses involved. The work involved was tremendous but very rewarding. I spent many nights at the typewriter. With the use of carbon paper I did five copies of typed work at a time. So to produce a hundred copies, I had to type each page twenty times. The work was not easy.

My wife, now of blessed memory, stood by me and helped me greatly with the marking of papers and setting of new work. We have always been grateful that many persons have been the better for our sacrificial work in this regard.

Today, we have at our disposal photocopiers, fax machines, computers and e-mail and closed circuit television, amongst other teaching aids. Distance teaching is so much easier these days. I pray that the younger people in particular will make the very best use of the present facilities.”

One of the beneficiaries of the Williams’ hard work, Mr. Joshua Thomas, who was in attendance at the function, took the opportunity to meet and thank Mr. Williams, as he credited his attainment of the education that enabled him to be a lecturer at the College of Arts Science and Education (CASE) to the correspondence courses for the Third Jamaica Local Examination, which he took while living in deep rural Portland.

Mr. Williams is the second person to be inducted as an honorary member of JADOL, the first being Professor Gerald Lalor, who was inducted in October 2002 for in recognition of his visionary and innovative work in distance education in the Caribbean . Launched in July 2000, JADOL is a voluntary, not-for-profit association of individuals and organizations, both government and non-governmental, who demonstrate an interest in or who have an involvement with any aspect of distance and open learning. Its mission is to promote, enhance and develop the practice of distance and open learning in Jamaica for individual, institutional and national development.


Mr. Arthur Williams

Mr. Arthur Henry Winnington Williams, OD, JP, ACE , veteran educator and former parliamentarian, is a resourceful and innovative man, with a deep commitment to education in Jamaica.

Born in Santa Cruz, St. Elizabeth on August 17, 1913, Mr. Williams graduated from Mico Teachers’ College in 1934, having passed the Pupil Teachers’ Examination under the tutelage of his elder brother, Martin, himself a recent graduate of Mico.

His teaching appointments included stints at Red Hills, Crooked River, and Main Ridge Schools in Clarendon, and in 1936 Nonsuch Primary School in Portland, where as principal, the school gained a reputation for excellence in academic work, with students winning scholarships and the garden attached to the school being adjudged one of the best in the island. He also served at schools in Mt. Peto, Hanover; and Portland Cottage, Clarendon.

After a hiatus of one year from the school room during which time he worked as Island Organizer of the then Farmers Federation and Farmers Party, in the 1950s he returned to teaching first at the Plowden All Age School and then to Pratville Primary School, both in Southern Manchester.

In 1957, recognizing a need to help students, some of whom could not go to school, on his own initiative and with his own finances, Mr. Williams developed and offered correspondence courses in all eight courses that comprised the Third Jamaica Local Examination as well as a History course for the First Jamaica Local Examination. For a period of three years, students responded to advertisements placed in the Gleaner. The materials were either collected in person or sent out by mail, with assignments being returned in similar fashion. Mr. Williams recalls that one of his students, Hubert Sherrard, won an Exhibition Scholarship to Mico.

Mr. Williams, like many others of his generation, also studied by correspondence, earning the Associate of the College of Preceptors (ACP) degree in teaching in 1960.

In 1967 he became a Member of Parliament, representing the Jamaica Labour Party in South Manchester, where he served until 1983 with a short break in between. During his time in Parliament he served as Deputy Speaker of the Honourable House of Representatives, as Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Education, and acted as the Minister of Education for short periods.

Throughout his teaching career, he contributed not only to the schools with which he was associated, but also to the church and community at large. In 1959 he was appointed Justice of the peace, and in 2000 he was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Government of Jamaica.

Mr. Williams was married on January 29, 1942 to Mary Letetia Robotham, herself a teacher. The union produced four children, Pansy, Maureen, Geoffrey and Arthur, some of whom are with us today.

The foresight that Mr. Williams demonstrated in developing the correspondence courses is highlighted by the fact that it was not until the latter part of the 1960s that there was any formalized attempt in Jamaica at the development and delivery of training programmes by distance.

For this we are pleased to invite Arthur Henry Winnington Williams to become an honorary member of JADOL in recognition of his pioneering work in distance education, November 19, 2003.


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