‘A vehement thirst after knowledge’ Four centuries of education in Shetland

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The history of education in Shetland over four centuries is a story of absorbing interest. It features the slow development from early days when pupils struggled in cold, damp, ill-lit hovels of schoolrooms to acquire a basic literacy from teachers with only rudimentary skills and miserable pay, to the schools of today where well-qualified teachers and their pupils work in a stimulating environment with modern equipment and a wide range of learning aids. A recurring theme throughout is the Shetland people’s “vehement thirst after knowledge” mentioned by an early 18th century minister – the hunger for learning which would not only help them to read the Bible and become better Christians but provide them with a ladder of opportunity out of their restricted lives. There are frequent illustrations of the difficulty experienced in trying to fit national legislation into the local situation in Shetland. The influence of organisations such as the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, the various churches, and eventually the state, is traced in some details. An Appendix details the names and dates of teachers in Shetland schools from the early days to 1900. John J. Graham, born 1921, spent most of his life in Shetland. He taught English and History in the Anderson Educational Institute from 1950-1966 when he became Headmaster of Lerwick Central Secondary School. He was Headmaster of Anderson High School from 1970 until he retired in 1982. He was a member of Shetland Islands Council from 1982-1994. He was Joint Editor of The New Shetlander from 1956-1998, was co-author of Grammar and Usage of the Shetland Dialect, and author of The Shetland Dictionary. He has had two novels published – Shadowed Valley in 1987 and Strife in the Valley in 1992.