“Mentor of Dreams; Model of Action”
“Why should society feel responsible only for the education of children, and not for the education of all adults of every age?”
In 1919 (this year will mark 100 years), Britain’s Ministry of Reconstruction’s adult education committee published a Report on Adult Education, arguing that a population educated throughout life was vital for the future of the country. The report set the groundwork for British adult education during the 20th century.
The idea committed to enriching the communities where people lived and worked, and constituted a vital, if often unacknowledged, part of the social fabric.
In the 1950s, while a teacher at The Berkeley Institute, Merle Swan Williams brought this narrative to Bermuda. While tutoring five students who had left school before obtaining a high school diploma, she began to see the need for alternative options for young adults who were looking for a second chance at education.
It wasn’t until 1958, at the age of 39, that she decided to found a school. She began teaching classes right out of the living room of her mother’s home. This is what would become The Adult Education School (AES) today.
Initially, the school was built on a volunteer-run education-for-all model. Merle Brock Swan didn’t take a salary until they received their first government grant in the early 1980s. She has since placed over 4,000 people in secondary, tertiary and continuing education over the years and has been recognized as a Rotary International’s Paul Harris Fellow, has received an honourary doctorate and has been celebrated by institutions in the United States for her work, including receiving the Sojourner Truth Award.
She was the director of the school for 30 years and in 2013, was celebrated alongside other Bermuda “community heroes” such as the founders of the Berkeley Institute, founding members of the Progressive Labour Party and the Bermuda Workers Association for their work in building up the community.
In 2015, she published a book of poetry, See Saw Life, which is said to represent her creativity and unconventional perspective, which ran throughout her life’s outlook and made her life’s projects so successful.