PATWA – JAMAICA’S FIRST LANGUAGE

Ruel Reid

A post by Peter Jordens:

As the Jamaica Observer reports, Jamaica’s Minister of Education, Youth and Information, Senator Ruel Reid, recently said that Patois must be regarded as a first language for individuals who have little exposure to the English language. The Minister argued that there should be an acceptance that the first language of Jamaica is Patois, and teachers need to always consider that reality as they do the ‘transition’ of the dialect [sic] to standard English. “The best practice is to teach standard English, for those of us who come out of a culture of Patois, as a second language,” he said. Reid was delivering the keynote address at the launch of the book, Jamaican Mi Seh Mi ABCs (Carradice Collection, April 2017), written by communicator Valrie Kemp-Davis, in August Town, St. Andrew.

The Minister said educators must be alerted to how children understand English and Patois, especially during the early years of enrolment in the formal school system. “If you are teaching students who can’t understand in the language that you are speaking, then learning is not taking place,” he told the gathering of school-children, community leaders and personnel from the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, and the University of Technology (UTech). […]

The topic broached by Minister Reid (a former teacher) is not new. For example, in 2012, Grace Baston, Principal of Campion College [widely considered to be one of Jamaica’s leading high schools], declared: “I believe that among the factors contributing to this low level of achievement [in the English language for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations] is our failure to recognise that English is not the first language of the majority of Jamaica’s children. The teaching of standard English to students whose first language is Jamaican must be approached as one would the teaching of any foreign language.”

Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), President Clayton Hall, agreed and insisted that teaching English Language as a second language is critical to boosting performance in the subject in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams. “We assume that our students are native speakers of English, therefore when we teach English, we are teaching it to persons who we think already know it, and that’s not the case. […] So because the first language is creole, then creole must also be used in facilitating a deeper understanding of English. We need to facilitate higher-level reasoning in English, but what we do in the school system is that we immerse in English while the creole is frowned upon and not used.”

However, then Education Minister, Ronald Thwaites, disagreed. He said that teachers must speak to children in English in order to ensure better performances in the subject.

The sources of the 2012 news items are: http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120817/lead/lead3.html and http://www.jta.org.jm/content/teach-english-second-language.

 

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