Letters to the Editor

English must be the language of instruction

Tuesday, September 04, 2012    

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Dear Editor,

I am taken aback that Mr Clayton Hall, president of the Jamaica Teachers Association, has advocated the idea that patois should be used as the language of instruction in the classroom, and that English should be taught as a second language. This seems to be his solution to this year’s dismal failure rate in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) English examination. In this examination, the pass rate was only 46 per cent compared to 63.9 per cent in 2011 and 64.9 per cent in 2010.

It may be said that if English is to be taught as a second language, it follows that patois would automatically become the first language and thus be elevated to official language status. It should be noted that Mr Hall is not alone in this bizarre way of thinking. It would appear that many academics, particularly at the University of the West Indies, would very much like to elevate patois to official language status.

In view of its far-reaching consequences, the proposal to make patois Jamaica's first language should be subjected to a great deal of scrutiny and rigorous questioning such as: Will the proposal to legitimise patois as an official language militate against English proficiency within the school system? If patois is used as the language of instruction, it follows that all textbooks and other reading materials should be written in patois. It also follows that all examination questions and answers should be written in patois. In this respect, the spoken word should be reinforced by the written word. Is this approach what all Jamaican parents desire for their children?

What is the rationale for proposing the legitimate use of patois in the classroom when the failure rate in the CSEC English examination is at an all-time high? One would have thought that all educators would seek to redouble their efforts in upgrading English language instruction. One would have thought that these educators would launch a massive “speak English campaign” to complement, buttress, promote and improve a student’s written expressions.

There is no doubt that the patois champions are doing a grave disservice to the people of Jamaica in this growing age of globalisation. It is true that patois is an integral component of our Jamaican cultural heritage and should therefore be preserved, but it is foolhardy and unrealistic to believe that it will be accepted as a recognised language beyond the shores of Jamaica.

Rupert Johnson

Ontario, Canada

r.b.johnson@sympatico.ca

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