Careers & Education

'Texting threatens writing in English'

Students must also read more — educators

BY LUKE DOUGLAS Career & Education senior reporter douglasl@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 26, 2012    

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THE popularisation of writing in text-messaging style, coupled with students' failure to read widely, has been credited, at least in part, for the poor results of this year's Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) English language examination across the region.

This is according to players in the Jamaican education sector who insist this must be addressed to bring about an improvement in the passes.

The English results, in which passing grades plummeted to 47 per cent — down from 67 per cent a year ago — are the low point in the overall poor performance in the annual examinations administered by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC).

CXC, in a press release two weeks ago, said overall performance in the May/June examination has declined for the third consecutive year. This year, 62 per cent of the candidate entries achieved the acceptable grades one to three, compared with 66 per cent in 2011 and 69 per cent in 2010.

Of the 35 subjects offered, the release said, performance improved on nine subjects, declined on 19, remained the same on six while one subject, additional Mathematics, was offered for the first time.

The unsatisfactory results have triggered a period of soul-searching as Jamaican teachers and Ministry of Education officials try to ascertain the reasons behind the fall in scores over last year.

Commenting on the results, President of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools Sharon Reid, said school administrators were concerned and would meet shortly to discuss the situation.

However, Reid said the problem of students writing in text-messaging style is significant.

"My teachers talk to me about this text-messaging age and we have to find ways to combat it. Our current age is one where you communicate in a very disjointed text-messaging style. One letter now represents a word and students take that into the English language exam where they write like they are text messaging," she said.

The concern about texting and its affect on language skills is not confined to the region.

According to the website sciencedaily.com, a study conducted in Canada for a master's thesis in linguistics found that texting has a negative impact on people's linguistic ability to interpret and accept words.

The study revealed that those who texted more were less accepting of new words. On the other hand, those who read more traditional print media, such as books, magazines and newspapers, were more accepting of the same words.

Kamau Mahakoe, who conducts private classes from her home in Greater Portmore, agrees that the confusion of text messaging with standard writing must be addressed.

"The text-messaging style is a very big problem; it comes over into students' style of writing. Instead of writing 'you', they write 'u'; they can't get out of text-messaging mode. I appreciate that while texting you abbreviate for speed and so on, but you have to appreciate the difference between the two and adjust to what is required at the time," she said.

Mahakoe — who is homeschooling her four children up to the end of the primary level and whose 16-year-old daughter achieved 15 CSEC subjects at grade one this year — added that the solution to the English problem is for students to read widely.

"Our students simply do not read enough. Their vocabularies are weak so they cannot understand comprehension passages," she said. "[They should read not only] trashy literature [but also the writings of] persons who express themselves in an advanced way. That is how you will express yourself in like manner."

The homeschooling mother also said teachers should make a clear distinction between speaking English and speaking Jamaican patois in the classroom.

"In my class, I talk patois, but when it is time for English, I make a clear distinction and get the students to appreciate both, to know when to drop one and use the other," she said.

Turning to mathematics, Mahakoe noted that there is a fear of the subject that teachers must help students overcome.

"As black people, traditionally we have been told we cannot do math and science; that we're only good enough for singing and dancing, track and field and so on, so there is an inner fear that locks the mind from even trying," she said.

"I think many of the teachers do not have the interest to help students break down that block, so for any student who is showing resistance, they don't try hard enough to break down those barriers of communicating the subject," Mahakoe added.

Principal of Foga Road High in Clarendon, Kerinth Campbell, said use of knowledge also appears to be a problem facing her English students.

"When you look at the profiles on the results, it is the use of knowledge that seems to be the common thread that makes the grades so low. The students have the knowledge, but the critical thinking, the reasoning and the expression is lacking," she said. "I will be discussing it with my senior staff in the new school year to see if we can come up with some reasons and solutions."

Campbell said based on preliminary discussions with other teachers, students need to put in more practise to be successful in mathematics.

The principal dismissed the view that the quality of teaching is a major factor behind the students' failure.

"Could it be that the teachers don't know what they are doing? I hardly think so, as the problem is seen right across the Caribbean," she said.

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