Careers & Education

Veteran educator backs patois use in the classroom

BY LUKE DOUGLAS Observer senior reporter douglasl@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 16, 2012    

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AS the debate over the place of patois in the Jamaican education system rages on, a veteran local educator has declared it should be used as a tool to teach children who have it has their first language.

Faith Linton, who has retired from the classroom after decades of teaching English language and literature, also sought to dismiss the view that support for the use of patois means discouraging the use of English.

"There are so many misconceptions, so many unfounded fears. For example, many of us believe that if we encourage the Jamaican mother tongue -- patois -- we inevitably discourage standard English. Not so, not if we learn to apply in our education system the principles of bilingualism," Linton said last month.

Speaking at a forum entitled "Celebrating the Jamaican language" held at Carter Hall, Holy Cross Catholic Church in St Andrew, Linton said a large proportion of our children come to school with little or no readiness for instruction in standard English -- the official language of instruction.

"Most of these children come to school with well-developed language skills, not in standard English, but in their mother tongue," she said.

The mother tongue is defined as the language that a child learns to speak in the first three years of life.

Linton also quoted from a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation position paper in 1992, which described the mother tongue as "essential for initial instruction and literacy and should be extended to as late a stage in education as possible".

Countries such as Haiti and Curacao, in adopting multilingual approaches to education, have experienced "marked success in enabling children to become fluent, literate and academically competent" in more than one language, including the mother tongue, Linton stated.

Member of Parliament Lloyd B Smith, in supporting Linton's position, said patois should be used as "a means of assisting our students to be better able to appreciate and understand the English language".

Well-known entertainer Tony Rebel, also speaking at the forum, himself supported the use of patois as a communication and teaching tool.

"Our children will forget everything they are supposed to learn in school, yet they know every Vybz Kartel song," he said. "If we have to mek some policies that bring forth that kinda language fi teach our pickney dem, I think it will be better," he said.

The public forum was hosted by Di Jamiekan Langwij Yuunit -- the Jamaican Language Unit -- of the University of the West Indies, in partnership with the Bible Society of the West Indies.

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