Sun | Apr 30, 2017

English is the most important subject

Published:Tuesday | August 18, 2015 | 8:00 AM


I am anticipating an article from Dr Tamika Benjamin with some comments and analysis of the increased percentage of passes in mathematics.

I would like, however, to quickly point out to her and others involved that the time, talk, effort, strategies and other investments put into achieving maths success far outweighs the very modest six per cent improvement in the CSEC maths passes.

The mathematics specialist and advisers have all missed the point.

The highly respected Radley Reid and Sadpha Bennett appeared clueless, on TVJ recently, as to the reasons for the decline in passes in the sciences in general, and chemistry, in particular. The answer is right before their faces.

What is significant is that an example of a chemistry question was presented to the students in the form of a short passage outlining a scenario instead of a straight question.

About three years ago, the CXC, referring to the maths failures, gave an example question asking the students to calculate the perimeter of a circular plot of land. As many as two-thirds of the students got it wrong mainly because they were not simply asked to calculate the 'circumference'.

The problem is not the inability of the student to grasp a concept in chemistry or mathematics, but rather, a deficiency in reading comprehension, inadequate vocabulary, poor understanding and interpretation of written material. Those are, in fact, English concepts (language and literature). Yes, the problem is insufficient reading, vocabulary, comprehension. It comes as no surprise to me, therefore, that the English passes went down this year.


Improvement in technology has steadily assisted to erode need for reading and writing. Children are spending more time on their devices and less and less time with a book. I am not hearing children reciting poems and verses to the same degree as in the past. Fewer children are being taken or sent to Sabbath school, Sunday school and church, so there is less exposure with reading/singing of hymns and verses and passages in the Bible.

Students are encouraged to submit their projects in typewritten form from the computer, so they simply cut/copy and paste from the Internet, rather than reading the textbooks and encyclopaedias and writing their essays.

The end result of this is insufficient vocabulary, reading comprehension and writing.

Coupled with this is a system that has not adjusted itself to counter the changes that come with time.

The real significance of English language and English literature is not fully emphasised. Attempts are made by teachers and principals to encourage parents to get the children to read, however, the efforts, in my mind, considering the universal importance of grasping the subject, are just not enough.

It is my opinion that not enough time is spent assessing the students continuously to ensure that they are reading and an intervention made to deal with those who are not. End-of-term and end-of-year examinations are not enough.

Yes, it would be time-consuming and requires more work for the teacher, but my solution to this is that less time should be spent writing lesson plans and more time marking and assessing scripts, papers and essays. This sacred, time-honoured teaching tool takes up too much of a teacher's time and involves too much physical and mental work. This piece of 'work' then has to be submitted to heads of departments, vice-principals and principals to be 'marked'. The emphasis of lesson plans, therefore, is more on the teacher than on the student.



I find it so ironic that teachers are still handwriting lesson plans in exercise books and hardcover notebooks, while the student is using the computer to cut and paste information from the Internet for submission. I say ALL teachers (some already do) should be using the technology to complete lesson plans each week in the shortest possible time and the rest of the valuable time used to assess and mark the students' work. How else can a teacher know if the students are keeping up with the reading and grasping the subject area?

So my conclusion is that our early childhood and primary-school teachers who teach phonics, vocabulary, reading, spelling and comprehension along with the English teachers at high schools are really a special and sacred lot. Their significance should be highlighted and underscored. The systems from the ministry and individual schools should reflect this, with programmes for English excellence that target the students, the parents and the teachers.

If all students could read and have an excellent vocabulary with good comprehension skills, I have no doubt that they would have a better grasp of ALL the subject areas, including mathematics. The passing percentages would then improve.