Sat | Mar 17, 2018

No need to promote Patois

Published:Wednesday | March 9, 2016 | 12:00 AMEugena Robinson

The Sunday Gleaner of March 6, 2016 carried a very compelling article ('End prejudice against Patois) by Professor Hubert Devonish, coordinator of the Language Unit at UWI, Mona. He implores the incoming minister of education to consider ending the prejudice against the Patois.

I struggled to decipher the inset at the beginning of St Luke's Gospel in the article, and I gave up eventually. Our Jamaican dialect is an oral expression and we do not see the need for learning to see it in print. I will agree that children whose parents do not communicate in Standard Jamaican English (SJE) are at a disadvantage, particularly when the school does not set an acceptable standard in communication.

I am a retired educator with special skills in early childhood education. In those early years, basic-school teachers were taught how to communicate. Workbooks were not known and instructions were given in SJE.

In today's classrooms, the focus has shifted to raising the literacy scores and teachers are now drilling students with their eyes on the clock for speed and accuracy.

I still observe classrooms where teachers do not communicate with their children in a manner that the children think and give reasons in SJE. Answers are usually one word, and activities are workbook style of filling in a single word. The truth is, teachers find these activities easier to mark, as their focus is only on single words added to pre-structured sentences.

Classroom practices need to return to building language skills, as those done by my past Mico principals who ensured that we communicated in Standard English, even in the playground. I have visited teachers' colleges and listened to students who, outside their classrooms, communicate only in Patois. What are these teachers taking into the classroom for our disadvantaged children to emulate? The real danger is in the pre-primary, primary schools and the former secondary schools.




I spend many days in my family bookstore, which is strategically placed in the path of basic, primary, preparatory and high schools. To hear a student communicate to a fellow student in SJE requires an immediate attention from me. The majority of young parents scold their children openly in the crudest form. It is significant to note that the children who chatter in our Jamaican Patois understand instantly when a question is asked in SJE.

It is really not necessary to consider promoting Patois through any funding and special programmes. Even if the strategies work in Haiti, I do not think it is a real threat in Jamaica. Schools are not doing the right things for our disadvantaged children. We need to change the common practices in classroom teaching, in focusing on the child and not just the curriculum.

Coordinators of the Grade Six Achievement Test must move to implement an oral examination while getting parents in workshops to train them in communicating with their children. Churches can play a great part in this. The day when children are bright but they fail the oral-language test will cause parents to sit up.

Patois is here to stay. It identifies us a true Jamaicans. Sometimes, the expressions in Patois were the best and most effective way of stating one's true feelings. I have abandoned the Patois Bible, because it takes too much of my energy in repeating the sentence before I hear the real meaning, then I say, "Oh!"

- Eugena Robinson is an early childhood consultant and operator of Books, Stationery and Supplies in Port Maria. Email feedback to and