Barbara Blake | Jamaican Patwa in education? No thanks.
Once upon a time in Jamaican history, Patois dialect was considered a language reserved for people of the lower social class. Today, thanks to cultural icon and poet Louise 'Miss Lou' Bennett-Coverley, the language - some call it Patwa, some say Ju-may-kan - has become an accepted part of communication used by most Jamaicans. Even those for whom English is their usual form of oral and literary communication drop a few Patwa words now and then in casual conversation.
Thanks to Miss Lou, Patwa has become so common that it is no longer considered 'common' to speak it throughout one's life, so much so that many advocates say it should become the language of early childhood education and English should be taught as a second language. This, they reason, is because so few children today speak and understand English because many are so accustomed to hearing and speaking Patwa from birth, so they argue that there would be a greater chance of producing properly educated high-school graduates if their education had begun in Patwa.
Today, Patwa and its customary use in a more brutish way of communication have become so accepted that newspaper journalists feel free to use it in print articles.
I am faced with several questions about the proposals that children should get their early education in Patwa and be taught English as a second language - proposals which, surprisingly, are coming from academics and intellectuals in written and spoken in English often containing words and phrases that only those well-educated in the nuances of the English language can understand.
If Patwa is to be taught to pre-primary children who speak Patwa in the home, will their teachers also speak to them only in Patwa? How long into the education process will teachers continue their lessons in Patwa? Will they continue from primary school up to the Grade Six Achievement Test and even beyond? Will university lectures be conducted in Patwa? At what stage and age will the lessons in English begin?
Will teachers receive special education in transforming Patwa-speaking students into English-speaking ones, or will Patwa remain their primary form of spoken and literary communication for life? What process will be used to teach young students to understand the international information in English they can receive via the Internet and in books?
Will all preschool, kindergarten, and primary school subjects such as science, geography, history, technology, and mathematics be taught in Patwa? Will Patwa textbooks continue to be part of the curriculum into secondary and tertiary education?
Will language spoken in all areas of school such as teacher-child, teacher-parent, and teacher-teacher interaction and conversation compulsorily be in Patwa to reinforce the language of the classroom?
Will teachers have to undergo special training in speaking and teaching Patwa to students? Will they have to obtain passes in spoken Patwa before being allowed to graduate from teachers' college?
Will all schools be compelled to teach Patwa? That is to say, will schools where most of the students come from homes where English is spoken from birth (schools like Immaculate, Campion, Jamaica College, etc.) be compelled to teach in Patwa? Will children for whom English is a first language be penalised for not knowing, understanding, and speaking Patwa? Will parents have an option to send their children to non-Patwa-speaking earlychildhood and primary schools?
With Patwa reinforced from birth as the child's primary language, will this form of speech be endorsed in the material the child hears around him/her such as on radio and television - the two media that influence speech and intellectual development? Will special Patwa-speaking radio and TV programmes be scheduled as part of the education process on popular public stations?
Will written Patwa conform only to the Cassidy dictionary, or will random forms of spelling and grammar be accepted, especially from authors of literature and poetry? Will 'Rasta-talk', a modern form of Patwa, be accepted in the teaching syllabus or remain as a separate language of its own, eagerly studied, learned, and spoken by foreigners attracted to Rasta culture?
Will new words be added to Patwa so as to translate words not currently used in Patwa? I have used several such words in this article. Perhaps it will be enough to simply speak the English words with a Patwa accent, but how will the students be taught the meaning of such words?
I hope to get some answers to my questions because I am genuinely puzzled at how this proposal would be implemented. I invite any of the proposers to answer my questions on behalf of Jamaican parents, students, teachers, and people.
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