Sun | Dec 3, 2023

Teach English as second language – Harrison

JTA president pushes Jamaican Creole as nation’s official language

Published:Monday | September 26, 2022 | 12:08 AMChristopher Thomas/Gleaner Writer
La Sonja Harrison, president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association.
La Sonja Harrison, president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association.


JAMAICA TEACHERS’ Association (JTA) president, La Sonja Harrison, is supporting calls for Jamaican Creole to be accepted as the nation’s official language, suggesting that English should be taught as a second language in schools.

Harrison was addressing last Wednesday’s online meeting of the Rotary Club of Downtown Kingston, where she also spoke on educators’ ability to cope with challenges to include staff, textbook, and furniture shortages three weeks into the current school year.

“We continue to have a struggle where we want our children to be proficient in English language, but have we reached the place where we acknowledge that the mother tongue of more than half our population, or 90 per cent, is not English Language? Are we willing to take on the approach that we actually teach English language as a second language, and so translate and immerse the child into the English language? Not all children are coming from homes where their environment saturates them or orients them into the speaking of English language as their first tongue,” Harrison said in her presentation.

“As it relates to the matter of patois as a tongue and the debate on whether it is an established language or not, that does not negate from the fact that the majority of our children speak it. The approach is in how we teach English language, and it should take into consideration the fact that the child will express himself or herself better using that language, then you help them with the translation, as to say that ‘this is what you would say in English language’,” Harrison added.


According to the JTA president, further discussions need to be held in order for a consensus to be reached on establishing Jamaican Creole as a language in its own right.

“We really need to look at whether we want to start, continue, and finalise the discussion, and whether we want to establish patois as a language and then it is that we do the necessary things. As we are having it now, we are still not having the kind of successes that we would like to have because there is a challenge, and we need to confront the challenge head on and seek how we are going to deal with that challenge,” said Harrison.

Her suggestion comes two weeks after language stakeholders called for Jamaica’s policymakers to move toward formalising Jamaican Creole as the first language being taught in schools.

At that time, linguistics scholar Reverend Bertram Gayle argued that Jamaican Creole could be used to help students learn English, while former poet laureate Professor Mervyn Morris said that the problems of standard English have come from failing to acknowledge Jamaican Creole as the country’s first language.

However, opposition to the recognition of patois as a language has been ongoing for years, with the late former Prime Minister and chancellor of the University of Technology, Edward Seaga, arguing in 2011 that teaching patois in schools would be a waste of educational resources.

Harrison also said that there is a need to review how well-rounded the education system is for all students, especially in regard to the teaching of technical and vocational subjects.

“Currently our philosophy of education says, ‘Every child can learn, every child must learn’. I hope for us to revisit it and for us to really evaluate, is it adequate enough a philosophy of education? Will it produce the kind of citizen that we are hoping to bring forth from our educational institutions? We do not have a comprehensive educational offering in our schools, as we are in a crisis in terms of having enough teachers to train in the technical and vocational areas, and certainly that will be having an impact on our skillsets in the population if we do not do something about that in short order,” said Harrison.