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Published:Sunday | January 27, 2013 | 12:00 AM

UWI, UTech students struggle with the language

Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer

Poor communication and language use skills in oral and written presentations among Jamaican tertiary students has forced the introduction of a new competency module for students entering at least one institution in the next academic year.

The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus, said it has been forced to re-evaluate its language-based foundation courses as "students display abominable use of English in the simplest form" leaving many failing even after several sittings.

According to the UWI sources, when grading final papers, lecturers have resorted to marking only the critical components of compositions on the specific area of studies and not the entire work, especially not the English.

UWI campus registrar Dr Camille Bell-Hutchinson told The Sunday Gleaner that the university is concerned about the increasing number of students who are incapable of writing proper English.

The UWI has found that students are less and less capable of writing and using the correct syntax even at a basic level.

"So just yesterday (Tuesday), the university approved a new set of competency courses for students, which will become applicable in the academic year 2013-2014." Bell-Hutchinson stated.

Currently, not all faculties require students to sit and pass the university's English Language Proficiency Test.

However, the poor performances in both written and spoken English have led to the new requirement for all students to sit the new faculty-specific test.

several resits

The new courses are critical reading and writing in education; critical reading and expository writing in the humanities; critical reading in the social sciences; critical reading and writing in science and technology and medical science and critical reading and writing in the disciplines.

Currently, students entering the university must sit English Language Proficiency Test with a successful sitting allowing progress to the foundation courses. However, some students have been carrying this first-year course all the way through their university life reaching final year without passing the first year, even after several resits.

"No, No, No. They will not graduate until they have successfully completed the courses. And many of them have been trailing for years," Bell-Hutchinson said.

Students entering in the current academic year were required to write a 300-word essay in which they provide information and ideas on a topic of general interest. They are expected to write 250-300 words describing numerical data contained in a table, or in some graphic illustration, and they must read one or more passages and answer alternative multiple-choice questions weighted heavily in use of literary skills.

Simple grammar usage, simple sentences, complex and compound sentences, idiomatic usage (diction and structure) and writing mechanics and spelling are examined.

Bell-Hutchinson said in evaluating the current language component, not all students were failing the examination in its entirety but particular aspects of the examination.

Consequently, the new course is designed with that in mind.

equally bad students

In the meantime, the University of Technology (UTech) has fared no better and the use of English among its students is equally bad.

UTech is also developing an entrance examination.

"The language usage is just abominable," UTech president Professor Errol Morrison told The Sunday Gleaner.

"We are developing an entrance examination. There is some proficiency test done in specific areas, but we have the problem in English right through, even when they graduate.

"We also have challenges with mathematics. We usually have to teach remedial maths, because those are two key areas. If they have only one of English or mathematics we allow them in, and allow them to come up to standard within the first year," explained Morrison.

He said the approach was not to reject students because of one key subject but without either English or mathematics they would not be considered.

Morrison said UTech students will not graduate without passing the English courses.

He added that UTech has started an academy at its Trelawny campus to "pull and brush students up in language and mathematics to bring them up to matriculation."


"The Board for Undergraduate Studies has approved five new English language foundation courses which are proposed to replace the current foundation courses, 'English for Academic Purposes and Writing in the Disciplines'," said UWI campus registrar Dr Camille Bell-Hutchinson.
"Four of these courses are to be offered as three-credit discipline-specific English Language foundation courses while the fifth course, is a six-credit foundation course which is to be offered to students who are unable to meet the university's English language proficiency standards as measured by the score in the UWI, Mona English Language Proficiency Test,"