The Olympics have come and gone and we had a great celebration! We also celebrated our 50th year of Independence. That the two coincided was indeed wonderful. We are now back to real life, which includes CXC English results. These have been disappointing and there has been:
1. a call (from more than one quarter) for children to do more reading. Is this real or, as usual, just lip service?
2. the identification of culprits, one being texting (as if that will go away any time soon, or ever?), and more importantly, the Creole or patois;
3. therefore, the need to teach English as a second language,
4. the bold suggestion, in even stronger terms than usual, of teaching children in Creole, including higher order thinking skills.
Although I’m not a linguist, merely a writer and reader, I am always a little concerned by the fact that the persons who are most strident in this demand for teaching in Creole are wonderful communicators in English; others seem to share my concern (lots of letters to the Editor). I wonder if the academics have really tried out this approach scientifically with a longitudinal study. (Of course, they have). I wonder if they are condemning people to a life they themselves have not ever had to fear living. Of course, it could be said that I do not understand. I could be accused of all sorts of ‘bad-mind-colonial’ thoughts, for not recognizing the integrity of the speech of the vast majority of my people. I use Creole, far more than I used to ( although my children assure me that my accent is totally incorrect, as a result of being in school for part of the colonial period). The recent visit of the Barbados contingent resulted in a request for me to speak less Creole and more English to the grandchildren. I believe they may have to speak English there. ( You know, that little island with a dollar that is 2 to 1 and a literacy rate of 99.+% ).
However, all I want my people to be able to do is to take advantage of the opportunities that being fluent in English will afford them. That is what I want. I use Creole but I can also use English. I want for my people no less than I want or have for myself. English does not need to be seen as the language of colonialism, the language of the oppressor. It needs to be seen as the language of opportunity in a world where it is the language of commerce, etc. Then we can also learn, Spanish, French, Mandarin , etc.
One of the easiest ways I found when I was in school to gain fluency in the English language was to read, and read, and read. Is this too simple for this generation of our people? Just try it, nuh!
So that brings me to the reading of local children’s books. Breakthrough at last! However I fear that my lovely confused post colonial people, will decide that if we are going to read more children’s books, we should consume those produced by the Americans and British over those produced by Caribbean people. Why?
We who can win Olympics and have a music hero, whose name echoes down through the ages, can we not also believe in ourselves when it comes to children’s stories, the imaginary life and identity of our children? In this the fiftieth year of Independence for Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, can we not believe in ourselves? This call for children to read more should lead to schools and libraries scurrying hither and thither looking for Jamaican and Caribbean children’s books, finding sponsors to buy them for their libraries if they do not have the funds themselves. Ah, but will we who would do away with all vestiges of colonialism, hurry , scurry to buy all foreign books, and only timidly approach local books, if at all? Perhaps this is so throughout the region. Perhaps you can tell me. What is the future for Caribbean children’s books?