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The Jamaican Language Unit
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Bilingual Education Project
Caribbean Indigenous and Endangered Languages
Bilingual Education

The Jamaican Language Unit is conducting a pilot project in Bilingual education for primary school students enrolled in Grades One to Four. The Bilingual Education project is aimed at determining the most effective means of encouraging full bilingualism for primary level students at the Grades 1 – 4 in Jamaican (Jamaican Creole) (JC) and Standard Jamaican English (SJE).

The Project is designed to meet the needs of the large numbers of students who are native speakers of Jamaican and who enter Grade One without attaining mastery in three out of four key areas of “readiness to begin instruction at the level demanded by the Grade One National Curriculum” (NAP Final Report 2000 p.38 in Draft LEP 2001, p. 9). The Project also targets the majority of students who do not attain full literacy in English by Grade Four. Recent results for the Grade One Readiness Inventory show that over half the students leaving pre-primary do not achieve the requisite skills and 58% of the Grade Four cohort for the same year were categorized as either “At Risk” or “Questionable” on the Grade Four Literacy Test (NAP Final Report 2000 in Draft LEP 2001, p.11).

It is also critical for us to note that the Ministry of Education Youth and Culture (MOEYC) has set out in this draft policy document five possible options for bilingual education in Jamaica. The first 3 of which are detailed here:

1. Declare the Jamaican Language situation bilingual ascribing equal language
status to SJE and JC. Tailor instruction to accommodate this status and permit instruction and assessment in both languages. Produce printed materials in both languages, and permit teaching in both languages using appropriate instructional strategies.

2. While retaining SJE as the official language, promote the acquisition of
basic literacy in the early years (eg. K – 3) in the home language and facilitate the development of English as a second language.

3. Maintain SJE as the official language and promote basic communication
through the oral use of the home language in the early years (e.g. K – 3) while facilitating the development of literacy in English.
(Draft Language Education Policy, 2001 p. 20).

At present MOYEC has adopted Option 3, despite reservations as it was viewed as the most feasible. The objections to Options 1 and 2 (p. 20) are on the grounds that they are ‘… not immediately feasible as there is no agreed orthography for Jamaican Creole. Besides, issues such as funding for the adequate supply of literacy materials as well as political and social attitudes to Creole as a medium of instruction (Bryan 2000), particularly the latter, could present obstacles difficult to overcome’.

The Draft LEP also points to the fluid nature of Jamaican and SJE and the difficulties presented by the similarities between the two. The ambivalent attitude of the society to the use of Jamaican has been another obstacle cited in arguing against the adoption of bilingual education. The Bilingual Education Project proposes to address both these issues directly. Teaching literacy in Jamaican and separately in English and using each of these languages separately as subject areas and medium of instruction, will give students the means to distinguish between the two. It is also fair to expect that giving equal status and time to JC and SJE in the classroom will undermine the ambivalent attitude that exists towards Jamaican and promote high self-esteem and value for their own first language experiences.

  • In addition, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture (MOEYC) recognizes
  • the Jamaican language situation as bilingual;
  • English as the official language
  • Jamaican Creole as the language most widely used in the
  • Spanish as the preferred foreign language, owing to the
    geographic location of the country.
    (Draft Language Education Policy, 2001 p. 20)

According to the Draft LEP, in keeping with the CARICOM Standing Committee of Ministers responsible for Education on goals for those leaving secondary schools, such students should ‘… recognise that SJE and JC are equally valid and regard bilingualism as a positive attribute … [and be able to] use Standard Jamaican English for a variety of purposes; use and understand Jamaican Creole in oral and written forms’ (p. 22). However the Draft LEP does not specify what writing system and whether this system should be standard. This is in spite of the fact that the Barbuda guidelines state that those leaving secondary school should be able to ‘…use and understand a linguistically valid script for representing the creole-related vernaculars of their communities’ (Draft I of LEP, p. 5). The Bilingual Education Plus Project would use the standard writing system based on the Cassidy, as developed, taught and promoted by The Jamaican Language Unit (The Jamaican Observer, Educational Supplement, December 2003, January 2004).

The Draft L.E.P. requires that all language/literacy teachers, primary secondary and English options should ‘… complete an approved course in – JC and SJE as two separate languages …’. This approach is necessary but in our view not sufficient. The same degree of distinctness between the two codes needs to be conveyed by actual usage and practice in the system of teaching and instruction within the classroom. It is after all, a language awareness amongst pupils that one is ultimately aiming at. This will only come from a demonstration of the fact that in the learning – teaching situation the two languages are separate and equal. Achieving this goal can only be arrived at from real experience of an education system, which practices what it preaches.

As an addendum, we should note (Draft LEP p. 26) that one of the stated implications for policy implementation is the responsibility of the GOJ to ‘facilitate internationally funded literacy-focused projects’. The Bilingual Education Project is one such programme. This is complemented by one of the goals of Teacher Education in the Draft LEP, which requires teachers to ‘… engage in on-going experimenting with various approaches to language/literacy teaching and in related classroom research’ (Draft LEP, p. 25).

The Bilingual Education Project proposes to address:

(i) the writing system issue
(ii) the literacy materials supply issue
(iii) the political and social attitudes supposedly associated with the use of Jamaican as a medium of instruction’ (p. 20).

This goal will be achieved by combining the approaches set out in Options 1 and 2 of the Draft LEP above. This involves, a) redesigning instruction to support bilingualism with Jamaican and SJE enjoying equal status in grades I – 4, b) providing learning – teaching materials in both languages, c) training teachers in the specialist area of Jamaican language instruction.

The experience of other bi and multilingual populations leads us to believe that greater fluency and literacy can be achieved in SJE if students are taught their first language (Jamaican) as a subject area and taught in their first language as a medium of instruction. Projects functioning on these assumptions include the San Andres Project 2000 Trilingual Pilot Educational Program, and the upcoming Belize Kriol Project to give some Caribbean examples.

It is against this background that The Jamaican Language Unit submits this proposal. It includes Research Objectives, Methodology, Timing, Cost and Unit Profile.


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