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The social reality of Jamaica’s educational “mis-system”: the ineffective versus the effective teaching styles and how that experience influences learning outcomes


By Paul Andrew Bourne, MSc. (candidate), BSc. (Hons)


In retrospect, I spent one entire year in an eleventh grade English Language class in which the teacher who had a Masters Degree in English, from the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, found the need on one occasion to write on the chalkboard.  Being that I was a primary non-communicator of the Queen’s dialect and that I was fed a rich diet of the African and European languages combined (i.e. patois), mastery of Standard Language proved a burdensome task to say the least.

My language teacher believed that my, which was typical of the other students, writing skills were below the expected grade level and left much to be desired as someone who aspired for tertiary education.  Moreover, when one adds the reality of being schooled in an innercity community in which the residents are non-practitioners of this vital language of international communication, life was just too much of a transition into the echelon of the middle class - vernacular.  When one couple that experience with my early training in a non-traditional high school, the diet of patois that we were fed by our classmates was even more enriched a meal when oftentimes this was used by our very teachers.         

Despite our learned language teacher, depth of knowledge in the discipline and having a comprehensive understanding of our social reality, she [Miss Blank] offered to me [all] books and a noble quotation that was and I quote “just continue to practice.”  Oftentimes I wondered what I had done wrong in my other life to justify been born poor and black to be sent to that innercity school in Jamaica.  As it relates to the latter social construct, nothing is innately wrong but that you are left aback. 

As a by-product of Vauxhall Secondary (newly upgraded High school), in those days mastery of English language was just a dream.  It appeared that I was always very intoxicated with pure water before attending language classes because I was always in some distant land when my teacher [Miss Blank] was in her world.  It appeared that my past intoxication with water has led to my present position of not liking to consume the product.  Could that have been suppressing a dislike for my teacher because she offered little in the form of assistance in a subject that I so desperately wanted to grasp?  Miss Blank’s world was hiding on a distant chair within our same environ.  She would be miserably busy completing grading class work while we were drifting on a raft in the serene ocean of confusion. 

The Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) and General Certificate of Education (GCE) English language results of Jamaican candidates over the history of the examination concur that my experience is typical.  If those results were disaggregated into categories of schools types, I forward the position that the newly upgraded high schools’ students are performing below their traditional high school counterparts. Therefore, what are the technocrats who having recognized this non-mastery phenomenon of language in schools in Jamaica planning to do in regard the situation?

The irony is I believe, the high failure rate in English in CXC/GCE is a social reality in Afro-Caribbean diaspora in Jamaica.  This situation has it answers in ineffective versus effective teaching style.

My eleventh grade language teacher said that our writing was atrocious, but, how were we to learn the essentials and-or the fundamentals of writing Standard English without the input of a ‘good’ coach?  Interestingly our teacher had us writing endless number of essays, completing volumous comprehension passages and a vast number of summaries as few as the sands on the seashore without a continuous feedback in a week, and for to what end?  All of her efforts, in retrospect, were in aid of the transition of better writing.  Wow! The reality was, one person of twenty-five passed Language in the CXC examination that year.

This problem language for countless Jamaicans cannot continue; and so the architects of our educational system must forge a path to address a social ill that may retard future sustainable development of the island. In order to transform the populace in this society into understanding the primary reason for a proficiency in the language, the school system in Jamaica must universalize the language problem. 

It took a failure in CXC English Language, in my graduating year at secondary school, before I knew the effectiveness of an inefficient teacher.  I spent another eight (8) years working effortlessly to combat the negative scars of the language teacher. Further, in 1997, I conquered language when I got a grade II.  Despite that fact, I was still afraid, reserved, and passive in regards the subject.  On entering the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, to read for an undergraduate degree in Economics in 1999, I wished English was not require but I knew this would never be the case.  I asked the question, “Why, why Language.”

In 1999, when I sat in my first English class, FD10A, and saw the volume of work to be covered with the construct of my weaknesses in the subject, my heart sank below the earth’s crust in anguish and despair. All past demons in Language arose from the dead and began haunting me again.  I was reserved, passive and paralyzed by the intensity of my fears so much so that in retrospect, I swear those factors led to my demise in the course.  What was I to do, to be successful?  I worked like a builder on a structure that had a day for completion.  Despite having worked with the intensity of sailor, I was snatched by the demon called failure.

In my finalizing year of undergraduate degree programme, I met Ms. C. Jones a lecturer in the department of Humanites and Education, UWI, Mona Campus who really made a difference in life today.  She transformed my fears into boldness, my passiveness into activeness, and my feeling of failure into aspiration of success.  She used effective and timely illustrations in a concise matter that made for immediate understand; I was challenged to excel.  She utilized her own writings as guide for us to comprehend the correct approaches in writing Standard English.  She did not create false hope in making us accept the notion that we would all be successful but the brevity, the conciseness and the motherliness in corrections were techniques that are fitting motivators for this subject.  The learning process was done in fun while within a high degree of seriousness.  The regular use of the chalkboard and internal class interactions and personal contact sessions, the timely feedbacks were just some of the methods that she implemented to increase our mastery of the discipline while working on our confidence.  I passed the course alas. I got a B for the course but this was disappointing as I missed the B+ by two (2) marks. It was no surprise to me as I thought that I did better than displayed by the final grade. This is my first reflection on the importance and value of an effective teacher. 

With the difficulties of this foreign and non-native language, our teachers of English Language must begin to teach the fundamentals of the language as against assuming that secondary school pupils have or ought to master the language’s syntax by themselves. Today, I see a remarkable reduction in the number of syntax errors and past weaknesses in language that I experienced in years gone by. I speak with confidence that an ineffective teacher in English Language is similar to car without brakes traveling downhill.  He/she will destroy the cargo, the physical appearance of the recipient may seem perfect undamaged but that is not the yardstick of measurement as in the end the human is left to interface with a demon on inadequacy that may affect his/her self-concept and by extension social position in life.