By Anthony Stewart, PhD

English language is, apparently, our “mother tongue.” It is the language that we speak, read and write. Our reasonable expectation is that everyone would record a pass in this subject area. The Education Revolution should provide an enabling environment for the English language to flourish. When I think about English, two of my former teachers come to mind: Mrs. Yvette Wilson-Bentick and Mrs. Winthress Romeo. I call them the “Guardians of the Queen’s English.” I like the freedom of expression of the British parliamentary system and wonder why, if ours is patterned after theirs, it is so difficult for a motion of no confidence to be debated here. 

The Education Revolution should foster a climate of freedom of expression so we can hear fishermen, teachers, lawyers, doctors, accountants and professionals and ordinary people from all walks of life making their contributions to the debate on issues of public interest. Why are our people afraid to express themselves?  Over 100 years ago Ellen G. White wrote: “Every human being, created in the image of God, is endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator- individuality, power to think and to do. The men and women in whom this power is developed are those who bear responsibilities, who are leaders in enterprise, and who influence character. It is the work of true education to develop this power, to train young people to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other people’s thought.”  Public debates are good and are to be encouraged. They will help us make better-informed choices.

The 2019 English A CSEC results indicate a pass rate countrywide of   76 %. This is commendable and we must thank our hardworking English teachers and students. But our expectation of 100% is not unreasonable and is attainable. To improve, students may need to be more expressive. The movement from talking to texting may not be helpful. Reading is also essential for improved performance. The activity of our very important libraries would record the progress in this area. Students need access to libraries in every community. Their operating hours must be displayed publicly. Our librarians must be valued, trained and should be among the highest paid workers. They do a very important work. Besides the library reporting publicly of their circulation, schools may require book reports among other means of assessing the sufficiency of their students’ reading. 

The circulation of newspapers in each community is another indicator of reading. Therefore, schools should encourage students to subscribe to the newspapers and even to become writers. At minimum, the newspapers should be available in the school libraries. Because many of the students of the education revolution may be reading below grade level, and some may not be reading at all, provision needs to be made on the book loan scheme with appropriate books. 

Sometime ago, a parent refused to pay for the scheme claiming, “My son cannot read any of those books.” Perhaps she was right.  Due consideration should be given to the children of the education revolution by placing appropriate books on the book loan scheme. As it stands now, apparently they are being left out. Students are required to purchase the books for English B but many of them do not. Teachers resort to reading the texts in class but this is not very effective. Students should purchase the books so that they can be aided in developing their reasoning and analytical skills. The results for CSEC 2019 English B shows a pass rate nationwide of 66%. Less than 4% of the students wrote English B while all students are usually required to write English A. 

Writing seems to have gone out of fashion, but it is an important skill that is needed. Writing a page every day or journaling is useful in helping students to express themselves on paper. Most examinations are written. Consequently, penmanship is important so that what is communicated is legible.

Some school rules are unwritten just like the British Constitution but most are written like our Constitution and have the force of law once they are agreed upon by staff, students, and PTA and published. Besides the school rules and the Constitution another piece of regulation/legislation affecting students is the Collective Agreement between the Teachers Union and Government and it is not aspirational as some purport, but has the force of law.  Passing English A and English B at the CSEC level require students to speak well, read widely and write well. Everyone has the capacity to use the available resources to be proficient in all these skills. Let us do that.

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

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5 Comments

  1. Yes; the question I repeated asks, “Why are our people afraid to express themselves”? I have noticed that when they do, 90% of the times they write as an imposture using fiction or others names. How are their readers to respect their opinion regardless of its contents? When one reads it relates more effectively knowing the source to its originator.
    ‘Reality is easy. It’s deception that’s the hard work.’

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  2. Silly question here, but what’s a student who can’t read doing entering the secondary system? Reading is a primary skill. Some might say it is THE primary skill that allows a student to learn the other subjects being taught. If a student can’t read or at least read to a satisfactory degree, how can it be that that student has passed his classes to the point of taking CPEA in grade 6. Spoiler alert! He hasn’t. But because he is guaranteed a place in secondary School thanks to the revolution, the primary system promoted him up and out! Go be a burden on someone else!

    That student has been completely failed by the primary system and the parents. What hope is there in promoting him in the name of revolution? This child should never be a feature of the revolution. This child should be an anomaly. Sadly, these kids are prevalent. The secondary system does not afford teachers or students the time to dedicate towards achieving competency in basic literacy or numeracy skills, especially when the starting point is next to nothing. These kids are set up for failure.

    Reading is a skill that blossoms in pre schools. It has to be nurtured by parents and early educators. Ideally, here is where the emphasis needs to be placed – not in demands that the secondary system change to accommodate. Even if the student can be taught to read in a remedial form 1, the damage is already done. The student is so far behind on his other subjects that his chances of ever being an academic success is near zero. Perhaps the author can think of some ways to treat the problem at it’s source instead of focusing on the revolution.

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  3. My dear Anthony Stewart, “Plain Words a Guide to the Use of English, by Sir Ernest Gowers” though published around 1948 as one understands it, was found to be a most helpful guide to many students of English, but one just has to ask you this question. When was the last time you saw a Vincentian reading a book outside of School hours?

    I have often pondered that question for myself and have concluded the answer for me was, just once, and the individual in question was a girl of about nine years of age!

    With the “organised plantation” basis of control for this country of ours, one can understand the reason why this is the case!

    Plain English is sure not need to sell fruits, trinkets and provisions under the arches of Kingstown, nor to drive or conduct those Mini Vans that are being used instead of a proper bus service in the State. The overriding question for the dynastic dictatorship is surely, do they really need educated plantation hands as voting fodder?

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  4. If only we had an education revolution! Recently it was announced in England that by the time a child leaves primary school they should be picking up their second foreign language. We are no way near this and are still struggling with our official language. Our teachers are underpaid and sometimes not sufficiently motivated to carry out their task. The classrooms are overcrowded and look the same as classrooms from 20 years ago. There is little use of technology in classrooms. The percentage of university graduates in SVG is very low. There is no evidence in this society of a revolution in education.

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  5. Augustus Eston says:

    This is a great piece my only contribution here is to support the recommendations for more availability of materials for learning. Here in Sint Maarten the CSCE pass rates has been 100% with averages of 1&2 and this is because the text books are available at the Schools.

    The Students are only required to pay for the Books if they are damage by the students and even then is a stretch.

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