Open Letter from Brian Reynolds in Jamaica

Parent page: Lift Up Jamaica

To: all Jamaicans and all who love Jamaican culture.

I am Brian Reynolds in Jamaica an English speaking Jamaican resident born in Yorkshire in England.  I
have lived in Jamaica since 1989 and am now a Jamaican Citizen.   I am a systems designer, founded a software company in 1976, subsequently took it public, later retired from it, and have since been undertaking research and development with my new company Family SystemsI am writing this in my personal capacity as a Jamaican seeking cooperation to assist our Jamaican speaking people.  You can reach me at  More about me and my other ideas at Brian Reynolds.     

From my perspective as a Yorkshireman becoming Jamaican, I am struck by seeing how on the one hand, we in Jamaica have a wonderful living language in Patois which is widely loved in the rest of the world, and on the other hand, we undervalue and discriminate against Patois in Jamaica, with the result that many of our Patois speakers are educationally disadvantaged.  

I have been referring to our national language as Patois but Carolyn Cooper to whom I was referred by a friend and with whom I have discussed this subject on the phone, informs me that this is too generic as there are several Island Patois variations.  Also, she explains that Jamaican Patois is a true language in its own right, not just a dialect of English.  My Jamaican family, Carolyn Cooper and others have suggested we should call it Jamaican.  I am in process of adopting that convention and therefore am using both "Patois" and "Jamaican" and "Jamaican Patois" interchangeably in these notes.

My concern - the educational crisis in Jamaica today.

Many Jamaican children speak Jamaican Patois at home and in school among themselves and often with their teachers.  However, all the text books for all subjects are in English.  This policy severely discriminates against those Jamaicans who do not speak English either at home or elsewhere in their daily lives and has resulted in the system of education for many children coming from Patois speaking homes having broken down.

The direct result is the phenomenon often noted in recent headlines of many Jamaican children (perhaps a majority?) leaving school unable to read, write or do arithmetic in any language.  This lack of basic education among those actually attending school is unprecedented and appears to me to be a humanitarian crisis that deserves widespread national and international support.

Boys have less language ability than girls at school age and faced with the difficulty of books in a different language than they speak, many give up.  The result is we are turning out generations of young men that are disaffected by education, speak only Patois and cannot read or write in any language.  Thus the discrimination against Patois speakers inherent in our present educational system in my view is the underlying reason why the recent headlines recorded that only 18% of Mona University entrants are male.  

Lets Fix the System by teaching Jamaican Patois in schools alongside English, ...

The fundamental cause of our crisis in education is that most children speak Jamaican Patois at home and in school and yet all the textbooks are only in English.  Our educational policy of ignoring Patois as a teaching language discriminates against the majority of Jamaican children for whom Patois is their only daily spoken language. 

This needs to be reversed by introducing a Patois literacy stream alongside an English literacy stream in all primary education.  Patois speaking children should be able to learn to read and write in the language they speak, Jamaican Patois.  English speaking children should be able to continue to learn to read and write in the language they speak, English. 

We also need Patois courses for those whose first language is English and English courses for those whose first language is Patois.  Patois should continue alongside English long enough for all Jamaican school children to achieve spoken and written fluency in both languages.

I was recently talking to an Indian family who explained that each State in India has its own Local Language and the appropriate Local Language is always taught in schools alongside English as the International Language, and now Hindi as well as the National Language.  I am told that children who attend school in this system do come out of school literate.

... catching up our illiterate, ...

We also need a program to catch up to literacy all those who have missed out already in education as a result of the practice of using only English textbooks in the schools.  We need to create catch up literacy education for Patois speaking adults, using the the two language approach adopted in schools. 

In addition, help for all levels can come from programmed learning on PC's and ideally, soon cell phones.  There needs to be an effort to create Jamaican language courses for these media and transition aids from Jamaican to English. 

I visualise for example, Beenie man videos on You Tube with subtitles in Jamaican Patois as heard, and optionally with an English translation as well, and all able to play free on my cell phone and that of every one else in Jamaica.

... and uplifting Patois to Jamaican our National Language.

Perhaps the moment is right to springboard a National Project to uplift Patois as Jamaican our National Language  alongside English our International Language

I suggest we create a Cooperative Project to build awareness, tools, try-outs and set the stage for Jamaica to succeed as a multi-lingual society.  If we the population find out and show how it can work, perhaps English and Jamaica can operate side by side in Government offices and learning institutions, and with support from the business sector.  When this is done, as in other bilingual countries, all government documents would be in both languages and it would follow that both Jamaican and English would always be available as the languages in which literacy and numeracy are taught in Jamaican schools. 

I also feel that our Jamaican language sells in the world and one can imagine spin off business opportunities such as Jamaican language call centers helping those in other countries understand the lyrics of the music they love.  A whole hearted National Project could enliven the Jamaican economy in many ways and attract a lot of support from outside Jamaica.

Lets cooperate.

I, and others I have spoken to on the subject, feel that educating Patois speakers is of the utmost urgency, importance, and with the most short term and long term prospects for improvements in Jamaica from our present position.

We are eager to hear your thoughts and ideas.  We hope together to think through and energise solutions to our educational crisis and other national problems.  In Respect due to Jamaican are some further notes on the subject of Jamaican Patois and education which we hope may serve as a basis for creation of a presentation.  We would appreciate any feedback to so we can improve the presentation and help it take effect.


Educational Policy
Language Policy  see pages 23 and 24 for choices and present decision.
Gleaner commentary  July 2008

Bilingual Education Project
Bilingual Education Project course

2007 Report
Hubert Devonish  Profile

UK College Offers Patois Course
Convention on the Rights of the Child see paragraph 65
The Workplace Literacy Programme (WLP)

Valuing Jamaican Patois/Creole, 2002 conference in England

Observer July 2008, Patois as a language or broken English by Geoff Brown
Observer Editorial Nov 2005, Lets be pragmatic about teaching in Patois
Guardian March 2002, Jamaica debates Queen's English
Gleaner July 2008, PM challenged on Patois Bible issue

Jamaican Language Site 
watch the video by Gem Sto:n on Writing Jamaican the Jamaican way 
and on Youtube and new book launch

15 points why Jamaican Patois is a language by Karl Folkes
Is Jamaica Patois a language? by Karl Folkes
The Official Shorthand & Emoticons

Speak Jamaican enterprise

Patois dictionary by Mike Pawka
Interesting videos of chldrens books written in English and read in Jamaican which illustrate the problem that what you see is not what you hear

Jamaican language on Wikipedia