Draft Presentation November 2008.  Parent Lift up Jamaica. Please send feedback to speak@liftupjamaica.com

Introduction, our ambivalence toward Patois.

Brand Jamaica is Patois.  Patois is reggae and dancehall lyrics which are prized worldwide.  It is a very colorful and expressive language and native Jamaicans grow up speaking it.  The majority of students speak it to their friends, parents, teachers and neighbours.  Jamaican Patois also called Jamaican, is the spoken language of Jamaica.

However, Jamaican Patois is not taught in schools.  Government and commercial papers are all in English.  Newspapers are mostly in English with a few Patois articles and Patois quotations in English articles.  TV and Radio are mixed with English and Patois.  Popular culture such as songs, DJ lyrics and roots plays are mostly in Patois.

Most people in Jamaica speak Patois fluently and a little English, often just enough to be able to pretend they understand more than they do.   Many Patois speakers are unable to read or write either in Patois or in English and avoid situations in which they might need to.

A minority of Jamaicans speak English fluently and habitually and these people generally run things in Jamaica.  Many of the Jamaicans who already speak English think every Jamaican should speak English for its worldwide advantages, and that English should therefore be the only language taught in schools.  This policy is not working out well in practice for the Patois speakers.

The one fundamental and most important root change that we need to make is in how we look at and value Jamaican Patois and how we treat it in our schools and other learning institutions.  

Jamaican education is only in English which has led us into crisis ...

There are at least two kinds of households in Jamaica, those who speak English at home and those who speak Patois at home.  Households who speak English are the minority and their members are mostly literate.  Households who speak Patois are in the majority, but their members are often illiterate. 

Only English is taught in schools and Patois speakers are discriminated against by this policy.
When those who speak Patois at home go to school they are faced today with the situation that while continuing to speak Patois for the most part all day at school, the textbooks are all written in English, even at the most basic primary levels. 

For Patois speakers this means that the written words are different from the way they talk leading to confusion.  This is a terrible disadvantage for Patois speaking students and it has lead to generations of high school leavers unable to read or write in any language and being disaffected by education. 

Because girls of school age are more verbally gifted than boys, the present policy while discriminating against and disadvantaging all Patois speaking students, has enabled girls to fare better than boys resulting in 82% university admissions to girls in Jamaica.

The result is that i
n Jamaica, we speak either English and are typically literate and with good work or career prospects or we speak Jamaican and are often illiterate and may be out of work, in menial jobs, or involved in entertainment on the positive side or in the worst case, criminality. 
Positions of influence in Jamaica are mostly held by English speakers. 

... while Jamaican Patois is our living language.

Meanwhile, Patois as a spoken language is alive and well and past and present Jamaican  artists who perform in Patois are internationally loved and acclaimed.  It therefore makes sense for Jamaica to adopt Patois as our National Language alongside and parallel to English, and to be proud of it. 

Many people around the world would love translations of Jamaican Patois lyrics into their own language and to be able to understand the original Patois as well.  Many people buy records in Jamaican Patois who do not buy records in any other language which is not their own.

By adopting Patois alongside English in all our institutions we will create written forms and translations between Patois and English that would be of great interest around the world as well as leveling the playing field for our children in our schools.

Trying to force Patois speaking children to learn basic skills in English has resulted in generations of literacy dropouts who now need to be retaught. This could be done as a National Project to uplift Jamaican Patois and could attract a lot of support as a worthy cause.  Patois language material thereby developed for schools can have a much wider application in tackling the literacy problem in school leavers and adults

Proposals to "Fix the System".

1.  We lift up Patois to Jamaican our National Languge.

Alongside English our International Language, we Jamaicans need to adopt Patois as our Jamaican National Language, love it, be proud of it, sell it, teach it, read it, write it and continue to sing it.  Schools need to teach reading and writing in Patois to the many students who speak it.  Once the basic skills are learned it is easier to branch out into other languages such as English.

No other country that I know of expects its children to learn to read and write in a language that they do not speak!  We need to allow our Patois speaking children to learn to read and write first in their own language.  Those with an English spoken language background at home could elect to continue to learn reading and writing first in English as at present.

If reading and writing were taught in Patois, children who have little contact with English in their background could still learn the skills of reading and writing in the language they speak every day.  Once they are literate, their skills can be applied to English as a second language.  The English speakers can in turn learn Patois as a second language,

To lead the way, Government documents should have Jamaican Patois and English side by side as is common in other bi-lingual countries.  To achieve all that is needed, a National Project with Government, Schools and Universities, Business and Voluntary sectors all involved is called for to educate and empower our Patois speaking Jamaicans to contribute fully to our country and its economy by achieving the following.

2.  We adopt parallel Jamaican and English literacy in schools.

To correct the educational disadvantage from speaking Patois at home and give all our children an equal chance in life we need parallel streams to literacy and numeracy for English and Patois speaking children.

Thus if you select English as your first language, you may take Patois as a second language and there will be translations of non-violent popular culture translated into English to assist you.

If you select Patois as your first language, you may choose English as a second language and there will be translations of popular existing English textbooks translated into Patois to assist you.

Once students have achieved literacy in the language they speak, they would be better positioned to learn English as a second language.   Students might also choose as a second or third language Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Chinese  Japanese, Russian etc wherever we have teachers for them who speak that language in their home background.

3.  We work out practical considerations among the implementors.

I put forward the following considerations for discussion, I imagine there may be many more.

I should think everyone in school would learn at least two languages, typically Jamaican and English.  A language other than Patois may be a prerequisite for advanced study in many subjects,  In many schools, but not necessarily all, that language will most naturally be English.

Patois teachers would be likely to speak Patois at home.  English teachers should be drawn from those who speak English at home.  There should be no differentiation in pay between Patois and English teachers greater than any existing difference between an English teacher and a French or Spanish teacher now if there is one.

I would hope that many Patois-at-home teachers will find they are able to be more effective teaching the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy in their own language, and English-at-home teachers will enjoy the opportunities in teaching English as a second language to Patois speakers.

Perhaps some basic subjects such as Math and History can also be taught in Patois with Patois textbooks, and in due course, Patois versions of other subjects for which there was a need, could be added.  Alternatively, once literate in their own language, Patois speaking students may convert to English more easily for advanced studies.

4.  We create a literacy course for all ages, and deliver it both in classrooms and by cell phone.

In addition to the parallel language approach in schools to help new students, we have the enormous problem of catching up those who are already out of school and still illiterate.  We need a special catch up program for which we might appeal for international support as a humanitarian educational crisis. 

A Patois based literacy course could be created and made available for all ages to catch up on their basic skills.  This could have learning material drawn from the popular culture such as the excellent Patois songs and lyrics and the equally excellent Patois plays and novels.  The basic literacy and numeracy course could be followed with the ability to branch out into English and then to other subjects written in English.  

I assume all the new (and I would hope, vibrant) Patois activity developed for and in schools would also be offered in such a catch up program alongside a parallel stream of subjects in English which would be optional for those able to take advantage of them.  However the availability of those would naturally be limited to the number of teachers available who in practice are able to conduct a class while speaking only in full English.

Other media such as computer aided learning could help and we need Patois literacy courses available and Patois to English conversions and vice versa.  Perhaps our higher education institutes could assist in creating these.  I also have hope for the anticipated combination of cell phones and Internet. 

I hope to see subtitles karaoke style for popular songs in Patois as a reading assist available on all cell phones and music players.  English translations alongside the Patois renditions of popular songs and DJ lyrics would also be very useful educationally as well as being fascinating for those like me who struggle with Patois and yearn for the full enjoyment apparent in my Patois speaking friends.


At present the situation in Jamaica, my adopted country is as if, when I was brought up in England my original country, I had to learn all subjects including fundamental reading and writing while given only textbooks written in French while all around me continued to speak in English even when discussing the French language text in the textbooks.

What is the point in Jamaica gaining its independence in order to run our own affairs, then running them like we were part of England?  We have in Patois a wonderful National Language but we discriminate against its speakers.  Unlike many national languages such as Welsh and Irish, Jamaican Patois is alive and growing in prevalence and content, but as a result of no institutional support, largely in spoken form. 

We need to respect Patois, respect our culture, teach reading and writing through the songs and popular repartee that is on everyone's lips, and energise this approach with a National Project seeking International support to enable our educationally dispossessed to catch up and contribute as fellow citizens.  I believe this is the most urgent challenge facing Jamaica as each illiterate Jamaican is waiting and needing to be enfranchised, and we are producing more every year. 

Please send feedback to speak@liftupjamaica.com