Should Jamaican Creole be taught in schools?

Within the Jamaican educational system, English has always been seen as a fundamental area of study as all other subjects are set in relation to it.  However, national reports have shown a declining trend in English within the 2000’s.  In just 2011 alone, ‘nearly 60% of the more than 20,000 primary schools failed the Grade Four Literacy Test’ (  Even the then Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites (in The Gleaner of August 10, 2012) was “very disappointed” in the low pass rate in CSEC English A examination. Such poor performances have spurred national debates, people want to know: why do Jamaican children often fail English exams!!?

Qualified linguists (particularly from the Jamaica Language Unit at the University of the West Indies) have put forth a theory that literacy performance would improve if Jamaican Creole was taught in schools. Of course, their judgement was met with wide-scale disapproval and caused even more controversy. Many individuals, however, began to ponder the merit of the linguists’ suggestions, wondering if their approach could work. After sitting amidst the missiles of pros and cons I have realized that the introduction of Jamaican Creole in schools would facilitate better learning. Although there are other factors that impact academic performances, the lexical similarities between Standard Jamaican English and Jamaican English cannot be ignored. Hence, launching Jamaican Creole into our educational system could allow for an increase in language cognizance thereby fueling scholastic development.

Like English, Jamaican Creole has a written and phonological order. Thus, the native language would be taught in the primary and secondary schools as a part of a dual education programme. However, the view may be put forward that this would be too difficult and time consuming but with proper funding (via private sector and government) it would be achievable. What’s more, the teachers would be able to attend Bilingual Education Project (BEP) training sessions at different phases throughout the year.  According to the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL International) in a report they did on the BEP project, they declared that this plan ‘appears to be a good way to help teachers dissimilate the material in manageable amounts.’ The research done here proves that the implementation of Jamaican Creole in the classroom was not only legitimate but practical.  Regardless of our differences on the issue, it is clear that ‘Jamaicans write a language [they] do not speak [and] speak a language [they] do not write’ (Devonish; Carpenter).  This is why the Language Education Policy (LEP) was created in 2001 to ‘simultaneously promote the oral use of the Jamaican Creole in schools to facilitate the development of skills in Standard Jamaican English’ (LEP). This gave way to the Bilingual Educational Project which ran for four years in four corporate area primary schools (grades 1-3) between 2004 and 2008 by a team of experienced linguists. After observing this project, Ronald and Diane Morren of SIL International noted that ‘using Jamaican Creole is motivational’ and ‘the BEP should experience success in spite of the difficulties it encounters.’ Nonetheless, there are some who may say that no other country has successfully incorporated Creole into their educational system. However, Iceland proves otherwise as it uses the Icelandic language in their schools while teaching English and German for external communication.  Hence, as Professor Devonish notes, ‘the path from the existing semi-lingualism to true bilingualism has been cleared already.’

Introducing Jamaican Creole into the classroom aims to satisfy the objective of increasing literacy skills. It is understandable however that some Jamaicans might be skeptical about this move as they see English as necessary in propelling economic growth through international relations. They also fear that Jamaican Creole may eventually overshadow English all together. This is not the case, the addition of Creole to academic communities is meant to enhance the learning of English. A policy within the BEP stipulates that Jamaican Creole should not hinder impede a child’s ability to learn the Standard Jamaican English curriculum. It is a mistake to create a false dilemma and think it is either English or Jamaican Creole when it is a joint venture.

With the first language incorporated into the school environment, language awareness would increase thereby enabling improved passes. Still, critics might declare that other individuals have gone on to do well locally and globally without Jamaican Creole.  Yet, what about the percentage who have not done well and failed under the monolingual system? In a survey done on learner’s performance ‘between 1998 and 2000, an average of 50% of learners consistently failed to achieve established passing levels’ (LED). This is because at least 90% of the Jamaican Creole lexicon is borrowed from English. The students in a typical Jamaican classroom code-switch between Standard Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole. This ‘language situation is made even more complex by the range of varieties that some linguists refer to as a continuum’ (Bryan). This closeness between the two languages cause children to speak and write broken or “bad” English. In Hyacinth Evan’s book “Inside Jamaican Schools”, she did a theoretical analysis of what happens in primary and secondary schools. She notes in her research that the students ‘often applied Jamaican Creole syntactic rules or used Creole expressions in a Standard Jamaican English sentence.’  Their main problems ranged from the absence of ‘tense markers or inflection to indicate past tense and lack of inflection of the verb when used in the present participle.’ Furthermore, the children used the ‘Creole method of pluralization’ along with Creole words and phrases. There is even the error of using ‘one form of pronoun for all cases and as an adjective’ (Evans).  It is only after the teachers taught the students to distinguish between the two languages that they began to ‘[show] some faculty in moving along the speech continuum’ (Bryan). Hence, if Jamaican Creole is taught in schools, students will perform better in their English exams at the primary and secondary level.

In Jamaica, many adults and children have not been exposed to English in the domestic space. Thus, it is disingenuous to think that English is embedded in most if not all of the populace and all we need to do is apply it when needs be. We must not overlook those who have no great command of the written or oral use of English. It is only reasonable that we give every child, regardless of social background, a chance to enhance their understanding of language.  Besides, there is no major opposition to this move as in the 2005 National Language Attitude Survey of Jamaica, more than 80% considered Jamaican Creole a language and 70% wanted to see Jamaican Creole as a language of instruction.  Even the cultural content of Jamaican Creole allows for improved student input.  According to SIL International, in a visit they did to the BEP schools, the ‘teachers remarked that in comparison to previous classes that they had taught, the current students were less shy about participating…and seemingly more confident [as] they were able to use their most proficient language to express themselves’. Therefore, teaching Jamaican Creole could offer an appealing and effective way to build knowledge.

Jamaican Creole should be taught in schools as there is documented and proven research that points to its realistic applicability inside the classroom. Students from all social backgrounds would be given a chance to learn the salient differences between Standard Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole. This would mean better recognition of language utilization which allows for an improvement in literacy and oral use of English. Furthermore, it would undercut the ambivalent mind-set that exists towards Jamaican Creole, encourage greater self-esteem and allow individuals to assign significance to their own experiences in their native language. Regardless of the issues of financing or time constraints, Jamaican Creole would prove more advantageous than harmful. Instead of confronting the advocates of Creole, one must confront the facts and make a change to revitalize the educational system. AND of course, Jamaican Creole is not the only solution in solving poor literacy performances. A successful education system in Jamaica requires an amalgamation of teaching techniques, teacher-student association, parent-student participation and adequate academic resources.







Bryan, Beverley; “Collaboration or Collision: A tale of two languages Jamaican Creole and Standard English. Jamaica Partners for Educational Progress.


This publication is a summary done by Professor Beverley Bryan in relation to the concluded session of the Jamaica Partners for Educational Progress E-Discussion. It characterizes the language situation of Jamaica while identifying the language goals and factors that prevent the achievement of such goals. It also suggests strategies for developing target language competence in primary schools. This source is a scholarly one and was put together by a professor of linguistics. It has credible and objective information on how best to increase literacy performance. It proved helpful in my research as it offered linguistic evidence as to why identifying the lexical differences between Jamaican Creole and Jamaican Standard English would improve language awareness.


Devonish, Hubert; Carpenter, Karen; “Swimming Against the Tide: Jamaican Creole in Education” (2007) Print.

This book written by Devonish and Carpenter is a thorough evaluation of the Jamaican Educational system. The authors describe the linguistic challenges that hinder learning and provide data and research which tender constructive solutions to combat poor literacy skills. Moreover, the book indicates the advantages born out of a bilingual society. The text also offers scholarly information pertaining to how Jamaican Creole could foster better academic performance in English. The information is credible as it was written and documented by qualified linguists. In addition, it proved a helpful resource in explaining why Jamaican Creole would foster high order learning if it was taught in schools.

Devonish, Hubert; “Stop Demonising Patois -From a Semi-Lingual to a Bilingual Jamaica; Jamaica Gleaner August 26, 2012
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This newspaper publication is a rebuttal on the part of Professor Hubert Devonish against the critics who feel that Jamaican Creole should not be taught in schools. It aims to relay the reasons why Jamaican Creole is not an impractical approach to boosting learning. It is a popular source (newspaper) that appears reliable and credible due to the knowledge of the Professor on Linguistics. It proved useful in my research as it identified the advantages that would be garnered from a bilingual education system.

Evans L. Hyacinth “Inside Jamaican Schools.” University of West Indies Press.  2001. Print

This book speaks about the Jamaican Educational system. It offers a theoretical analysis of the activities within the classroom, student participation and performance along with teaching strategies. After evaluating the school environment, Evans identifies the problems which hinder academic performance and offer strategies for improving the educational system. The book falls into the category of a scholarly source and is a credible one too as Hyacinth Evans is a senior lecturer at the Institute of Education (University of the West Indies). The information gathered proved helpful as it offered insight into the common linguistic errors that Jamaican Children commit due to the lexical similarities between Standard Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole. Also, the book addresses the educational and motivational possibilties of Jamaican Creole if it was taught in schools.


Language Education Policy. Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture. Kingston,

Jamaica. 2001 Unpub.


This article is the formulation of a national policy on language education. It is a reaction to the unsatisfactory performance of students in language and literacy at all levels of the Jamaican Educational system. Due to the fluid nature of the usage between Jamaican Creole and Standard Jamaican English the report has recognized that there arises learning difficulties for the Creole speakers who are trying to learn English. Thus, the policy identifies Jamaica is a bilingual society and charters solutions to develop literacy through permitting bilingual teaching strategies. This is a credible and scholarly source as it was devised by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture. It offers well documented information (that is, statistics and research) which was helpful as it elaborated on how Jamaican Creole would aid in language acquisition.

Luton, Daraine; “Thwaites Shocked At Woeful CSEC Results” Jamaica Gleaner. August 10, 2012.


This popular source offers information as to the reaction of the then Minister of Education, Ronald Thwaites to the performance of students in the Caribbean Secondary Examinations. This source is reliable as it is a refutable newspaper and the column was done by a senior staff reporter. The information seems objective as it mainly quotes what the minister says. It was helpful and fit into my research as I wanted to appeal to an authority that confirmed the poor academic results and saw a need for a change in our educational system.

Morren C. Ronald; Morren M. Diane; “Are the Goals and Objectives of Jamaica’s Bilingual Education Project being met?” Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) International (2007)

This scholarly report offers an in-debt evaluation of the Bilingual Education Project by SIL International. The analysts offer an appraisal of the teacher, principal and student’s reaction to Jamaican Creole in the classroom. In addition, it elaborates on how well the language was implemented into the classroom and what steps need to be taken to achieve all its objectives. The source is a credible one as SIL is a faith-based nonprofit organization committed to serving language communities worldwide to build capacity for sustainable language development. The well documented report was done by Ronald and Diane Morren who are both qualified linguists and education consultants.


Reid, Tyrone. “Struggling students – Some 60 per cent fail Supplemental Grade Four Literacy Test” Jamaica Gleaner. Published March 11, 2012


This popular source offers statistical information on the percentages of passes in the Grade Four Literacy Test. It showcased the passes and failures of children within primary schools across Jamaica in the 2000’s. It seems like a fairly reliable source as its data was published by a long-established newspaper and the writer is the senior staff reporter of the Gleaner Company. Moreover, it proved helpful as it offers data which exposes how the high failure rate proves that the educational system needs to driven into the direction of bilingualism.

The Language Attitude Survey of Jamaica. The Jamaican language unit (2005) Unpub.


This is a scholarly and well documented report on the attitudes of Jamaicans to Language. It features questionnaires and samples distributed among the demography and presents statistical data on the outcomes. It is a credible source as its data was compiled from the population and what’s more the report was done by the Jamaica Language Unit. This features a team of highly qualified linguists, graduate students and data entry personnel. It proved helpful in my research as it reveals the high level of acceptance of Jamaican Creole as a language itself and as a language of instruction.




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