[lg policy] Guyana: Educational leaders should revisit our language education policy

Brookes, Tim brookes at champlain.edu
Thu Apr 9 15:48:03 UTC 2015

Hal, I'm not sure if this is the kind of thing that falls within the
purview of your work, but I'll send it along anyway so you can decide--and
no hard feelings if it's not for you!

Members of this group may be interested to read about the activities of the
students in my Publishing in the 21st Century class at Champlain College in
Burlington, Vermont, USA.
Over the past two years, we have been working to publish a series of
classroom materials in indigenous languages of the Chittagong Hill
Tracts--Marma, Mro, and Chakma in particular--for three schools where
children are educated in their mother tongues. So far they have made
alphabet charts, rubber alphabet stamps, coloring sheets, writing journals,
stickers, and classroom storybook readers based on oral history tales the
children themselves collected from their elders.
For more information, please visit

On Thu, Apr 9, 2015 at 11:42 AM, Harold Schiffman <hfsclpp at gmail.com> wrote:

> Educational leaders should revisit our language education policy
> April 9, 2015 · By Staff Writer
> <http://www.stabroeknews.com/author/layout/> · 1 Comment
> <http://www.stabroeknews.com/2015/opinion/letters/04/09/educational-leaders-should-revisit-our-language-education-policy/#disqus_thread>
>    Next Article »
> <http://www.stabroeknews.com/2015/opinion/letters/04/09/sn-report-was-distasteful/>
> Print
> <http://www.stabroeknews.com/2015/opinion/letters/04/09/educational-leaders-should-revisit-our-language-education-policy/print/>
> *Dear Editor,*
> Please permit me to raise once again the issue of language rights and
> language education policy in Guyana. In spite of abundant evidence to
> contradict it, the persistent idea that the people of the ex-British
> colonies have a ‘common grounding’ in the English language still wins
> support in influential circles at the University of Guyana and the Cyril
> Potter [teachers’] College. This idea is further exalted in the concept of
> ‘International Englishes’ (a term referring to the various ways in which
> speakers of languages other than English have influenced English), as well
> as in Richard Allsopp’s ‘Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage’ (published
> in 1996). More recently the idea has found an articulate voice in the
> person of Mr Ian McDonald (Sunday Stabroek, March 29, page 7).
> Mr McDonald argues that cricket and English are two powerful uniting
> forces of the ex-British Caribbean, (he uses the term ‘West Indian’)
> declaring English to be the “imaginative possession which defines our
> nationhood even more basically than cricket.” I agree that our literary and
> musical artists have expanded and enriched the English language. But
> adherence to the idea without recognition of the true nature of our
> linguistic ‘bedrock’ makes us pawns in a racist, hegemonic agenda that
> underlies it. Albert Memmi’s definition of racism serves my argument:
> Racism is the generalized and final assigning of values to real or
> imaginary differences, to the accuser’s benefit and at his victim’s
> expense, in order to justify the former’s own privileges or aggression.
> Sir Hilary Beckles writes of an elite class of descendants of slaves in
> Barbados, who “learned English and through it separated themselves from the
> masses of Creole speakers.” I argue that this elite class exists everywhere
> in the ex-British Caribbean and the manner in which value is assigned to
> the real differences in our linguistic inheritances privileges this class,
> giving them an undeserved advantage in the socio-political and
> socio-economic order.
> Unlike cricket, language is a natural possession acquired in childhood,
> perhaps in vitro, from parents, caregivers and community. The mother
> tongues of the majority of Caribbean speakers originated in the (16th, 17th
> and 18th century) contact situations between the colonists and speakers of
> certain African languages on the west coast of Africa, were further
> developed on the slave plantations with linguistic inputs from other
> immigrant groups, and acquired naturally by children on the plantations and
> subsequent post-emancipation societies. In grammar and phonology, the
> differences between these mother tongues and the colonists’ have disproved
> the proposition that they are dialects of English and other European
> languages, although they have borrowed much of their respective
> vocabularies from them.
> The shaky ‘dialect’ argument is used to justify the continuation of
> colonial language policies in the region. Our Guyanese (Creolese) is
> assigned inferior value to English in the education system. In fact, it is
> illegitimate to use it even orally to teach the content areas. It is
> assigned dialectal ‘folk’ value, in written form; it is skilfully used by
> English-speaking creative writers who seek individual recognition of their
> Caribbean specificity abroad; it appears in print media verbatim reports of
> interviews with the Guyanese speakers; and it is exploited by the business
> elite in advertising. But the most damaging aspect of the agenda is that
> although Guyanese appears occasionally in English language textbooks, it is
> assigned negative educational value in the assessment of students’ speech
> and writing.
> Mr McDonald blames the education systems of the region for the “uniformly
> poor CXC results in English,” suggests that there is a “shortfall in
> quality or quantity of English teachers in the schools” and concludes that
> the authorities do not place a high priority on the teaching of English. My
> first-hand experience discredits this criticism. A great deal of frenetic
> energy is spent chasing after the English ideal, even in the nursery
> schools. Hours upon hours spent on English phonics in our primary schools
> and pages upon pages of English text copied from books or chalkboards in
> our secondary schools are testimony to this English monolingual agenda.
> In our multi-lingual situation a child may acquire more than one mother
> tongue. But the reality is that English is not a mother tongue for the vast
> majority. Because of their captive audiences and Guyanese teachers’
> facility with the children’s mother tongues, schools are potentially
> powerful spaces where children can learn together. Schools also have the
> potential to enhance the linguistic power of their pupils, both with
> respect to their mother tongues as well as any ‘other’ languages. For
> Guyana, we can safely assume English to be the most highly desired ‘other’.
> If schools are to realize their potential, educational leaders will need
> to understand that their grand idea founders upon its own misconstrued
> pillars. For the convenience of public administration and social control,
> the minority British colonialists had imposed their shared language on the
> educational institutions in their colonies because they had the power to do
> so. Shouldn’t our language idea/ideal be driven by the quest to liberate
> the people’s voices and to involve them in the decision-making of our
> imagined nation? What kind of democracy would we be constructing if the
> people were forced to deny this vital and inalienable possession—their
> languages—by disempowerment through non-recognition? What kind of
> educational leaders would shroud linguistic differences in a smokescreen of
> assumed commonality and blame the victims for the results of discriminatory
> educational policy, the flagship of racist, capitalist hegemony?
> And if the idea/ideal of a single, standardized language is so compelling
> for the unifying of an imagined nation, whose language should it be? In
> this time of new coalition politics in Guyana, “… driven by a compelling
> sense of urgency and by national outrage” (Moses Bhagwan, Stabroek News,
> April 2) I urge that our educational leaders understand the urgency of
> revisiting our language education policy with more genuine commitment to
> inclusive democracy than we have done in the past.
> *Yours faithfully,*
> *Charlene Wilkinson*
> *Lecturer, Department of*
> *Language and Cultural*
> *Studies*
> *Faculty of Education and*
> *the Humanities*
> *University of Guyana*
> *http://www.stabroeknews.com/2015/opinion/letters/04/09/educational-leaders-should-revisit-our-language-education-policy/
> <http://www.stabroeknews.com/2015/opinion/letters/04/09/educational-leaders-should-revisit-our-language-education-policy/>*
> --
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