Letters & Opinion

English As A Second Language

I read with great interest an article in our local press entitled, “National Language Policy Pending“, by Micah George, where reference was made to the fact that previous reports on the subject were “hidden in cupboards or lying in shelves collecting dust”.

This propelled me to search my private library to rediscover my committee report on “Educational Priorities”, which was commissioned by the Government of St. Lucia in 1974 and submitted in 1980.

The terms of reference of the committee, which was co-chaired by Mrs. Patricia Charles, included, inter alia:
1. (a) To examine the existing social, economic and political conditions of St. Lucia in (1) World perspective (2) Caribbean perspective;
(b) To prescribe a philosophy for the St. Lucia society, under four interrelated headings.

The 150-page report reviewed the history of education in St. Lucia analyzed the existing system at all levels and subject areas, including teacher service, educational administration, curriculum and materials development, art and culture, health education, vocational and career guidance, special education, non-formal and informal education, and presented recommendations which would lead “Towards a New Philosophy of Education for St. Lucia”.

The report made recommendations on basic elements of education for our country from a philosophy of State, covering areas related to lifelong learning, educational opportunities for all, manpower needs, full employment, pre-school education and a suggested national service programme.

Of particular relevance to the article by Micah George on language policy is the section entitled “Illiteracy Erased as a matter of National Urgency” and “Socio-Linguistic Consideration”, which states: “In order to develop a meaningful literacy campaign in St. Lucia, it is necessary to bear in mind that the socio-linguistic base of our society and to develop a methodology which would foster effective and meaningful literacy in the shortest possible time.”

Patois, or Creole, is the principal vehicle of communication of a large sector of the St Lucian population and the illiteracy percentage was quoted as 22% (from published information at the time of the report). It is, therefore, necessary to use Patois as a vehicle in the transmission of relevant ideas and concepts in areas where this dialect is in everyday use.

The teaching of English as a second language does not pertain only to adult programmes. It has its important place in pre-school systems where children from very strong Patois communities enter formal schooling for the first time.

In all this, Patois must be recognized as part of our cultural heritage and a major vehicle of communication. Some countries have developed very successful literacy programmes. We can learn from them.

English as a second language programme (ESL) is well-established in some institutions in the United States to cater for diverse educational levels for immigrants from all over the world. Other countries have developed successful policies and strategies in this regard.

If my 1980 report and others dealing with this subject are “covered in dust”, we need to do some dusting, revisit the subject and act on recommendations. St. Lucia with its strong Creole culture and influence could become a centre for ESL programmes in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Personnel within our respective Ministries and institutions (local and regional) are well qualified to take the necessary initiatives and appropriate action. Further, there are well-qualified St. Lucian ESL graduates teaching ESL in institutions in the United States.

Ambassador Dr Edsel Edmunds, OBE
Former Ambassador of St Lucia to the UN, OAS, and US and Chairman, Educational Priorities St. Lucia (1974-1980)

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