From the Diaspora…WHY GUYANESE STUDENTS LACK READING AND WRITING SKILLS
By Ralph Seeram
My other half has always maintained that “the day Guyana get TV the children done”. That was more than twenty years ago. What she did not factor into the equation was the introduction of the Internet in Guyana. She was the “enforcer” in the house; I was the “softee”. The kids were limited to two hours of TV a day during the week, and that was after homework.
I, on the other hand, ensured there was a full supply of books, newspapers and magazines for them to read. This, of course, was easy to do here in the U S. What about the children in Guyana? Are they at a disadvantage? I doubt it.
The headline of the Kaieteur News article read “Results of essay competition signal need for more work in classrooms”. The opening line read: “An urgent call has been thrown out to teachers to incorporate essay writing, reading and other measures to help develop research skills in the daily teaching and learning process”.
When I read that I began to wonder if essay writing and reading skills are not part of the English curriculum in schools, now that the teachers have to implement them. The article in question reported the results of an essay competition and noted that the students lacked “basic writing skills and proper sentence construction. Spelling and word usage were poor”.
The entire problem can be summed up in one word, READING. Children are not reading enough. Parents, if your child is spending more time watching Television than reading, you have a problem. If they spend more time on Facebook than reading, you have a problem. It is simple as that.
On a recent visit to Guyana I went to make a photocopy at a nearby internet café. It was filled with young people; they were all on Internet, not reading news, articles or researching; it was Facebook.
One item in the article that reminded me of my Primary school days in Guyana was “the essays lacked effective introduction and some had no conclusion”. It’s clear that the teachers who vetted these essays do not know the basics of writing an essay themselves.
It reminded me of a remarkable teacher, the late David Mallay, who taught me in “sixth standard” at St Joseph Anglican’s School at Port Mourant on the Corentyne. Now after some fifty years I can still visualize him pointing to the blackboard. “Your essay has to have an introduction, the body supporting your topic and conclusion”. It was like yesterday. I think of him, his “do’s and don’ts” when writing my articles.
I recall writing my first essay for him. Next day my fellow students said, “Mr. Mallay wants to see you in his room”. That generally means you are in “trouble”. To my relief, he said that he liked my essay and would like to read it to the class as an example. I had no objection. It was the first of many essays that would be read to the class.
Today I realize why I was so successful at writing essays (though I did not realize it at the time). I was a voracious reader. Later, I also had another dedicated English teacher, Nowrang Persaud, who later became a Human Resource Officer, who I see writes some letters to the Editor. Nowrang where are you?
I read anything that is available— newspapers, books, magazines and comic books. Now the comic books were another story. You were discouraged from reading comic books then. They were supposed to be harmful, which was nonsense. Comic books fired my imagination; they were way ahead of technology then. I got in trouble in school for having a comic book in my possession; they confiscated it.
Back then in the New Amsterdam market, there were book stands where you can go and rent comic books for two cents to read as well as magazines (old) and books. If the stall holder knows you well you could also rent a “nudie magazine” to satisfy your curiosity of the female body and anatomy. But it was all knowledge for the brain. Of course today that stall holder would be charged for showing pornography to an 11-year-old.
My point is if students read enough on a wide variety of subjects, and with the relevant guidance from teachers, they should not have any difficulty writing essays. However, I do believe that the present education system has some blame. If the teachers don’t know the basic elements of writing an essay, what do you expect of the students?
This problem is, however, not limited to Guyanese students. I get e-mail responses to my articles and you would be surprised at the poor English and grammar. Some think they are sending a text with yr and tk. One teacher here in Florida told me students are confused about “proper English” and texting.
Of course, parents have their role to play. With the Internet and Television competing with school for the student’s time, parents will have to be forceful in allotting times for their children. Of note to teachers: my “sixth standard” teacher Mallay was so dedicated to his students that he forced us to do “extra lessons” in the afternoons and had parents consent for us to attend half day school on Saturdays— all FREE of course.
Believe it or not, at sixth standard we were doing GCE English exam papers, some four years ahead. That year, his class at St Joseph Anglican School had the highest pass rate in the country for the then “school leaving certificate”.
Today Guyanese teachers see extra lessons as a way to earn extra income, rather than improving their students’ skills.
Ralph Seeram can be reached at email: email@example.com