Take good care of your Caribbeans

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
Make newly-arrived pupils from Jamaica feel at home in class

Links between Britain and Jamaica go back hundreds of years. From the 17th century, people from the Caribbean have come to this country as slaves, seamen, labourers and domestic servants.

During the Second World War, thousands of Jamaicans served in the British armed forces. There are long-standing Jamaican communities in many cities - in particular, London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Wolverhampton, Nottingham, Bristol and Leicester.

Children are still arriving from Jamaica, some to join their immediate families who left for Britain several years before them, others to stay with extended family members. Still others are economic migrants, looking for a better way of life.


English is the official language of Jamaica, but Patois - a mixture of English, African and Spanish words - is an important part of the country's culture, and there is an extensive collection of children's stories and poetry written in Patois.

Most Jamaicans are Christians but belong to a wide range of churches. These include Church of God, Baptist, Anglican, Adventist, Pentecostal and Methodist. At school, it is very common for children to learn about the Bible and to take part in school prayers.


Education is compulsory and children start school at six or seven. Primary school (grades 1 to 6) lasts for six years. It is topic-based in grades 1 to 3, and subject-based in grades 4 to 6.

Children move to secondary school after sitting the grade 6 achievement test (GSAT). There are five years of secondary education (grades 7 to 11) that take place in high schools. Many take O-levels via the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC).

Teaching is usually formal with pupils sitting in pairs at wooden desks.

Class sizes are large, often with 40 pupils or more. It is common for pupils to copy and work from tasks written on a blackboard. Some rural schools are overcrowded and more than one class group may have to share a classroom. Some pupils in poorer areas may miss high school as their families can't afford the fees. In Jamaican schools, books and equipment must be bought or hired.

In school, there is a strong emphasis on the use of standard English, which is seen as vital to success, although many Jamaican children use Patois in day-to-day speech and are very proud of its cultural roots.


Pupils may need time to adjust. Most schools in the UK are much less formal than those in Jamaica. Value and build on pupils' previous experience. Find stories and poems that use Patois (there are lots of them), and a map of Jamaica will be very useful. Plan some formal, traditional activities to start with, such as copying from the board or rote-learning. Pupils might not be familiar with paired work and small-group tasks, so they might need to be introduced to this gradually.


* National Library of Jamaica: www.nlj.org.jm

* Jamaica: Out of Many, One People, published by Teachers in Development Education, www.tidec.org

* Meeting the Needs of New Arrivals from Jamaica, published by Wolverhampton multicultural education service. Tel: 01902 555264

Hope Leaves Jamaica by Kate Elizabeth Ernest, published by Mammoth

* www.jamaicans.com offers a wealth of information, links, maps games and activities.


Slavery abolished: August 1, 1834

Independence from Britain: August 6, 1962

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