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Poor English still the bane of dialogue

Everywhere almost everyone has taken to the information technology platform. Once there is the desk computer, laptop or the ubiquitous smartphone, people eagerly immerse themselves in the joys of the Digital Age –– and not without encouragement. They are constantly reminded that is the way to go.

It is one certain step to take, admittedly, lest we are left lagging. Surely, we ought to use the new technology to the benefit and further development of ourselves and our country; but constraint must be our watchword.

To dismiss this word of caution is to plunge ourselves into the abyss of confusion, unelightenment and despair.

It is not unknown for elements of the younger generation to be adept at computer games and social media surfing and gossip gathering, but grossly incompetent in natural social skills and severely challenged in traditional educational pursuits –– even unable to carry on any literate conversation. This bodes intellectual disaster for our society.

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A fallout of this obsession with the social media of Twitter, Facebook and the like, and addiction to the smartphone truncated texting, is the destruction of English grammar and spelling as we have known them. Then we are flummoxed when even people with degrees can hardly write a proper job application letter, or curriculum vitae, or when the radio and TV-interviewed youth express themselves incoherently.

Our powers that be and our national educators need to stop burying their heads in the sand and to take advantage of our better disposed young Barbadian souls in influencing and channelling them into more responsible usage of the technology for their own intellectual maturing –– and for the peace of mind of the rest of society.

This is not to be misunderstood as a step towards valuing the “academic” more highly to the neglect of technical and vocational training. In fact, we are promoting a connection between theory and practice in the development of the individual and a harmony in the blossoming of both.

This expansion and twin maturing were a common feature in the 1950s and 1960s when nigh every school leaver’s goal was to exit primary school level proficient in writing, reading and comprehension, and grounded in mental and written arithmetic. Such were the times when it was obligatory to be able to read articulately aloud, and when dictation was a staple among classroom subjects.

Such were the times when graduate school students, equally educated, chose their jobs by passion, personal preference, association or calling, their work ranging from teacher to clerk, to technician, to nurse, to pharmacist, to carpenter, to joiner, to mechanic, to seaman, to farmer, to musician, to comedian, to bartender, to chef, to politician . . . .

The better minds were not necessarily exclusive to the “academic”, a myth that has been in need of debunking –– and which, regrettably, has been overly deflated in some cases. It would seem that in an effort to remove academia by way of university life from its ivory towers and have it placed in the real world –– where it actually belongs –– some activists have succeeded in lowering standards with the barriers and flirting with benightedness.

It is not unknown of University of the West Indies (UWI) graduates having no clue of functional English and being incapacitated when it comes to writing a simple letter or report without misspellings and bad grammar. These are graduates who do no credit to our premier institution of learning.

Truth be told, though, many a great Barbadian has come out of UWI; and some of them, despite the skewed notions held about academics, have enjoyed other careers outside of the academe.

Whatever we hope for, however engrossed or not we become in the new technology and social media, we must never throw away the concept of core knowledge and learning. We must all be properly trained and tried in usage of English, and we must constantly practise its applications. No matter what career we decide upon, competent communication is key.

No one needs to be able to quote Shakespeare verbatim; or to recite all of George Lamming’s In The Castle Of My Skin, or the poems of Kamau Brathwaite; but a healthy appreciation and enjoyment of their work do a brain a good and help to generate clearer thinking.

It was the ability to read and write well that inspired and fired our forefathers to pave the path for us. To allow that way to further advancement to become overgrown by rhetorical gobbledegook and mealy-mouthed obfuscations does nothing for the good name of our forbears, and offers no comfort for the future.

Let us jettison therefore this new and nonsensical notion that “proper” English is a non-essential at best and a hurdle at worst in life. Its consequence can only be –– among other positives –– the bonding between the so-called academic and the non-academic in the ability to speak as one, having been grounded in the English language, and clearly communicating, being well aware of our varying strengths, specialities and expertises.


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