Spanish to be taught in all Primary Schools soon

by Abigail Kippins
Guyana Chronicle
May 26, 2001

EDUCATION Minister, Dr. Henry Jeffrey and Chief Education Officer, Mr. Ed Caesar were yesterday given a first hand experience of the capabilities of pupils at the Preparatory levels in local schools to speak and understand foreign languages.

They were among parents, members of the Venezuelan Embassy and other guests at the annual Spanish Festival featuring what Prep B pupils of four pilot schools have learnt since the introduction of the Spanish programme in September of 1999.

The event was at the Ocean View Convention Centre, Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara.

Pupils of the pilot schools, Regma Primary, Region 10; Holy Name Primary, Region Seven; Mahaicony Primary, Region Five and Maryville Primary, Region Three, displayed their Spanish skills in dance, song and drama causing the minister to declare that efforts will have to be made to drive the Spanish programme into Primary Schools countrywide.

The programme started with the pupils of Prep A in four schools but pupils of 35 other Primary Schools are being taught the language.

The Education Ministry has underlined its intention to have Spanish on the curriculum and soon Primary Schools countrywide will be exposed to the language, officials said.

The four schools opened the way for this to be possible and will always be ahead even after the programme is introduced to other schools, Schools Inspector, and Coordinator of activities in the project, Ms. Verbena Wilburg told the Chronicle.

She explained that the next academic year, these four schools will have Spanish in Prep A, Prep B and Primary One.

Pupils of the 35 others will have Spanish in Prep A and Prep B and then the others to be introduced will be taught in Prep A.

"We are gradually phasing it in as many schools as we could", Wilburg said.

She said teaching Spanish to preparatory pupils has been challenging in several ways noting that she has been working with post primary students over the years but was forced to learn how to deal with the younger children.

She said she also realised that people can learn a language by simply focusing on listening and speaking which worked well for the students, who after two years did no writing in this subject.

She explained that writing will have conventions of spelling for instance, that the students may not be able to cope with.

It was also a challenge because the students have never done Spanish at this level and there was no material in the system to support such a project, Wilburg pointed out.

She said when the committee drew up the first term's lesson, it still had the Secondary School outlook in mind and had planned too much work without realising that the children should have a small amount of work repeatedly done to aid retention.

According to her, the first lesson learnt was to look at the amount of content given to the pupils and that they needed to provide opportunity for them to repeat what was done in different situations.

In terms of the teaching staff, Wilburg said they had to be trained but the heads of the schools were previously asked to provide trained teachers who were knowledgeable in Spanish.

She said it was recognised that the teachers offered, had a limited knowledge of the subject.

As a result, monthly training workshops were introduced where the teachers reported the happenings in their respective schools and discussed how to deal with problems encountered, Wilburg said.

They also spent a lot of time building on the content, she said, since they also needed to keep ahead of the children.

In brief remarks, Minister Jeffrey said one does not have to justify learning the language of his/her neighbours since today the world is fast becoming globalised.

" seems an imperative that we should understand other cultures and how other people think if we are to make a good living and there is no better way of knowing how other people think and know their aspirations, than to understand their language", he pointed out.

He said most schools, at least every university in the United States, have an international programme and many schools are starting similar schemes because at the end of the day everyone will have to make their living in a single world.

"There is no need to do much justifying of our attempt to teach Spanish and perhaps later to introduce Portuguese into our schools system...", the minister said.

"We will have to find the resources to drive the programme in other schools".

He commended the teachers for developing an enthusiasm in the students for wanting to learn the language and noted that this was seen in their performance.

According to the Education Minister, persons were always encouraging the introduction of foreign languages in Primary Schools as well as the sciences.

He recommended that Spanish activities be encouraged by the constant hosting of regional activities/competitions, because as more schools get involved, the activity can be taken to other schools and persons can be chosen to perform at a national level.

He further noted that the government is committed to the project and towards extending it as best as resources can be afforded.