JIS News

Government’s plan to encourage more Jamaicans to become proficient in Spanish is fast becoming a reality with the help of some 43 Cuban teachers, who have been teaching the language at primary, secondary and tertiary institutions in the island.
Over the past 13 years, there have been some 238 Cuban teachers in almost every parish offering their services for a period of two to three years, under an ongoing education cooperation agreement signed between the Governments of Jamaica and Cuba.
Currently, there are 18 Cuban teachers working at primary schools and 23 at high schools and for the first time, three lecturers at tertiary institutions. These are the Shortwood Teachers’ College in St. Andrew; Church Teachers’ College in Mandeville; and Moneague Teachers’ College in St Ann.
Recently, the teachers displayed a variety of teaching aids, which are used in Spanish lessons, to help students to improve their speaking, reading and writing skills and to involve them in the teaching and learning process.
The exhibition, held at the Cuban Embassy located on Trafalgar Road, was a joint initiative undertaken by the Cuban Educational Brigade and the Cuban Embassy in cooperation with the Ministry of Education.
At the event, some of the Cuban teachers gave five-minute talks on their work in Jamaica followed by open discussion and presentation of ideas on how to better impart the language to the students.
Dr. Martha Neufville Morris, who gave a presentation on the topic: ‘Alternatives to Fostering the Teaching and Learning of Spanish,’ says it is important to utilise aspects of the local culture in teaching the language.
Dr. Morris, who teaches grade 6 students at Yallahs Primary school in St. Thomas, tells JIS News she was only able to reach the students when she understood their culture and the “Jamaican language.”
“If you really do not master a little bit of their own way of communicating through the Jamaican language, which is so much in their hearts, I do not think you will be successful. So, you really have to know their culture in order to get to some point with them,” she contends.
The teacher, who will be returning to her country after a three-year stint at Yallahs, boasts that the students had done well. “They have the capacity to memorise, which is the skill that is needed when you are learning a language, and the capacity to interact… they will learn and reach at any level that you put them,” she says.
Dr. Morris relates that she had always taught at the university level, so teaching at the primary level was a new experience for her. However, she is happy to have done so, stating that the experiences gained will be shared with her peers when she returns to her teaching job at the Pedagogical Institute in Cuba.
First year student at Shortwood Teachers’ College, Edroy Whittingham, who will be teaching at the primary level when he graduates, says he was impressed with the many teaching aids displayed. He says they were “very good and innovative” and will certainly assist him in the classroom.
“It is very important that one understands the methodology in imparting a new language and when one can come up with the materials and innovative ways of doing this, it is really admirable,” he points out.
Senior Education Officer for School Operation, Ministry of Education, Viris Clarke Ellis, praises the work done by Cuban Ambassador, His Excellency, Yuri Gala Lopez and teachers in promoting the learning of Spanish in Jamaica.
She says the exhibits that were created and strategies used in imparting the language will be shared with local teachers so as to have an exchange of all the ideas.
“The idea of sharing strategies is so that persons could have the best practices, so you could see what your colleagues are doing, and what strategies have worked for them in that part of the island,” she tells JIS News.
“We really want to get not just the schools, but the wider community involved, and truly, after a while, all of us in Jamaica will be speaking Spanish,” she adds.
The Cuban Ambassador, in the meantime, informs that 11 of the 43 teachers, who have completed their stint in the island, will be returning to Cuba.
“Their replacements have already been selected and are preparing to travel to Jamaica in August, in order to continue this noble task and to honour a dear principle for Cubans, which says that ‘homeland is humanity’,” he tells JIS News.
Ambassador Lopez thanked the Ministry of Education for its support in the implementation of the programme which, he says, is “an important component of our bilateral relations”.
He expresses the “hope that this longstanding friendship between Jamaica and Cuba will continue to be strengthened in the coming months and years.”
The Ambassador suggests that schools create opportunities for parents to learn Spanish through workshops and other means. Through this move, he argues, they will be better able to interact in the language with their children at home and so assist the learning process.
“It is important that the kids try to learn Spanish at school and also at home. I know that presents a challenge. If there is space at schools . parents (can) go in and participate,” he says.

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