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JAM | Sep 9, 2023

Kalehia Johnson | Benefits of English Literature in the Jamaican secondary classroom

/ Our Today

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Pre-pandemic image of a teacher conducting English Language lessons at a school in Jamaica’s capital Kingston.

As we embark on another school year there have been several issues surrounding the beginning of the academic year.

Naturally some issues are more pressing than others however I wish to touch on one of the issues that may be considered minor amidst all that is going on. That is, the question of whether or not English Literature should be a compulsory subject at the CSEC level.

Pursuing English Language and mathematics have been mandatory in most high schools across Jamaica for decades. However, some high schools have included English literature on the compulsory list for students from first to fifth form. Needless to say, this has been met with some objections from quite a few parents and students as well.

One of the main concerns being how will pursuing English Literature assist learners in their career path. That is, they are concerned that if they are not pursuing a career path linked directly to the study of Literature then how is it then beneficial. It is well known that English Literature is one of the subjects that prepare learners for a career in education, writing, journalism and law. Of course, there are several other fields.

Benefits of studying literature in the secondary classroom

While passing literature is a pre-requisite for some areas of study just having it as an extra subject helps in the matriculation of further studies especially at the tertiary level. An important benefit of studying literature is the development of critical thinking skills.  For years many persons have questioned the critical thinking skills of pupils and also ways to hone them. Well, literature is very important in promoting critical and analytical skills. In studying Literature students are required to make informed judgements, draw inferences and decipher facts. Literature is often a reflection of life through text hence studying the subject will aid the learner in applying the knowledge grasped to real life situations. It is not unique for a student to connect with a positive character in the text who represents their hope and aspirations and be motivated to follow suit.

Additionally, studying literature will allow learners to expand their vocabulary. Through exploring the texts learners are aware of different writing styles that can assist them in improving their own. Therefore, these benefits can be transferred to other subject areas where writing and vocabulary are useful.

Building confidence is another benefit of exploring literature. That is, students are often given the opportunity to take on the roles of other characters in dramatisation hence the confidence. Learners are given the opportunity to express themselves and speak out during these role plays. Literature even affords the learners to be someone else for a while, that is the role that they select to portray.

Often times, students are able to improve their knowledge through these prescribed texts as well. The stories, poems and plays take them all over the world. One would argue that this can be done in their leisure time but it is the presentations, discussions, literature circles, hot seats and other activities that brings the text to life in the classroom.  This experience is even more rewarding when the pupils are blessed with a passionate teacher.

Whether literature should be compulsory or not is one issue. However, one very important issue not to be shrouded in the discussion is the vast benefits of literature as an area of study. The critical thinking skills that are promoted through analysis of the text, vocabulary development and boost of confidence that comes with exploring the texts are needed at the secondary level and assists in preparing learners for life outside the classroom.


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