Linguistic and cultural affiliations of pupils of West Indian descent in English schools
Previous studies have found that West Indian pupils under-achieve in English schools. Unlike other ethnic minorities their "English-speaking" classification often precludes special language assistance. This study investigated the language usage and cultural affiliations of pupils of West Indian descent, using a sample of 241 twelve year olds from 7 schools. A special English test based on differences between Standard English and West Indian Dialect and an Attitude Test based on children's statements about culture, language, race and education were constructed and administered with a Cognitive Test and Anxiety Test. Teachers' views were obtained from a Teachers' Questionnaire. The experimental group was composed of pupils of West Indian descent taught by a compensatory programme that attempted to boost pupils' cultural self-esteem and correct language errors stemming from differences between 'Standard' and 'Dialect'. One control group comprised pupils of West Indian descent who received no special programme. The other was composed of white indigenous English children in similar schools. The main findings of the study were as follows: 1. English Test results indicated significant differences of score between the English and West Indian pupils on key grammar terms. 2. Cultural 'poles' of attitude groupings indicated sharp differences between these groups despite the British birth and education of the pupils of West Indian descent. 3. The experimental group, supposedly withdrawn at random from main group classes for the special cultural and linguistic enrichment programme, expressed unhappy attitudes and obtained significantly lower scores on the English and Cognitive Tests than either of the other groups. 4. Subsequent testing was carried out in the schools from which the experimental group had been obtained. This offered further evidence of the experimental group’s unusual characteristics, and provided additional information in a comparison made with the original control groups. The findings indicate that children of West Indian descent experience some difficulty with elements of language where ‘Standard’ and 'Dialect' differ and that these language elements should be taught in the main class group. The method of withdrawing West Indian pupils for special language and cultural classes is not recommended, as neither linguistic nor cultural benefits were observed and definite contra-indications were noted. Futhermore, 'multiculturalism' appears to be as important for the ethnic majority as for the minorities. Future research could develop the Attitude Test for use in correlative studies with English and other tests. It has been a particularly useful tool for identifying linguistic and cultural attitudes of a minority and has revealed group characteristics not previously identified. The English Test could contribute to the construction of diagnostic tests and lay the basis for a teaching programme based on features of 'Dialect' and ‘Standard’, in order to meet the needs of pupils of West Indian descent within a multicultural context in an integrated classroom.