What role does the language of instruction play for a ...

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´╗┐School of Humanities English GIX115 Supervisor: Ibolya Maricic Examiner: Maria Estling Vannest?l Spring term 2007

What role does the language of instruction play for a successful

education?

A case study of the impact of language choice in a Namibian school.

Mayar? Cantoni

ABSTRACT

Namibia is a country where the official language has been English since independence in 1990. There are different national languages in the country and a majority of the people do not have English as a mother tongue. Nevertheless, the language of instruction from fourth grade and onwards is indeed English. Consequently, for the majority of the population the education is in their second language. What this essay explores is the role English as a second language has as a medium of instruction and the implications it may have. It is a minor field study that was carried out with the help of a scholarship from SIDA (Swedish Agency for International Development Cooperation) and it took place in a school in Northern Namibia, April and May 2007. It is a qualitative study that explores the use of English among teachers and students as well as the transition from mother tongue instruction to English instruction and the implications that this can have for the quality of education. The reality of the Namibian students that have to study and perform in a second language is questioned and discussed from pedagogical and linguistic points of view. The results show that most pupils do not speak English before starting fourth grade. Furthermore, the sudden transition from mother tongue to English instruction creates some descent in the participation of the pupils and possibly in the learning, not only of the new language but also of the content subjects. As far as the teachers concern, there are positive but ambiguous opinions among them concerning English as a medium of instruction.

Keywords: English, medium of instruction, language of instruction, education, mother tongue, second language, Namibia.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. INTRODUCTION............................................................................................................... 1 1.1 Aim and research questions ............................................................................................. 1 1.2 Definitions .......................................................................................................................... 2 1.3 Historical background ....................................................................................................... 2 2. THEORETICAL BACKGROUND ............................................................................ 4 2.1 Language policy in Namibia ............................................................................................. 4 2.2 Previous research on learning in a second language ...................................................... 6 2.3 Second language learning ................................................................................................. 8 3. METHOD AND MATERIAL .................................................................................... 13 3.1 The qualitative method ................................................................................................... 13 3.2 The case study .................................................................................................................. 15 3.3 Problems and limitations ................................................................................................ 15 4. ANALYSIS AND RESULTS .................................................................................... 16 4.1 The pupils' relation to the English language ................................................................ 16 4.2 The transition process from mother tongue to English ............................................... 18 4.3 Language choice in the classroom and during intervals and its implications ........... 20 5. CONCLUSION ............................................................................................................. 25 6. REFERENCES .............................................................................................................. 27 APPENDIX ......................................................................................................................... 30

1. INTRODUCTION

On the way towards Namibia's independence, during the 80s, the call for unity under one national flag started as a way to accelerate the process. When independence finally came in 1990, one of the political changes was the official language of the country. The language policy that was established had been under elaboration for years. The choice of language fell on English, and it became not only the official language but also the medium of education throughout the country even though the importance and equality of the national languages was emphasised (Ministry of Education and Culture (henceforth: MEC) 1991: 1-2).

Since 1992 English is supposed to take the role as the main medium of instruction from grades 4-7 in school (ibid: 5). From grade 1-3, children are supposed to be educated in their mother tongue as far as it is possible, but for different reasons sometimes it is not so and in those cases the medium of instruction is English starting from the first grade. In Namibia, 0.8% of the population has English as their first language or mother tongue (Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir 2001: 307). That is an extremely low percentage and it would mean that the approximately 99% that have another of the national languages have to study in a medium that is not their mother tongue. In Namibia the population has a large variety of mother tongues. There are about 13 recognized national languages and over 50 varieties of those languages. Most of them are indigenous African languages (Wolfaardt 2001: 20, 17).

It is not an uncommon phenomenon in African countries to use a European language as the medium of education and Namibia is not an exception. What is interesting about it is that it is a rather new country still developing. The decision about using English in school was made 17 years ago and raises questions about how it works today. There have been some thorough reorganizations in education but one issue that is very interesting is the fact that a vast majority of the children in Namibia are studying in their second language. What does this mean for the children, for their education and for the development of a nation?

This study will try to sort out some related questions. With the help of the theoretical background we will elucidate on some aspects of the issue of English as a medium of instruction. After some important definitions, a brief historical background will introduce us into the Namibian context.

1.1 Aim and research questions This study intends to investigate the linguistic situation in a primary school in Namibia. It aims to shed light on the choice of language among teachers and pupils in that school, and to

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study if the choice of language of instruction influences the performance and perhaps the pupils' comprehension in this school. The ultimate purpose is to find out, through the following research questions, how language choice can influence the quality of education.

What relationship do the pupils have with the English language before starting school? How does the transfer from mother tongue instruction to English take place? What languages do teachers and students use in the classroom and during intervals;

and what does this imply? Why do they choose one language rather than the other? These questions will be answered through the results of interviews and observations and some national documents that will be analysed.

1.2 Definitions Second language: According to Oxford English Dictionary (henceforth OED) a second language is "a language spoken in addition to one's native language; the first foreign language one learns". In Namibia it is a rule rather than an exception to know more languages than one's mother tongue, and therefore an adjustment of the definition will be made according to Finegan (2004: 557): "any language that is acquired after one's first language". Foreign language: In the definition above, a foreign language means a language that is not one's mother tongue. However in terms of status in a country, a foreign language is a language that does not have the status of a national- or official language. In this study, foreign language will refer to any language that is not one's mother tongue even if it has an official status, as is the case of English in Namibia.

Target language: "A foreign language which it is aimed to learn or acquire" (OED). In this study it is used in theoretical explanations, but also specifically when referring to the learning of the second language of the interviewees and the observees.

1.3 Historical background As mentioned before, Namibia became an independent country in 1990. After decades of colonization under various intruders, the Namibian people held their first democratic election and the liberation movement the South-West Africa People's Organization (henceforth SWAPO) won. Before that, native people in this South-West African area had been invaded and oppressed by the Germans and the white South-African administrations and powers since the late 19th century and forward (Nor?n 1995: 8-9). Being under South African government

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