19 February 2013

Namibia: Possible Solutions to Learners' Poor English Performance in Schools


TO attain a good command of a second language (English) learners should either be exposed to it in real circumstances and with natural frequency, or painstakingly learn words and sentence structures assuming that learners have some contact with natural input.

A conducive English learning environment should be created for learners to enjoy learning in the target language. All English teachers in Namibia should ensure that English learning materials are displayed in their classrooms - this should be compulsory (parents visit the classrooms). Some linguists argue that the greatest opportunity for learners to learn, store, develop and use the knowledge about the target language is arisen by exposure to authentic discourse in the target language provided by the teacher.

The solution to the current problem in the target language is simple - Namibia needs good English teachers. Apart from good teachers, Namibia needs English curricula in which the study of literature is compulsory.

Our current grades 11 and 12 English curricula for ordinary level is boring, to say the least.

If we want our learners to excel in English as a subject, we need to ensure that learners read interesting novels and poetry that captivate their interest to learn the target language (this is done elsewhere).

In fact, this is the only way learners can develop a reading culture, which we desperately need in this country. Here are some of the basic things our learners themselves can do to improve their English language proficiency: learn to speak English without fear, avail time to study English (the belief that English cannot be studied is fallacy), learning English requires practice - speak English wherever you are, surround yourself with English books, listen to English radio and TV broadcasts (watch NBC, CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera etc. (remember, exam passages might include international issues), learn to read newspapers (to develop your sense of reading culture and sentence construction), listen to native speakers as much as possible - it is important because native speakers of English have natural flow to their speech that can easily be imitated, watch English films (this is good for you to sharpen your listening skills necessary for examinations).

Moreover, it is imperative for English teachers to give class exercises and tests that are fun and challenging to the learners. Learners tend to do well if the class test or class work is fun and challenging. English teachers should mark learners' exercise books regularly and give feedback promptly. The fundamental problem we have in Namibia is that some teachers are extremely lazy and take two months to mark a book.

I am well aware that there are some good teachers out there; to them I say keep up the good work and all the best! However, to those lazy ones, be informed that you are betraying the future of our children. And if this trend continues, you will be held accountable for the higher failure rate of our children. Teaching is a noble profession, and should not be put into disrepute by a few lazy individuals.

I would like to call upon the government to step in and help our teachers financially, to make ends meet. Most of our teachers are hungry and homeless; they do not have their own houses to call home. This can be very frustrating to some of our best teachers who, if not taken care of, can ditch the teaching profession for greener pastures elsewhere. Imagine teaching a class of more than 40 learners, what kind of quality teaching would take place in such learning environment? To make matters worse, some of these teachers have to handle five classes consisting of more than 40 learners. In total a teacher handles about 200 exercise books of the learners. With this staggering figure, it becomes practically impossible for a teacher to give regular class tests and mark them and give feedback on time. Better performing schools in Namibia have a relatively small number of learners in the classroom as opposed to most public schools, particularly in Kavango region.

If the issue of leaner-teacher ratio is not solved, then forget about quality teaching taking place in our public schools, let alone teaching proper English.

However, despite all these challenges, teachers should be very resourceful and inventive to solve some of these teaching related problems. In a situation where you have a class of more than 40 or 50 learners and the activity is less than ten marks, let learners swap their exercise books and mark their own work, rather than a teacher keeping those books for a month.

Finally, I am confident and hopeful that our teachers in Namibia are capable enough to teach our children very well. I am very sure our teachers and learners are going to work hard this year! The whole education sector should stand tall; let us do it for our late education Minister Dr Abraham Iyambo. For comment gersindano@gmail.com

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