15 March 2013

Namibia: Improving English Proficiency in Public Schools


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ENGLISH is a factor of production in Namibian education as it determines the number of learners produced for admission into the next education level. Henceforth, it is imperative that learners should be well versed with a factor that enables them to meet admission requirements for subsequent education levels. The main issue under a microscope here is the absence of English as a medium of instruction at lower grades, while English is used as a major promotional yardstick throughout the steps of the education ladders. Lower grades are still taught in vernaculars and English from grade five.

I am not against the teaching of mother tongues in schools, but the fact that the mother tongue is used as a medium of instruction while English features prominently as a promotional criterion in the academic assessment begs questions. Learners tend to be more effective in mother tongue and less effective in English. Unfortunately, advancing in school is not based on the ability to speak the mother tongue. I contend that English be applied as a medium of instruction right from pre-grade in public schools.

Recent comparative studies of private and public schools have shown that learners in pre-grade and grade one in private schools, where English is a medium of instruction, express themselves eloquently in English, compared to learners of the same age groups and grades in public schools. Having not been introduced to English at a tender age, a number of learners at upper primary grades, a level at which where the English as medium of instruction starts in public schools, have been observed to only be able to answer "yes or no" irrespective of whatever questions posed to them. This negatively limits productivity. The fact that English is used as a medium of instruction in private school settings is scientific proof enough to let public school authorities comprehend that learners need to master English at an early age.

The same principle can be well applied to public schools for improved output. As a psychological factor, I believe that introducing English as a medium of instruction five years later in school delays most learners in assimilating the English language. This hardens learners' comprehension of English during examinations as they are not introduced to English at a very basic level and therefore do not understand what the question requires, and struggle writing answers in proper academic English. All these hardships are caused by late introduction of English as a medium of instruction to learners.

I am convinced that should English start from pre-grade as a medium of instruction, learners would not encounter major problems in understanding questions as well as writing their answers in refined English, having received the basics of the language at an early age. Psychological research evidence reveals that learners' curiosity to learn is at the maximum potential during tender ages than at older ages. This is another concrete justification for the absence of any predicaments should English be applied as a medium of instruction from lower grades, as learners naturally retain that curiosity and eagerness to learn the unknown at tender age. Consequently, if the Ministry of Education is really committed to assess quality education for our children, using English as a promotional criterion, it is recommended that such commitment should be demonstrated by introducing English as a medium of instruction at lower grades so that learners can excel in the English domain remarkably throughout and boost ministerial performance standards.

• Elock E. Shikalepo is an educator. He holds a Master of Education degree in Education Management from Midlands State University, Zimbabwe.

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