The Use of English Language as the Medium of Instruction in the Zimbabwean Junior Primary Schools

Article excerpt

Introduction and background to the study

Raising the quality of teaching and learning in Zimbabwe has emerged as one of the challenges and priority of the government and as a key factor in the improvement of education across the country. What has also been perceived is the role of language in achieving the desired qualitative development in the education sector. The realisation of the role of language in the Zimbabwean education system has been slow and a complex process fraught with a lot of politicking. The present language situation skewed towards the use of English language as the medium of instruction in the Zimbabwean schools, has left the majority of the children marginalised and teachers confused as to the appropriate classroom language to use.

Frustrated attempts to reform and change the classroom language to that which best serves the interest of the Zimbabwean primary school child have prompted teachers in their individual capacities and in the school circumstances to use a language responsive to the communication and development needs of children. The dilemma that develops stems from the definition of "interest." While teachers and learners' interests can be in the use of local languages as a medium of instruction, the world of work and examinations demand that they have interest in the use of English. The situation has deskilled a lot of the pupils who find themselves without the "gift of the language" [i.e. English] when it comes to classroom practice .Pupils' participation levels are thus greatly reduced.

The need to have all pupils in the teaching and learning process as contributors in mastering knowledge and constructing understanding cannot be overemphasised. To have independent and critical learners hinges on the language the learner can use freely and comfortably. The use of such a language creates opportunities for the learners and encourages reflection, dialogue, critical thinking and knowledge ownership [Duke, 1999]. Ndamba's [1999] research found out that children like to speak and use their mother tongue more than in English during lessons.

It is also evident that when English language has failed the teacher to maintain the necessary rapport with pupils, often he/she resorts to mother tongue in whatever subject. The use of mother tongue has managed to clear the problems and bring to fruition meaningful communication in the classroom. The worrying development is that when the Education Act was revised in 2006 there was hope for a changed situation but the other demand areas did not change, that is, examinations and the world of work continued to demand English.

The use of English as a medium of instruction has created problems for learners. Chief among them is that the language is a barrier to effective communication and participation during other lessons besides Shona [Nyawaranda, 2000]. According to Thornton [1974], the language of the school and home are different. The situation obtaining in the primary schools thus, is contrary to Derrick's thinking that:

No child should be expected to cast off the language and culture of the home as he crosses the school threshold nor live and act as though school and home represent two totally separate and different cultures which have to be kept firmly apart [Derrick 1977: 12].

Ngugi [1994] laments the present use of English in most African schools when he says that the language of an African child's formal education is foreign. The language of the books he reads is foreign .The language of his conceptualisation is foreign. According to him what should dictate the language of the classroom should be its relevance to the children's situation. Mazrui [2000] rightly points out that no country has ever ascended to first rank technological and economic power by excessive dependence on foreign languages. As Ngugi [1994] puts it, a foreign language reflects real languages of life elsewhere, and it can never as spoken or written properly reflect or imitate the real life of that community. …

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