Academic journal article NAWA: Journal of Language and Communication

1. Students' English Writing Skills at the Polytechnic of Namibia

Academic journal article NAWA: Journal of Language and Communication

1. Students' English Writing Skills at the Polytechnic of Namibia

Article excerpt

1. Background to the problem

Namibia has now been independent for 24 years. English as medium of instruction was introduced in education immediately after independence. Since then, English has been a problem in education that is regarded as the contributing factor to learners' generally poor performance in schools. I, therefore, consulted my two previous studies, one on the institutionalisation of English as a Second Language (ESL) in grade 10 in 2007, and the other on the impact of English as Second Language learning in grade 12 in 2009. The findings of these studies revealed that the cognitive language skills of learners (for example, comprehension of texts and question instructions in content subjects) were very poor. Learners had difficulties with problem-solving in content subjects and written language. For example, the structure of sentences affected learners' abilities to express themselves clearly and adequately. Also, teachers' English proficiency was poor (Frans 2007&2009) and this contributed to learners' language proficiency.

When I started teaching English at the Polytechnic of Namibia, I soon noticed that some students had a language deficiency especially in writing skills, which prompted me to further investigate what constrains students at tertiary level to write English well. It seems that higher institutions such as the Polytechnic of Namibia inherit the problem (poor English proficiency) from schools. At this institution, students should be taught English skills required to successfully meet the demands of the future working environment.

2. Problem Statement

When Namibia became independent in 1990, the education system changed from that of the Cape Education in South Africa to the so-called Cambridge system. The medium of instruction changed to English overnight. Since then, there has been an outcry about the poor results of Grade 12 learners in general, because some of them (learners) do not make it to tertiary level (Media, Television and The Ministry of Education). Some of those who complete secondary education lack a competent command of the English language, which is a pre-requisite for entry into tertiary education. While teachers who are themselves incompetent in written (and often spoken) English teach English at schools, learners and students will never become competent, as a language is a living thing which needs to be correctly practised every day for it to embedded in the mind of the user. The learners and students seldom hear correct spoken English (including on TV) and they almost never read books from which they could absorb correct written English usage-thus there is no possibility of teaching them this correct usage by the time they have been brainwashed in incorrect usage for 12 years they were at school. However, the study did not focus on different subjects taught in English at the Polytechnic, but specifically on English writing skills. Wolfaardt (2001) investigated the language policy for Namibian schools and concluded that "English is a stumbling block to learners' performance in different subjects". This makes one believe that English has an impact on students' English proficiency at tertiary level. Against this background, this study sought to answer the following question:

What are the barriers that are preventing students from improving writing skills in English?

Lecturers play an important role in students' education, however, when lessons are planned and presented, are learning materials and teaching approaches that enhance the learning outcomes specified in the English syllabi taken into consideration? This study therefore, only looked into issues of the English language such as oral and written work. Teaching and learning English, specifically written work, may present several barriers to be overcome for both lecturers and students alike; these barriers include teaching methodologies and learning strategies, or the lack thereof. …

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