Academic journal article Journal of Emerging Trends in Educational Research and Policy Studies

Influence of Background Knowledge on Reading Comprehension Ability in Kenyan Secondary Schools

Academic journal article Journal of Emerging Trends in Educational Research and Policy Studies

Influence of Background Knowledge on Reading Comprehension Ability in Kenyan Secondary Schools

Article excerpt


Reading is a basic skill in the education system and the society because it is a precision to most subjects offered in the school curriculum. If students do not understand what they read, they will struggle to cope with the demand for reading in all academic disciplines, thus leading to poor academic results. This study therefore was carried out to investigate the influence of background knowledge of learners on reading comprehension ability in secondary school. The objective of this study was to establish if learners relate their background knowledge to what they read that hinders comprehension. The study was based on descriptive survey design focusing on Form three secondary school learners of Kisumu County in Kenya. Two hundred and fifty six students were sampled through systematic random sampling from a population of 855 Form three students in 16 secondary schools. Data was collected by means of classroom observation and students' questionnaire. Data analysis revealed that learners' background knowledge and low linguistic proficiency hindered their comprehension ability. The study concluded that background knowledge (schemata) had significant influence on reading comprehension ability. The study recommends that since learners have different schemata, instruction should be given to activate background knowledge in all areas (language, content and formal), before embarking on the reading process. The study also recommends that learners need to build their schemata by reading extensively in order to familiarize themselves with different text types and a variety of language.

Keywords: background knowledge, reading comprehension ability, different schemata, text types


English language plays a vital role in the language service situation in Kenya (Agak, 1995; Kioko, 2001). The Kenya school curriculum by the Kenya Institute of Education (K.I.E) emphasizes the importance of English language as both a compulsory and examinable subject. The Gachathi report (1976) on education language policy advised that the English language be used from primary four to the tertiary levels. This means that English is the standard medium of instruction (Kioko, 2001 p.201) and assessment for all curriculum subjects apart from other language subjects offered in Kenya. In addition, it is the national and official language in Kenya and, the world's lingua franca among people of diverse linguistic, geographical and social backgrounds. It is not only one of the leading media for communication in international conferences and meetings but also one of the few standard languages in the international print media. Therefore, the need to improve the standard of English in educational institutions is not just important but equally urgent as learning and teaching depends very much on English language. At the secondary school level, the English syllabus postulates that fluency in all aspects of English language will enable students to perform better not only in all other subjects whose medium of instruction is English but also all other training opportunities. It is a requirement for all learners to pass in English in order to enroll for any course at the tertiary level (K.I.E, 2002). Therefore, both policy makers and policy implementers at the secondary school level in Kenya aspire for competency in all the skills of language.

Competency in a language is enhanced by acquiring and learning the language. One of the ways language is acquired is through reading (Fedyk, 2006; Krashen, 1985). Moreover, Cox (2009) posits that reading is the most important element of a child's education because it is a precision to every other subject and if one falls short in reading then he will struggle with the other subjects. One of the objectives of teaching reading is to enable the learners to read and comprehend literary and non literary materials (KIE, 2002). Reading skills of English language include those skills that help students to recall what they have read, comprehend it and analyze it. …

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