8. Impact of the language policy of Namibia: an investigation of grade ten learners in English as a second language across the Khomas region from 2007 to 2010.
The challenges facing Language Policy and Planning (1) in Namibia are the product of a range of historical factors over a period of more than twenty years. As the Ministry of Education and Culture Namibia ('Towards Education For All: A Development Brief for Education, Culture and Training', 1993, p.2), Nujoma (in'Towards Education For All: A Development Brief for Education, Culture and Training', 1993, p.2) and Maho (1998) all discuss, the apartheid system of Bantu education denied the black community equal educational opportunities by depriving them of key subjects such as mathematics, thus limiting their job prospects. This meant that many people experienced difficulties in gaining admission to further education.
Namibia's independence in 1990 aimed to move away from this inequality and towards an educational system which had to be available for all. Such a system, the Namibian Government believed, would aim to address the imbalances of not only education, but also the social and economic inequalities that came with the deprivation of education before independence. The universal right to education for all Namibian children can be seen in Article 20 of the Namibian Constitution, which states that "All persons shall have the right to education ... Primary education shall be compulsory and the State shall provide reasonable facilities to render effective this right for every resident within Namibia, by establishing and maintaining State schools at which primary education will be provided free of charge" (Ministry of Education
The South West African People's Organisation chose English as both the official language of Namibia (with each indigenous language, such as the Oshiwambo group of ten languages, recognised as a national language) and the compulsory medium of instruction in schools from Grade Four, as well as being the mutual, neutral and universal language for all Namibian Government meetings and documentation.
In Education, the English language forms a vital part of the curriculum. To pass Grade Ten, a pupil must score at least twenty-three points across a minimum of six subjects. This must include a pass in English. However, as English can be thought of as being a foreign language to the majority of Namibians, it can be said that Namibia is part of what Jenkins (2003) refers to as an 'expanding circle' . An expanding circle is one in which the language (in this case, English) has been introduced into a country where the language has not yet reached the level of proficiency to be considered fluently spoken by the majority of people.
Although this idea is found within the debate of New Englishes, it is relevant to this study, because in making English the official language of the country, the Government has elevated the status of English. Hence, there is a perceived importance imposed upon its citizens to acquire the language in order to assimilate into the community.
Yet English was a language which many Namibians had had little exposure to, if any. This raised issues in education as to how the language should be introduced and taught. Since independence, the focus has been towards communicative English--that is, an emphasis upon spoken English. The belief here is that learners must be able to communicate fluently in the language and possess a sound corpus of lexis before they can write fluently. It can be thought that after more than twenty years of independence and this approach to teaching, the aims of the strategy have been achieved. Yet, in continuing with this approach, rather than focusing upon written English (grammar in particular), grammar and syntax development may have been neglected.
As the 2010 Grade Ten results perhaps showed, not all students are achieving the standards expected of them by the government. Of the 16,383 students who failed grade ten nationally last year, 3,380 scored between 0-13 points (The Namibian, 2011). Such was the level of governmental concern and media attention, that Dr Abraham Iyambo (the Minister of Education) ordered that each student who had failed Grade Ten had to be allowed to repeat the year on a full-time basis.
Whilst this decision perhaps raises its own questions (particularly with regards to the increasing pressure this will put upon classroom sizes, as NANTU stated), Doctor Iyambo justified the decision by stating that "This is critical as such children have a future to contribute to the socio-economic development of the country" (The Namibian, 2011).
Aims of the research
The aims of the research were:
1. To identify whether a sound language policy exists in Namibia
2. To investigate the awareness and understanding of both schools and subject experts with regard to the policy
3. To investigate whether the policy has been reviewed since its implementation, who writes the policy and whether it needs to be rewritten.
4. To investigate the implementation of the policy and its success/ failure.
Thus, we sought to investigate whether the language policy of Namibia is clearly perceived by teachers, or whether it was misunderstood and therefore misinterpreted. We also sought to relate the findings of our research to these aims.
In addition, we analysed the 2010 academic results for Grade Ten students in the Khomas region by drawing contrasts and similarities between the schools and additionally comparing the results of 2010 with previous years with a view to identifying common statistics and differences between these results.
The research asked the following sub questions within its investigation:
1. Are subject experts and planners interpreting the policy differently to teachers?
2. If teachers are interpreting the language policy differently to what is written, are they consequently teaching their pupils differently to what is outlined by the Namibian educational language policy?
3. Who writes the policy and does it need to be rewritten?
4. How do these results compare to those of previous years? In other words, are the failure rates declining or increasing? For how long has this trend been noticed? Were the results of 2010 an exception to a general pattern?
The hypothesis of our study was: "Whilst there is a language policy in place, its content and aims are not fully understood by teachers, leading to ineffective implementation".
Scope, limitations and delimitations of the study
Although Namibia's population is low for a country with a large land mass, the number of students nationally is close to thirty-five thousand. The 2001 National Planning Commission census (2001) states that Namibia's population was 1,830,330, of which 250,262 people lived in the Khomas region. The area has the highest population in the country, and therefore we felt that focusing upon this region, rather than the country as a whole, would provide an ample and more manageable quantity of data to analyse and provide possible explanations for the Grade Ten results.
Similarly, both the Namibian Constitution and the Educational Policy are extensive, detailed documents, which cover many subjects beyond the fundamental topic to be researched. Because of this, the study therefore focused on the Namibian Language Policy with regards to the use of English as the medium of instruction in teaching, rather than the Policy as a whole.
The attention that LPP and teaching have received in Namibia from the Government, experts and the media shows that the subject has become both of great importance to the country and that LPP is currently one of Namibia's greatest challenges. Action must be taken now to ensure that Namibian school children will have the best possible opportunity to progress in both their education and their careers. Without action, one could argue, the poor results may continue, and thus students may consequently lack the necessary skills which they require to gain employment and integrate into society.
The famous Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein claimed that "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world". In other words, without the knowledge of language, particularly lexis, how could one communicate effectively? At the same time, one can suggest that LPP can both extend and limit an individual's ability to communicate with the wider world (Tollefson, 199, p.5). As Wittgenstein's comment perhaps suggests, one's ability to socially interact through language and (since conversation is a form of social interaction) linguistics, it can be argued that communication is limited by an individual's proficiency in language.
Language Policy and Planning in Namibia
It can be argued that the use of English as Namibia's official language has created both opportunities and challenges to Namibian citizens. Whilst universal languages such as English can create opportunities for economic growth for many, English is neither a first, nor second, nor (in many cases) a third language (British Council, 2010). Rather, it is a foreign language which is treated as a first language by the compulsory use of English as the official language of instruction in Namibian schools.
Before debating the impact of LPP in Namibia, however, it is important to attempt to define what is meant by a language policy. Finding a commonly agreed definition has proved challenging for academics, as is evident by the differences between Cooper (1989) and Fishman's (1979) views. Cooper interprets language planning as "deliberate efforts to influence the behaviour of others" (1989, p. 45), yet this definition does not explain who makes the decisions (one can presume the Government, if we take a Marxist view), nor who the 'others' are. Fishman (1979, p.11), on the other hand, suggests that those in power make structured, organised decisions to solve communication problems, with strategies then implemented and 'enforced' upon the country. Yet, we can argue that the challenges facing Namibia lay beyond mere communication. Indeed, as Alidou (2004, in Brock-Utne and Kofi Hopson, 2005, p.3) argues, the imposition of colonial languages led to a perceived importance of 'mastering' foreign languages. Such demands consequently led to social divisions between individuals who were fluent in colonial languages and those who were unable to speak these fluently. Amukugo (1995, p.60-62) expands this point to explain that as well as depriving Africans of knowledge, the Bantu education teaching of literacy in African languages denied black citizens the ability to communicate with the outside world, forcing many people to work in manual labour. Yet, this is not to say that political ideologies have not still been visible in the years following Namibia's independence. Rather, as Kofi Hopson (2005, p.91) cautions, "language policies are never neutral nor apolitical but, as ideological constructs, reflect and reproduce the distribution of power in a larger society".
Maho (1998, p. 185) discusses LPP in Namibia and explains that following colonialism and apartheid (and the Bantu educational system), SWAPO aimed to adopt a language which was not that of its colonisers, namely Germany and South Africa. Namibia wished to break away from segregation and discrimination, and in doing so, the party desired to create an identity for both Namibia as a country and for its citizens (Kofi Hopson, 2005). As Cluver (1991, p. 9), cited by Maho, 1998, p. 185) argues, "It would seem that the South Africans were preoccupied with political matters and simply ignored the question of languages until the seventies when they were confronted with SWAPO's well-worked out language policies" and the choice of English, rather than Afrikaans, as the official language of Namibia.
As a universal language, English provided Namibian citizens with an opportunity to mutually communicate with one another. As Jenkins (2003, p. 35) argues, one could say that "English may have a role in providing a neutral means of communication between its different ethnic groups as it does, for example in India" and thus a method of "mutual intelligibility" (2003, p. 36). Equally, as Graddol (1997, p. 6, cited by Kibbee, 2003, p.47) points out, "English is remarkable for its diversity, its propensity to change and be changed. Analysts see this hybridity and permeability of English as defining features, allowing it to expand quickly into new domains and explaining in part its success as a world language". English is dynamic, constantly evolving, with new lexis entering the language, sometimes through diglossia, a high and low variety of language (Jenkins, 2003). In addition, languages may influence each other, sometimes borrowing vocabulary from each other (Kibbee, 2003, p. 51). Moreover, Noam Chomsky (1965) argues that it is possible for an infant to both acquire and produce language, without requiring any knowledge of the grammatical structure, through an "innate facility", or instinct, which he terms a 'language acquisition device' (LAD). This congenital device, located within the brain, allows complex new vocabulary to be learnt quickly, meaning that a child can easily acquire several languages at a young age and thus become multilingual. However, Chomsky additionally states that as the infant matures, the LAD is slowly 'lost', and new languages consequently become more difficult to learn. Therefore, the argument here seems to be at what age English should be introduced in schools. Some academics, however, such as Brock-Utne and Kofi Hopson (2005, p. 3) contest the use of English in Namibia, adding that the use of colonial languages has been detrimental in African education. This point can be seen in their comment that "The retention of European languages as the dominant media of instruction has had a serious negative impact on African education and on the academic performance of African learners" as this has often been at the expense of a child's mother tongue. Furthermore, they believe that "educational vehicles and policy-making apparatus often fail to follow established facts" (2005, p. 4). Therefore, Namibia perhaps has a difficult balancing act: on the one hand, English is the official language of the country and so there is an expectation of Namibians to learn the language. On the other hand, the country's rich and diverse indigenous culture and languages must be retained, as they too are part of Namibia and ultimately, one's very identity.
The status of English as a global language then is not without its problems. We may be living in a "global village" (McLuhan, 1967, p. 63), where ideas and communication can be shared more easily than ever, yet one can debate whether Namibians can fully communicate effectively in English at present. The country's unemployment rate is more than thirty-five per cent (Index Mundi, n.d.) and therefore questions perhaps need to be asked as to whether the use of English, a global language with status in education will improve this statistic. As Brock-Utner and Kofi Hopson (2005, p. 4) argue, "There has been much concern about education for all and the need to increase the literacy rate, but little concern about the language in which literacy should take place".
Moreover, theorists such as Bernstein (1961 and 1972, cited by Wardhaugh, 2006, pp. 336-340) have argued that those considered to be in the 'lower classes' are restricted in their use of language (he calls the language of the lower classes 'restricted code', as opposed to the 'elaborated code' of the upper classes) and so are unable to progress economically and socially. Bernstein believes that "a particular kind of social structure leads to a particular kind of linguistic behaviour and this behaviour in turn reproduces the original social structure" (Wardhaugh, 2006, p. 336). Therefore, an individual is unable to expand their communicative competency, as they are bound by their social class. As Kofi Hopson (2005, p. 90) argues, "There is a danger of reconstructing social inequality through language education policy and culturally irrelevant education" because English is an unfamiliar language to many Namibians.
Similarly, the Ministry of Education and Culture (1993, p. 63) raises a concern that English in Namibia is not yet a lingua franca. A lingua franca is a language allowing two differing cultural groups (whose mother tongues differ and are not understood by the other group) to communicate mutually. This view differs to that of Jenkins (2003, p. 34), who discusses the spread of languages through an 'expanding circle'. Her argument is that there are countries in which a language is the first language (and therefore is spoken fluently), which she calls the 'inner circle'. The 'expanding circle' is countries which have adopted another language which is not yet fluently spoken, but is nevertheless gaining an increasing number of speakers and fluency.
Despite the views of Bernstein, Brock-Utner and Kofi Hopson and the concerns of the Ministry of Education and Culture, Kibbee (2003, p. 51) disputes these arguments. He defends the use of English, saying, "I firmly reject the equivalence of language to species, and the notion that the loss of a language is equivalent to the loss of a natural species". Yet as Hale (1998) argues, more than ninety per cent of indigenous languages are dying at the expense of global languages. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Government views English as a language which can assist Namibians and become an additional language, rather than a replacement of the indigenous languages (echoed by the equality of each national language). If one looks at the current objectives of the Namibian government, it is evident that increased economic prosperity and job creation remain a high priority. The Government states that one of its aims for the future is to increase "the process of job creating by increasing support for small and medium scale enterprises, including the creation of 50,000 jobs over the next five years" (n.d.). If this aim is to be realised, however, it can be thought that the failure rate of Grade Ten students in English must be addressed to enable them to complete their secondary education and thus increase their job prospects through gaining academic qualifications.
It can also be argued that the use of English as Namibia's official language has created both opportunities and challenges to Namibian citizens. Whilst universal languages such as English can create opportunities for economic growth, for many English is neither a first, nor second, nor (in many cases) a third language (British Council, 2010). Rather, it is a foreign language which is treated as a first language by the compulsory use of English as the official language of instruction in Namibian schools. Thus, ensuring that all Namibian students are given the opportunities to reach their full potential and assimilate into society (as Anderson, 1983, p. 6 calls it, "an imagined political community") is a view that is at the forefront of LPP in Namibia. Dr. Abraham Iyambo's statement that those students who did not pass Grade Ten last year and who wish to repeat the year must be given "maximum learning support" reflects the importance that has been placed upon this challenge and of lifelong learning (The Namibian, 2011).
Whilst lifelong learning remains a high priority, at the same time it would appear that although more than twenty years have passed since Namibia's independence, historical factors are still attributed as part of the causes of the current challenges. For example, The Ministry of Education and Culture (1993, p. 12) says that:
Lifelong learning is central to education in contemporary Namibia in several ways. First, the previous education system did not equip us well for Independence. Quite simply, our pool of educated Namibians is too small to staff the jobs our development requires. Consequently, we have had to ask our people to assume responsibilities for which their training and experience are not entirely adequate.
In particular, the Ministry highlighted a concern that training would be required for teachers following independence, yet appeared to express some concern at doing so. "We could regard many of our current teachers as short term substitutes for a new generation of better prepared teachers", they claim, "but it would surely be both economically inefficient and socially irresponsible to employ those teachers now and then to dismiss them in a few years when we have a larger pool of graduates from our teacher education institutions". Yet this comment appears to discount the need for continuous professional development amongst teachers and the Ministry's earlier claim that education is a lifelong process. If education is for all, and lifelong, it can therefore be argued that all teachers (old and new alike) must receive regular support and training, regardless of their experience. Not only will this improve subject knowledge and teaching skills, it could in turn lead to students improving their own academic performance.
Krishnamurthy (2007, p. 14-22) echoes this and argues that teachers must constantly review the methods they use to teach. Examining the poor performance in English of students at the Polytechnic of Namibia, she argues that there are disagreements in teaching on whether marking should focus upon language (and correcting the incorrect usage) or the content. In particular, she argues that newly qualified teachers must be given the opportunity to critically reflect on their teaching. Critical reflection, she explains, is "the process by which adults identify the assumptions governing their actions, locate the historical and cultural origins of the assumptions, and develop alternative ways of thinking" (citing Stein, 2000). By doing this, Krishnamurthy says, teachers can learn from their mistakes and re-evaluate their teaching methods. Yet education goes beyond mere academic knowledge. It provides learners with the ability to not only converse, but to understand a broad range of social issues and to formulate a considered, intellectual opinion. "Literate citizens are better able to understand the issues that confront us and the alternatives that we must consider". The Ministry of Education and Culture (1993, p. 15) said that "Education for all will make it possible for all citizens to be active participants, not just voters, in governing our country". At the same time, however, if government documentation is in English, a language which the 2010 Grade Ten results in English suggest that Namibians are not yet fully literate in, how can Namibians be active participants?
If one looks at the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality II Report (December 2004, Figures 7.1, 7.2), particularly at the reading scores of teachers and students at Grade Six, there is some evidence to support the above view. Whilst Namibian Grade Six teachers scored just under the SACMEQ average, the country's Grade Six learners scored far below the average (only Zambia and Malawi scored lower than Namibian students). Thus, one must ask why Namibian students scored low and whether the issue lies beyond the subject knowledge of Namibian teachers.
This very point was made by Simataa Simataa (2011, p. 9), a journalist for New Era, a Namibian newspaper. Simataa asks, "How can one afford to keep quiet if there is some silence to be broken as regards this particular workforce" when the teaching environment is one which (in the journalist's opinion) is constrained and where little Government assistance is given? Furthermore, Simataa describes the teaching environment in the country as "dire", warning that the challenges facing teachers in Namibia will worsen before any improvements will begin to materialize; he claims that teachers are "only allowed to achieve predetermined academic achievements". In other words, in Simataa's view, there is little room for creative teaching or to expand upon what a learner is required to know. Simataa offers a damning view of this 'limitation', arguing that the current teaching environment is "an endeavor tantamount to mental subjugation, or colonisation of the mind".
The Language Policy discussion document of January 2003 (p. 3) appears to address this concern and states that "Education should promote the language and cultural identity of learners through the use of mother tongue as medium of instruction in Grades 1-3 and the teaching of mother tongue throughout formal education. Grade 4 is a transitional year in which the mother tongue plays a supportive role in the teaching. Mother tongue should be taught as a subject". At the same time however, the discussion document points out that changes have been made to the policy, including "the strengthening of mother tongue instruction" from Grades 1-3 and in pre-school education and a greater emphasis on mother tongue languages in general. Yet Simataa (2011, p. 9) argues that much more is required if teaching standards and environments are to improve, and makes a number of recommendations to the government. Of particular note, however, is the comment that "Teachers were never remunerated for any extra academic achievement beyond the required academic prescription, a four-year university degree". In other words, there are few Government bursaries for further education and therefore little motivation and encouragement for teachers to further their training, knowledge, skills and job prospects. Finally, Simataa expresses concerns that many teachers have been encouraged to leave urban schools in Namibia, driven by Government incentives to move to the north of the country.
LPP is therefore a complex area and debates exist regarding the 'correct' strategies which a country should take in ensuring that the policy and planning produce the most effective and successful educational and sociological outcomes. It aims to balance the idea of a collective national identity with an individual's own identity.
In the case of Namibia, this has proved difficult and the use of English as the medium of instruction in schools has been both praised and criticised by academics. In the context of this study, the argument appears to centre upon which approach one should take in education: communicative or grammar, and which approach, or approaches, would best address the current LPP challenges that the country is presented with.
This research project largely used empirical research, which Marczyk, DeMatteo and Festinger (2005, p. 6) define as a scientific approach which "is an evidence-based approach that relies on direct observation and experimentation in the acquisition of new knowledge". In other words, it seeks both quantitative and qualitative data and hard, factual information. Ultimately, they conclude, the empirical approach "is best thought of as the guiding principle behind all research conducted in accordance with the scientific method".
Previous studies into LPP in Namibia had not commonly utilised this approach and so it was felt that gaining hard evidence through said approach would produce new findings to aid future research.
Questionnaires were produced and distributed to teachers, head teachers and heads of departments at a cross section of schools in the Khomas region, as well as Further Education staff and other stakeholders in Namibian education. Both qualitative and quantitative questions were used.
Finally, the full national results of Grade Ten learners in the Khomas region from 2006 to 2010 for ESL, which are tabulated by the Directorate of National Examinations and Assessment were used to analyse the performance of Grade Ten learners in the Khomas area. The results use an accumulative percentage system to show the distribution of grades at each school, as well as nationally. Each school is ranked based upon the average percentage mark of its students.
Comparisons were also made between the results of the Khomas area and the national average to draw comparisons and to identify correlations between certain results. In addition, the distribution of grades A to C nationally and locally were analysed to identify how strongly schools in the Khomas region performed.
Nineteen of the forty-five questionnaires were returned, the majority of which were from four of the six schools, with the others having been returned from IPPR, the Polytechnic of Namibia and UNAM. A large proportion of the respondents were female, holding at least a Bachelors degree (although a number hold qualifications higher than this, such as a Masters degree) and have worked in education for at least a decade.
It was unanimously agreed that English in Namibia is not a first language for students, both in speech and writing. However, there were disagreements regarding the proficiency of written English and this suggests that to a number of respondents, written English is not at the same level as that of spoken English.
Whilst all but two of the nineteen respondents were at least aware that a language policy exists in Namibia, eight of the nineteen were either unaware of its existence or had not read the policy at all and are thus unaware of its implications and recommendations in teaching.
Twelve of the nineteen respondents (sixty-three per cent) felt that the policy should introduce English at a much earlier age than the current recommendation of Grade Four, which was additionally reflected in the scores of LPP objectives.
In particular, the results of the questionnaire show that there is a demand for increased teacher support and training, as well as more materials for both teachers and learners.
Ultimately, teachers were deemed to have the highest responsibility in ensuring that their pupils achieve their full potential. However, they must have support from both the Ministry of Education and their principals in order to maximise their own subject knowledge and improve their learners' standards of written English--this was a particular concern to those surveyed.
The results of the Grade Ten ESL examinations offered both signs of encouragement and areas of concern. The results of 2007 were the highest of the four years, yet the performance of many schools in the Khomas area was actually poorer in 2007.
Over the years 2008 and 2009, the average national mark declined, and with it the percentage of students achieving grades A to C. Khomas, however, has performed consistently well and many of the Grade Ten ESL results for schools in the area were amongst the highest nationally. On the other hand, a number of schools experienced a decline in their performance in ESL at Grade Ten level over the four years.
At the same time, however, the results from 2010 show that this was the most successful year since 2007 and therefore perhaps the concerns lie more with the northern schools, whose average marks have consistently been amongst the lowest in the country.
Where do the challenges lie?
After two successive years of declines, and a two per cent decline in 2009, the national Grade Ten ESL results at grades A to C were close to those of 2007. Almost half of all Khomas Grade Ten learners writing ESL last year achieved at least a C grade. Was the concern therefore more at a national level? Namibia's percentages of each grade were almost identical to that of 2009 and thus, the national averages remained consistent from the years 2007 to 2010.
On the other hand, the rural areas of Namibia are continually reporting much lower results than those in the Khomas region. If one looks at the results from 2007 to 2010, those with the lowest average marks were commonly found in the Ohangwena and Omusati regions in the north of Namibia, the areas close to Etosha. As I discussed earlier, some action has been taken at a national level in an attempt to address this situation.
The declining percentages of Khomas learners achieving grades A to C between 2008 and 2009 are of some concern, although there are some signs for encouragement. Despite a decline in A grades, all other grades in 2010 remained at a similar level to those of 2007, where the highest percentage of students attained grades A to C. C grades have been rather inconsistent, however, and despite a slight decline in D grades in 2008, these have been rising since 2009. Furthermore, E grades rose between 2008 and 2008, although these were at a similar percentage level to those of 2007 last year. F grades have remained consistent, whilst G and U grades have steadily declined in number.
The conclusions which are drawn are from the results of the questionnaire and examinations results. As the questionnaire's respondents were mainly employed within secondary and tertiary education, it is therefore difficult to draw full conclusions. This is because the aim of the study was to utilise the views of the Ministry of Education to support or argue against the views of, and points raised by, teachers. Therefore, only one side of the arguments has been presented and one must consider this in the context of the findings of this research. Nevertheless, there were some significant findings in the study.
In the introduction, it was stated that the research problem under investigation was that the Grade Ten examinations results were lower than those of 2009 and that this was because "the Namibian educational English Language Policy is not being implemented in accordance with the recommendations of the Namibian Government". Whilst a larger research project would need to be conducted in order to identify both the subjects in which the results declined and the schools with results of concern, the research findings show that the ESL results for Grade Ten were comparatively higher than those of 2009 (both for Khomas and the country as a whole).
Therefore, the reason for such a decline is one that is complex and difficult to establish. As the results of the questionnaire show, we cannot say that 'bad' teaching is simply due to a lack of awareness of the educational language policy. Rather, the decline in Grade Ten results is due to a wide combination of socio-economic factors, some of which were identified in the responses to the questionnaire.
At the same time, the findings of this study show that more resources for both students and teachers and improved teacher training are essential. As the American author Alvin Toffler warned, "The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn." In other words, studying literature will expose both Namibia's teachers and learners to a wider variety of texts. Studying great literature, including classical literature, will lead to a greater appreciation of a diverse range of creative, imaginative writing. In turn, this will develop their creative and critical thinking. Therefore, we recommend that literature should be a part of the English language syllabus from Grade One onwards. The concerns regarding reading were echoed in the questionnaire's results and were further supported by many similar comments in Section Four. In particular, many respondents raised concerns that textbooks were either outdated, inappropriate for the level of teaching or simply that classrooms (which are becoming increasingly overcrowded) do not have enough books for each student. Thus, as the findings show, much work still needs to be done in raising the proficiency of learners' written English. Exposing more children to creative writing, and appreciating why this writing is considered to be creative and skilled, will lead not only to a greater appreciation of reading, but the ability of students to write well in English.
Moreover, the performance of certain schools in the Khomas area in English has been of concern. Results have been consistent on the whole, yet some schools (particularly Windhoek High School, whose rank has declined since its high average mark in Grade Ten English in 2007) have continually experienced declining results. Ultimately, there appears to be a gap in the findings of this research. There are no questionnaires from some relevant stakeholders, yet the views of subject experts and policy writers who shape the language policy are critical to gain a greater understanding of where the challenges lie and the reasons for these.
The spoken proficiency of English in Namibia amongst children and young adults is such that it is increasingly being considered as a second or third language, as the questionnaire results show. Thus, the communicative approach to teaching recommended by the language policy is one which has clearly had a positive effect: more people than ever before are able to communicate in English and therefore in the global marketplace. Yet this approach has been used for more than twenty years. Now is the time to reevaluate the language policy of Namibia. Results have been declining and therefore action must be taken to resolve this. The policy discussions have brought some useful suggestions, but further discussions are required if the country is to move forward. The Ministry of Education recently erected banners saying that it is "counting on our people for development"--yet, as many respondents maintained in section four of the questionnaire, it is the responsibility of everyone--parents, the learners themselves, schools, the Government and policy writers--to collectively strive for improvement and to strive to solve what has become one of the main challenges in Namibia.
Raising the written proficiency of English will not be an easy task. That said, the common request of "more books, at an earlier age" and, as one respondent commented, "we MUST develop a love in learners for reading" is one which we would recommend. Doing so will expose children to an unfamiliar written language and in turn, raise awareness of aspects such as grammar, an approach which appears to be lacking at present. Similarly, one could argue that adding a tertiary level Bachelor of Education as a postgraduate degree following a student studying a Bachelor of English would prepare students for the classroom environment by being well read in a variety of disciplines in English (such as grammar and stylistics) in addition to their knowledge of teaching.
An All Africa article from February (2011) states that NANTU blamed "teacher absenteeism and neglect, lack of commitment and the lack of a unified relief system in the Ministry of Education" for the high failure rate. If these factors are contributory, principals and the Ministry must ask themselves serious questions, as teachers must have the interests of their students at heart if their learners are to achieve their full potential. An increased number of well-read, well-qualified teachers would equally benefit both schools and learners, which could be supported by an increased number of Government bursaries for those considering teaching as a career. Offering existing teachers financial support to afford the tuition fees for further education (particularly masters and doctorate degrees) will in turn raise the subject knowledge, skills and experience of Namibia's teaching staff. The English results for Namibia's northern Grade Ten learners are somewhat understandable, given that the area is more remote than Khomas. At the same time, however, the area must not be neglected and the Government's recent drive to recruit more teachers in this area is one that should be applauded. That said, this must not lead to an imbalance of teaching experience across the country, and should rather lead to a diverse range of teachers nationally. In addition, to a focus upon the rural areas of Namibia, I recommend that the Ministry of Education should conduct research and reviews each year of the national results of its students. In particular, significant increases or declines in results must be further investigated to establish the reasons for these. Doing so will greatly assist in the reevaluation of the language policy and will provide a useful platform for discussions with schools as to how they can improve their performances in English.
Given the high rate of unemployment in Namibia, as discussed earlier, English must be introduced at an earlier age, both in writing and speech. Whilst we would recommend that mother tongue languages remain the main medium of instruction for at least one grade, with more English lessons being taught (particularly written English), we contest the claim by Bernstein (cited by Wardhaugh, 2006, p. 336) that "a particular kind of social structure leads to a particular kind of linguistic behaviour and this behaviour in turn reproduces the original social structure". Students at schools such as A. Shipena and Hage Geingob in Katatura are achieving high grades (including As) for instance, despite their lower socio-economic class. English should not be learnt at the expense of the mother tongue, yet must, and does, open greater job prospects to children. Indeed, President Hifikepunye Pohamba, discussing the Grade Ten and Grade Twelve examination results last year, commented that although the results were a slight improvement on those of recent years, "We must, therefore, reposition our education system to fulfill" education's role as a catalyst for economic development in Namibia (Observer, n.d.). Ultimately, Namibia's challenge is a large one, but is not impossible. With a collective unity and the desire of every stakeholder to achieve the best for the learners, the Grade Ten results can, and will, improve.
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* Sarala Krishnamurthy and Nicholas Aston
* Exective Dean, School of Human Sciences, Namibia Sceince and Technology University, Namibia
(1) Henceforth LPP
(2) Henceforthand Culture Namibia, ('Towards Education For All: A Development Brief for Education, Culture and Training', 1993, p. 3).
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|Author:||Krishnamurthy, Sarala; Aston, Nicholas|
|Publication:||Nawa: journal of language and communication|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2015|
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