Exploring the Influence of Zimbabwean Teachers' and Learners' Attitudes Towards English on Language Use in Primary Classrooms

Mukorera, Mark (2015). Exploring the Influence of Zimbabwean Teachers' and Learners' Attitudes Towards English on Language Use in Primary Classrooms. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000f009

Abstract

This study uses a postcolonial sociocultural theoretical framework to investigate the influence of teachers’ and learners’ attitudes towards the national language-in-education policy of using English as medium of instruction on language use in primary classrooms in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe national language-in-education policy requires use of learners’ mother tongue as medium of instruction in the first three years of primary education (grades 1-3) with English being taught as a subject. From grade four onwards, English becomes the medium of instruction although the majority of learners at primary school level have limited competence in the language.

Methodology: Within the overall postcolonial sociocultural framework, the study utilises an interpretive methodology to explore primary teachers’ and learners’ attitudes towards English. Interviews and lesson observations are used to collect data from fourteen teachers and thirty six learners from five schools in the Harare Region of Zimbabwe.

Findings: Findings are derived from a thematic analysis of interview and observation data. The study establishes that: i)While most teachers share the same home language as the learners they teach, because of language-in-education policy, they may/do not feel that they can call upon their knowledge of these learners’ home language to support them with their learning. ii)Teachers and learners are in favour of using English as medium of instruction because they perceive that parents are in favour of using English. iii)Teachers and learners do not consider Shona a suitable vehicle for teaching and learning because tests are administered in English and Shona is perceived to lack the necessary technical terms needed to express concepts tested in examinations. In addition teachers and learners are reluctant to use Shona as medium of instruction because learners have limited competence in the variety of Shona used in schools. iv)Although there is widespread support for English-only policies for communication in classrooms there is minimal adherence to the policies by both teachers and learners in all schools. v)Code-switching by teachers and learners occurs frequently in classes despite official opposition.

Conclusions, Contributions and Recommendations: The study concludes by suggesting grounds for re-thinking the language-in-education policy framework in Zimbabwe in order to allow for the complementary use of English and learners’ mother tongue at primary school level so that learning opportunities for learners with limited competence in English are maximised. The study makes a contribution to theory by showing that postcolonial sociocultural theory can be used successfully to explore how the historical context can help to unravel some of the contradictions that manifest themselves in contexts where English is used as medium of instruction alongside other languages.

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