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Estimating the Impact of Language of Instruction in S African Primary Schools: A Fixed Effects Approach

The country of South Africa faces a difficult policy decision ahead as they seek to provide their citizens with adequate skills in both English and Afrikaans, the only two of the nation's eleven official languages that are currently used in academic contexts and literature, while continuing to provide mother tongue education. 

There are a variety of sociolinguistic and educational issues that need to be considered before designing a language policy to promote literacy in a first and second language. Among such issues are considerations of the bilingual education model to implement, which include early exit vs. late exit transitional models and additive vs. subtractive programs. In order to examine the potential for improving learning in South Africa based on these various options for L1-medium and L2-medium education, the authors explored and analysed previous assessment scores from the Department of Education. Data for this study comes from the Department of Basic Education's Annual Surveys of Schools between 2007 and 2011 as well as data from the Annual National Assessment in 2012. Various statistical methods were used to analyse the impact of the language of instruction on learners' academic performance in English-medium assessments. 

The authors conclude that regardless of school quality, mother tongue instruction leads to better performance and proficiency in English in the later grades. These findings corroborate previous evidence suggesting that a first language first approach works best for stregthening the acquisition of a second language. The authors also maintain that while crucial, the language of instruction issue is only one of a number of factors that affect successful learning environments. 

Abstract by Stacey Maresco for the MTB-MLE Network.

 

 

Reference: 
Taylor, S. & Coetzee, M. (2013). Estimating the impact of language of instruction in South African primary schools: A fixed effects approach. (Stellenbosch Economic Working Papers: 21/13). Stellenbosch, South Africa: Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University.
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