File picture: Thomas Holder

Cape Town - Proficiency in English is so poor among teachers and pupils for whom it is a second language that it is causing serious problems across the curriculum and affecting children’s achievement.

Urgent steps are needed to improve their proficiency, says the task team who has investigated the standard of the National Senior Certificate (NSC).

Eighty percent of Grade 12 pupils choose English as a first additional language, yet all but a few schools use it as the medium of instruction. Many pupils’ proficiency in the medium of instruction is too poor for them to cope with the demands of the curriculum and the NSC exams.

This makes it necessary to pay special attention to teaching and examining the language in which pupils were taught.

It is “imperative” that pupils who take English at this level be adequately equipped to learn in it and to use it to study at a higher education level and to communicate in a workplace environment.

An improvement in English standards would have far-reaching consequences.

“A raising of the standard and associated expectations in the English first additional language papers would have a backwash effect through the system. This would lead to learners being better prepared to tackle language-rich subjects like history, economics, and life sciences, in which many are unable to articulate and elaborate their answers in the constructed response questions.”

The task team recommended that the matric pass requirements include a higher pass mark for the language of instruction to better prepare pupils for higher education.

It also recommended that the language be “taught and examined at a higher level to reflect its unique role” as the medium of instruction and learning for most pupils.

The task team recommended that:

* National and provincial English first additional language strategies be evaluated.

* Where strategies were found to be effective, they should be expanded.

* Stricter criteria should be used to ensure appropriate markers were appointed, and these markers should be given excellent and appropriate training.

* The external international evaluation of papers should be used more effectively.

Education experts have welcomed the recommendation that the promotion requirement be raised for the language of instruction.

But Tim Gordon, chief executive of the Governing Body Foundation, warned that this could be a “contentious issue”.

“This has possible ramifications in respect of pass marks, rankings and competition for places in tertiary institutions or for bursaries. The report makes a cogent case, though, for the longer-term benefits of such an approach, particularly for the learners concerned.”

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Cape Times