Rethinking Proficiency in the Language of Instruction (English) as a Factor in the Difficulty of School Science

By Samuel Ouma Oyoo.

Published by The Learner Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

Although English has become the preferred language of instruction in most classrooms, including those of science across the world today, it will still remain a second language to many students and their teachers for a long time to come. In science education research, the attention so far given to the role of English as the language of instruction has been with regard to the impact of levels of student proficiency in the language. This perhaps explains why those who learn in English as their first language are perceived as proficient, while those for whom English is a second language have to attain a level of proficiency first. This is in spite of the current absence of clear benchmarks for satisfactory proficiency in English for successful general learning in school science. In this paper, I present a critical analysis of findings from cross-national studies of students’ difficulties with everyday English words common in science texts and in the classroom language typical of science teachers, to highlight the general difficulty of this (English) language to all science learners irrespective of their gender, and linguistic or cultural backgrounds. Implications of this general difficulty of the language for effective science teacher classroom practice and a new focus for research on language in science education/ literacy are considered. The objective of this paper is to encourage rethinking of the general assumption that the lower levels of outcomes in science among students who learn in a second language are dependent on their perceived lower proficiency levels in the language of instruction.

Keywords: English, Language of Instruction, Science Teaching and Learning, Science Education Research

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp.231-242. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 640.929KB).

Prof. Samuel Ouma Oyoo

Assistant Professor, Institute for Educational Development, Aga Khan University, Dar es Salaam

Currently, I am an Assistant Professor at the Institute for Educational Development, Eastern Africa of The Aga Khan University (AKU-IED, EA) located in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I coordinate and teach the Introduction to Educational Enquiry, Research Methods and Science Education Courses in the Master of Education programme. Formerly, I served as a high school teacher of physics and teacher educator in Nairobi Kenya. I have studied in Kenya, United Kingdom (England) and Australia. My professional and academic qualifications include a Diploma in Science Education obtained in Kenya, a First Class Honours Bachelor of Education Degree of Nottingham University (UK), a Master of Education with Distinction of Leeds University (UK)in the special area of Science Education, and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Degree in Education of Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. My research interests cover the general area of teaching and learning school science including approaches to research in science education.

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