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International Review of Education

, Volume 58, Issue 4, pp 481–503 | Cite as

Language policy and science: Could some African countries learn from some Asian countries?

  • Birgit Brock-UtneEmail author
Article

Abstract

This article deals with the fact that most children in Africa are taught in a language neither they nor their teachers master, resulting in poor education outcomes. While there are also donor interests and donor competition involved in retaining ex-colonial languages, as well as an African elite that may profit from this system, one of the main reasons why teaching in ex-colonial languages persists lies in the fact that a large proportion of the general public still believes that the best way to learn a foreign language is to have it as a language of instruction. By contrast, research studies conducted in Africa, as well as examples from Asian countries such as Sri Lanka and Malaysia, have shown that children actually learn mathematics and science much better in local and familiar languages. Though the recent World Bank Education Strategy policy paper is entitled Learning for All, it does not specify which language learning should take place in. A claim one often hears in countries of so-called Anglophone Africa is that English is the language of science and technology, and that teaching these subjects through English (instead of teaching English as a subject in its own right as a foreign language) is best. The monolingual island of Zanzibar is in fact about to reintroduce English as the language of instruction in maths and science from grade 5 onwards in primary school. The author of this paper suggests that when it comes to language policy, some African and some Asian countries could learn from each other.

Keywords

Language of instruction and the teaching of science Language of instruction in Africa and Asia Literate in whose language The World Bank Policy on Learning for All by 2020 Common knowledge African intellectuals Testing in whose language 

Résumé

Politique linguistique et enseignement des sciences : certains pays africains peuvent-ils s’inspirer des pays asiatiques ? – Cet article examine le fait que les enfants africains sont en majorité instruits dans une langue qui ni eux-mêmes ni leurs enseignants ne maîtrisent, ce qui se traduit par des résultats éducatifs insuffisants. Les efforts accomplis pour maintenir les langues des anciennes colonies reflètent certes les intérêts des organismes de financement et la concurrence qui existe entre eux, ainsi que le souhait d’une élite africaine susceptible de profiter de ce système. Cependant, une raison principale de poursuivre l’enseignement dans les langues ex-coloniales réside dans la conviction d’une grande partie de l’opinion publique que le meilleur moyen d’apprendre une langue étrangère est de l’utiliser comme langue d’instruction. En revanche, des études de recherche menées en Afrique, ainsi que des exemples donnés par des pays d’Asie tels que le Sri Lanka et la Malaisie, démontrent que les élèves assimilent beaucoup mieux les mathématiques et les sciences si elles sont enseignées dans les langues locales qui leur sont familières. Bien que la nouvelle Stratégie du Groupe de la Banque mondiale pour l’éducation soit intitulée Apprentissage pour tous, elle ne spécifie pas dans quelle langue doit s’effectuer cet apprentissage. Un argument fréquemment invoqué dans les pays de l’Afrique dite anglophone est que l’anglais est la langue des sciences et de la technologie, et que le mieux est d’enseigner ces disciplines en anglais (au lieu d’enseigner l’anglais comme langue étrangère en tant que matière). L’île monolingue de Sansibar est aujourd’hui en passe de réintroduire l’anglais comme langue d’enseignement des mathématiques et des sciences à partir de la cinquième classe dans le cycle primaire. L’auteure suggère qu’en matière de politique linguistique, certains pays d’Afrique et d’Asie pourraient s’inspirer mutuellement.

Zusammenfassung

Sprachenpolitik und Wissenschaft: Können einige afrikanische Länder von einigen asiatischen Ländern lernen? – Dieser Beitrag beleuchtet die Tatsache, dass in Afrika die meisten Kinder in einer Sprache unterrichtet werden, die weder sie selbst noch ihre Lehrer beherrschen – mit entsprechend negativen Auswirkungen auf den Bildungserfolg. Geberinteressen und Geberwettbewerb, aber auch eine afrikanische Elite, die von diesem System profitiert, mögen dazu beitragen, dass weiter an den früheren Kolonialsprachen festgehalten wird. Einer der Hauptgründe für dieses Festhalten ist aber die Tatsache, dass große Teile der Öffentlichkeit nach wie vor glauben, eine Fremdsprache ließe sich am besten lernen, wenn sie auch als Unterrichtssprache verwendet wird. Studien, die in Afrika durchgeführt wurden, wie auch Beispiele aus asiatischen Ländern wie Sri Lanka und Malaysia zeigen jedoch, dass die Lernerfolge von Kindern in Mathematik und naturwissenschaftlich-technischen Fächern größer sind, wenn diese in ihrer vertrauten lokalen Sprache unterrichtet werden. Learning for All lautet der Titel der jüngsten Bildungsstrategie der Weltbank. Welche Sprache für das Lernen am besten geeignet ist, wird dort allerdings nicht thematisiert. Im sogenannten anglophonen Afrika wird häufig behauptet, dass Englisch die Sprache von Wissenschaft und Technik sei, weshalb diese Fächer am besten direkt in englischer Sprache unterrichtet werden sollten (anstatt Englisch als eigenständiges Fach anzubieten). So ist die einsprachige Insel Sansibar im Begriff, Englisch als Unterrichtssprache für Mathematik und naturwissenschaftliche Fächer ab der 5. Klasse wieder einzuführen. Die Autorin dieses Beitrags kommt zu dem Schluss, dass auf dem Gebiet der Sprachenpolitik tatsächlich einige afrikanische Staaten und einige asiatische Staaten voneinander lernen könnten.

Resumen

Política de la lengua y las ciencias naturales: ¿Podrían ciertos países africanos aprender de algunos países asiáticos? – Este artículo se ocupa del hecho de que en África, la mayoría de los niños reciben en las clases una enseñanza dictada en lenguas que ni ellos ni sus maestros dominan, lo cual se traduce en resultados educativos insuficientes. Existen intereses en este sentido por parte de los donantes, e incluso compiten entre ellos para retener lenguas anteriormente coloniales; además, hay una elite africana que podría beneficiarse de este sistema. Sin embargo, una de las principales razones por las que persiste la enseñanza en lenguas otrora coloniales se debe a que una gran parte del público en general sigue creyendo que la mejor forma de aprender una lengua extranjera es tenerla como lengua de instrucción. Pero contrariamente a ello, los estudios sobre investigaciones realizadas en África, así como los ejemplos de países asiáticos como Sri Lanka y Malasia, han demostrado que los niños efectivamente aprenden mucho mejor las matemáticas y las ciencias naturales cuando las lecciones son impartidas en las lenguas locales y familiares. Si bien la recientemente publicada Estrategia Educativa del Banco Mundial se titula Learning for All, no especifica en qué lengua debería tener lugar el aprendizaje. En los así llamados países del África anglófona se suele afirmar que el inglés es la lengua de la ciencia y de la tecnología, y que enseñar estas materias mediante el inglés (en lugar de enseñar el inglés como materia como tal, como lengua extranjera) es lo mejor. La isla monolingüe de Zanzíbar, efectivamente, está por reintroducir el inglés como lengua de instrucción en matemáticas y ciencias naturales a partir del quinto grado de la escuela primaria. La autora de este trabajo propone que en materia de política de la lengua, algunos países africanos y algunos países asiáticos podrían aprender unos de otros.

Notes

Acknowledgements

My thanks go to the former editor of the International Review of Education, Virman Man, for very useful and encouraging comments on a first draft of this paper. They also go to one of the anonymous peer reviewers for critical and constructive comments on the first draft. I would also like to thank Kimmo Kosonen for both sending me and referring me to valuable literature on the Asian situation.

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Educational ResearchUniversity of OsloOsloNorway

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