First language teaching initial reading: blessing or curse for the Zambian children under primary reading programme?

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Tambulukani, Kazembe Geoffrey
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The University of Zambia
Unfamiliarity with the language of teaching is blamed for the high illiteracy rate among people who live in nations in which hundreds of languages are spoken. For a critical test of the importance of the language in which initial reading is taught we took the Zambian situation as a natural experiment using a quasi-experimental design and through quantitative approach tested effects of a fit between the local language spoken in the homes and playground and the language officially designated as language of instruction using the Familiar Language Test and five literacy tests which were administered to children. From three districts that were likely to differ in language fit we selected four state-funded primary schools that all used the new Primary Reading Programme since six years. From each school we randomly took 10 high- and 10 low-achievers and this brought the total number of children in the sample to 240 pupils. The researcher assessed their beginning literacy in a Zambian language and English when they were in their second grade after 18 months of reading instruction. Test results were analysed using regression, multivariate, correlation analysis at t-test. As the pupils were nested in schools a multilevel approach was indicated. Our findings confirmed the hypothesis that oral-language plays major roles in initial reading especially when beginning readers have acquired a minimum of alphabetic understanding that enables word reading and writing. The results also confirmed that transfer of skills from the first language to the second language was evident for the learners who had acquired initial reading ability in the first language. The relatively slow development even of the highest performing pupils may indicate that the learning process does not tune to children’s prior experiences with language and literacy. The study makes two major recommendations based on the results. First that it is desirable to provide for a longer period in which learners practice basic skills of alphabetic understanding and phonemic awareness in the first language from the current one year to two years or more. vii The second recommendation was that oral language skills such as songs, games and rhymes which are a strong feature of emergent literacy which children come with to the first grade should continue to be practiced in class to create bedrock for initial reading development in the first language and to compensate especially for those children for whom the language of instruction is not their familiar language. The ideal situation is to extend the number of Zambian languages used for teaching literacy from grade one to four beyond the current seven to accommodate more to benefit more children
Reading(Elementary)-Zambia , Reading(Primary)-Zambia , Language arts(Primary) , English language-study and teaching