Graduate School
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Dr Medadi Ssentanda

Home country: Uganda

PANGeA partner: Makerere University

Year of enrolment: 2012

Graduation date: December 2014

Department:  General Linguistics

Supervisor: Dr Kate Huddlestone

Co-Supervisor: Dr Frenette Southwood


Dissertation title: Mother tongue education and transition to English medium education in Uganda: Teachers perspectives and practices versus language policy and curriculum

Abstract: In this dissertation I report on an ethnographic survey study undertaken on bi-/multilingual education in ten primary schools in Uganda. The primary aim of this study was to explore how teachers understand and manage the process of transitioning from mother tongue (MT) education to English as a language of learning and teaching (LoLT). In this study I used a multi-method approach involving questionnaires, classroom observations, follow-up interviews and note taking. Data was analysed using a theme-based triangulation approach, one in which insights gleaned from different sources are checked against each other, so as to build a fuller, richer and more accurate account of the phenomenon under study. This data was gathered firstly from teachers and classes in the first three years of formal schooling (P1 to P3) in order to understand the nature of multilingualism in the initial years of primary schooling and how teachers use MT instruction in preparation for transition to English-medium education that occurs at the end of these three years. Secondly, data from P4 and P5 classes and teachers was gathered so as to examine the manner in which teachers handle transition from MT instruction in P4 and then shift into the use of English as LoLT in P5. The study has identified discrepancies between de jure and de facto language policy that exist at different levels: within schools, between government and private schools in implementing the language-in-education policy, and, ultimately, between the assumptions teachers have of the linguistic diversity of learners and the actual linguistic repertoires possessed by the learners upon school entry. Moreover, the study has revealed that it is unrealistic to expect that transfer of skills from MT to English can take place after only three years of teaching English and MT as subjects and using MT as LoLT. Against such a backdrop, teachers operate under circumstances that are not supportive of effective policy implementation. In addition, there is a big gap between teacher training and the demands placed on teachers in the classroom in terms of language practices. Moreover, teachers have mixed feelings about MT education, and some are unreservedly negative about it. Teachers' indifference to MT education is partly caused by the fact that MTs are not examined at the end of primary school and that all examination papers are set in English. Furthermore, it has emerged that Uganda's pre-primary education system complicates the successful implementation of the language-in-education policy, as it is not monitored by the government, is not compulsory nor available to all Ugandan children, and universally is offered only in English. The findings of this study inform helpful recommendations pertaining to the language-ineducation policy and the education system of Uganda. Firstly, there is a need to compile countrywide community and/or school linguistic profiles so as to come up with a wellinformed and practical language policy. Secondly, current language-in-education policy ought to be decentralised as there are urban schools which are not multilingual (as is assumed by the government) and thus are able to implement MT education. Thirdly, the MT education programme of Uganda ought to be changed from an early-exit to a late-exit model in order to afford a longer time for developing proficiency in English before English becomes the LoLT. Fourthly, government ought to make pre-primary schooling compulsory, and MT should be the LoLT at this level so that all Ugandan children have an opportunity to learn through their MTs. Finally, if the use of MT, both as a subject and as a LoLT, is to be enforced in schools, the language of examination and/or the examination of MTs will have to be reconsidered. In summary, several reasons have been identified for the mentioned discrepancies between de jure and de facto language-in-education policy in Uganda. This policy was implemented in an attempt to improve the low literacy levels of Ugandan learners. It therefore appears as if the policy and its implementation will need revision before this achievable aim can be realised as there is great difficulty on the teachers' side not only in the understanding but also in managing the process of transitioning from MT education to English as LoLT.

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