Learners' constructions of English as a gatekeeper subject in Swaziland : a case study of one secondary school in Manzini.
Swaziland is one of many African countries that still accord a colonial language, English, hegemonic status over her own indigenous language, which is SiSwati. As a former British protectorate, Swaziland belongs to the Anglophone community. Despite the fact that many Swazi learners struggle to pass English as a Second language (ESL), due to an array of factors, chief amongst which is poor, disadvantaged backgrounds, it still remains a gatekeeper subject in the country. It is the most important, must-pass subject which either opens doors for one who has passed it or closes them if one has failed it. The study set out to establish Swazi learners’ understanding of the value of English in education and other domains in Swaziland. It also aimed to document learners’ positions regarding the claim that English is a gatekeeper while also determining the learners’ views on the use of English as the language of teaching and learning in Swaziland. This was a qualitative study in which six secondary learners were interviewed individually to solicit their constructions in as far as ESL is concerned. Moreover, through engaging focus group discussion, the learners came together to further discuss their perceptions of the role of English in the education system in Swaziland. The study found that Swazi learners view English as a gatekeeper subject which ultimately hinders them from proceeding further with their academic journeys in the event they fail to get a credit pass in it. For this reason, they viewed English as a basic requirement or a foundation for one’s academic success hence their belief that English should remain the LoTL. The learners revealed their love for siSwati that it is indeed their mother tongue which they both love and hold in high esteem but without learning and passing English; they believed that one automatically stands to be less successful in the socio-economic circles hence excluded from the global community. The study also learnt that Swazi learners would love to have siSwati to be the LoTL, but because of the need to develop and enlarge its discourse, they saw this as a far-fetched dream. It was discovered that there is need for a continuous assessment of how English as a former colonial language can coexist with the local language siSwati in such a way that it stops being a hindrance to the learners’ success in education. Secondly, the government has to provide the means for learners to do extensive reading in order to develop their linguistic competence in English language since it currently is the gatekeeper subject. Finally, the Swazi government should consider consolidating her resources in order to develop and empower siSwati thus making it to be attractive in the linguistic market.