The use of languages in mainstream grade 4 schools in KwaZulu-Natal : implications for policy development.
The South African Language in Education Policy (LiEP) of 1997 and the Department of Education National Curriculum Statement (2002) require that learners‘ mother tongue is maintained and developed and used as a language of learning and teaching (LOLT) for the first three years of the Foundation Phase. English is recommended as the (LOLT) from Grade 4 upwards. This sudden change presents enormous language challenges especially in Grade 4 as teachers and their learners negotiate transition from isiZulu as first language (L1) to English as LOLT. This study investigates language challenges that Grade 4 learners and their teachers encounter in three South African mainstream schools as they negotiate transition from isiZulu to English as Language of Learning and Teaching (LOLT) and the implication of these challenges on language policy development. The study adopted a qualitative-interpretative methodology. Six Grade 4 teachers were purposively selected from three mainstream schools in KwaZulu-Natal for interviews three of which were observed and interviewed after the classroom observations. Data was generated through pre-observation interviews, video-recorded lesson observations, and post-observation interviews. The data collected was analysed and interpreted using an open coding in order to answer the study‘s critical questions. The findings revealed that serious language challenges occur whilst teaching Grade 4 learners in English as a FAL due to learners‘ limited knowledge of grammar and vocabulary in the LOLT. The study also revealed limited understanding ability, (s)low articulation, poor performance and participation, and psychological distress emanating from learners‘ social problems as part of the challenges. The study further showed that teachers frequently switched to the mother tongue to ensure sufficient meaningful communication in their classrooms. Additionally, the study revealed teachers‘ exclusion in policy formulation and development process and lack of adequate training which exacerbates teachers‘ ignorance of the policy contents leading to the teachers‘ indiscriminate use of code-switching. These worsen learners‘ language difficulties, thus under-develop the learners, and create unequal opportunities for effective learning by all learners through English as LOLT. They widen the gap and hinder education when teachers are not able to negotiate the transition from the foundation phase to Grade 4. Teachers were convinced that the study by EFAL learners of English in the Foundation Phase would go a long way in alleviating the language and learning challenges encountered by learners in Grade 4 and thus improve the quality of communication and interaction that needs to take place in the classroom between the learners and their teachers as they negotiate transition to English as LOLT. The study recommends a review of language policy that will integrate quality in the learning of English in the Foundation Phase, in addition to learning the mother tongue throughout high school education. It also recommends an increased participation of teachers in policy-making processes and intensification of teacher professional development in language teaching in relation to the language in education policy.