The causes of poor performance in English among Namibian students

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Rumbidzai Sibanda

Language is one of the most powerful tools we have as humans. Without it we could not think thoughts expressible to others, nor could we engage in activities that commonly take place in the society we build ourselves. Language is very important in education.
For instance, education is carried out largely through the medium of language, thus language is very significant in the education process.
Language is not everything in education, but without language, everything is nothing in education. Language plays a crucial role in learning, and if the learner is handicapped in the language of instruction, then learning may not take place at all as the instructor or teacher and learner will not be communicating.
English language is the instrument of communication in our post-primary institutions, higher institutions as well as the official language of the country of Namibia. Therefore, secondary school students need effective English language to function properly or perform better.
A person is functionally literate when he or she acquired the knowledge and skills in reading and writing which enables him to engage effectively in all those activities in which literacy is normally assumed in his culture or group. English language normally has four basic skills, namely listening, speaking, reading and writing. It is the medium of instruction in our schools and compulsory school subject that must be passed at all levels of education in Namibia.
It is disheartening to note that the poor performance of students in the English language at public examinations has been explained as a major cause of decline in the general academic performance and standard of education in Namibia. Having difficulty in grasping fully the contents and concepts of the various subjects of the curriculum taught in the target language seem to be one of the most serious problems that English second language students face in their particular course of study. This might be due to weaknesses in English language (medium of instruction which may have negative consequences on their overall performance).
The dominance of mother tongue is regarded as one of the causes of poor performance in the English language. Namibian students are surrounded by a complex linguistic situation that forces them to learn their first indigenous language and they are required to have a good command of English language. The Namibian policy on education stresses the use of the immediate language of community in instruction at the lower level of primary education and combination of English and language of the immediate community at the upper part of primary education.
In other words, the policy recommends the use of mother tongue in teaching at primary level. This situation contributes immensely in poor learning of English language right from primary school and it extends to secondary school. Therefore the major cause of errors in English used by Namibians can be attributed to the interference of mother tongue with the English language.
Students often use native language or mother tongue in all their interactions and English is only used within the four walls of the classroom and it ends there.
Another important cause of poor performance in English language is the negative attitude of students towards the learning of English language. Students, particularly in secondary and primary school mostly show a negative attitude towards learning of English language because they consider it foreign or not theirs.
Mohammed, (2002) was of the view that most students put a kind of negative attitude in learning and use of English language as well as making teachers’ task a difficult one indeed. It is obvious that for any student to be proficient in English language, mastering of the skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing is necessary, and it requires hard work and dedication from the students.
• Rumbidzai Sibanda is a Master of Arts English Studies student in the Department of Language and Literature Studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Namibia (Unam).

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