The phonemic awareness development of Setswana speaking children at an Afrikaans medium small-town school
Literacy learning in a second language is a debated issue in the South African education scenario. Phonemic awareness is an essential component of early literacy learning. In this study the phonemic awareness development and early literacy learning of a group of Setswana speaking children learning to read in Afrikaans in a rural hamlet in the Gauteng province in South Africa came under the loop. The closing down of a nearby Setswana medium school eight years ago meant that Setswana speaking children were quite suddenly transferred to a nearby small-town Afrikaans medium school. Despite a choice of other schools in the area the enrolment rate of Setswana speaking children at the school had remained the same over time. This seeming dichotomy, together with the apparent success with which the Setswana speaking children learn to read in Afrikaans lead to the following research question: What is the phonemic awareness development profile of Setswana speaking grade one children within their peer group1 at an Afrikaans medium small-town school? Two additional research questions aimed to capture salient aspects of the children’s home environment which could impact upon their early literacy learning. These are: How does their home environment support the children’s phonemic awareness development?, and, what are the perceptions of Setswana speaking parents, of their children attending an Afrikaans medium small-town school, which could impact upon the children’s phonemic awareness development? Aspects of the children’s school environment relevant to their early reading acquisition found expression in two more research questions, namely, What school support is there for the phonemic awareness development of Setswana speaking children at an Afrikaans-medium small-town school?, and What are the experiences of the teachers and the principal at an Afrikaansmedium small town school, related to the development of literacy skills of the Setswana speaking children?A review of some of the available literature explored language in education in South Africa, early literacy learning - especially in a second language, and phonemic awareness development as an important factor in early reading. To gain a comprehensive understanding of the situation under investigation a mixed method design was employed. The quantitative component of the design comprises a translated version of an early reading assessment which would give a measure of the children’s phonemic awareness development during their first school year. Qualitative research methods included the administering of semi-structured interviews to the parents, the foundation phase teachers and school principal. The researcher collaborated with an experienced Setswana first language speaking field researcher assistant who conducted the interviews with the Setswana speaking parents in their home language. A self administered pencil and paper test was designed with the aim of gauging teacher knowledge of phonemic awareness. Researcher observations from a field log were used to substantiate data from other sources. School documents were analysed and used to the same end as the observations recorded in the researcher field log. Observations of literacy sessions were electronically recorded and used to compile an innovations configuration of the frequency of and depth of engagement in certain classroom activities during literacy sessions by the teacher and learners. Qualitative and Quantitative data which were gathered from diverse sources over a period of eighteen months were integrated and contribute to the validity of the inquiry. The main finding of this inquiry is that during their grade one year, the Setswana speaking children’s phonemic awareness development progressed at a level and rate which is on a par with that of their Afrikaans speaking peers. Furthermore the study showed that although aspects of the children’s home environment did not necessarily support their phonemic awareness development and early literacy skills development in Afrikaans, parents chose the school for its perceived education quality and functionality over other schools in the area and employed various strategies to help enable their children’s learning to read in a second language. The inquiry shows that the school is functional and child-centred. Despite the strictures imposed upon them by the various implementers of the national curriculum at provincial, national and local level, the educators at the school too, have devised various strategies to address the challenges of teaching Setswana speaking children to read and learn in Afrikaans. As elsewhere in the country the teachers and educators lack knowledge of phonemic awareness development and how it should be instructed to optimise early literacy. This dearth of knowledge shows clearly in a focus on phonics, word recognition and writing activities during classroom literacy sessions. Despite this, Setswana and Afrikaans speaking children alike make significant progress in their literacy skills – presumably because of the transparency of the Afrikaans orthography.
- Education