According to South African Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements, learners’
first language should be the language of learning and teaching in Grade R.
However, there is a mismatch between policy and practice since English is the
language of Grade R learning and teaching in rural schools in Mpumalanga. The
ECD manager should provide evidence-based guidance on the best facilitation
approach to follow in a particular context.
The study is underpinned by:
‐ Cummins’ distinction between Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency
and Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills (Cummins, 2000)
‐ Cummins’ interdependence hypothesis (Cummins, 2000)
‐ Distinction between Implicit versus Explicit learning (Dekeyser, 2003)
‐ The Mediated Learning Experience Theory within the poverty context of
South Africa where the role of the teacher is seen as the mediator
The literature overview focuses on the development of the Grade R curriculum,
and two prominent facilitation approaches used in Grade R, the play-based and
formal instruction. Research on the effectiveness of each method and language
debates both internationally (Wong-Fillmore (1991), Bialystok (2006), Cummins
(2000) and nationally (MacDonald (1990), Heugh (2000), Alexander (2005),
Balfour (2007) and Jordaan (2011) are provided.
The aim of the study was to determine the effect of facilitation on Grade R
performance scores in E-L2 learning in rural schools in Mpumalanga. Teachers’
first language, teachers’ qualifications, learners’ first language, learners’ gender, teachers’ age and teachers’ experience on Grade R learners’ performance
scores were also tested for interaction effects. Research was conducted in ten
randomly selected schools, equally divided between the play-based and formal
instruction approaches, and five different languages used in the province. There
were 175 Grade R learners and ten teachers in the study sample. The English Language Proficiency standards assessment tool (ELP) was used to collect data
and is reported to have no cultural bias.
A quantitative methodology was followed, using a two-group comparison design.
Participants were matched according to learners’ age, similar exposure period to
E-L2 learning, similar rural upbringing, culture, poverty level and mainstream
learners. A one-way and two-way ANOVA was used to analyse the data.
It was found that the formal approach contributes to better E-L2 learner scores
when compared to the play-based approach. The differences in participants’
performance scores were mostly observed in the listening scores and not so
much in the speaking scores. IsiNdebele speaking teachers and younger
qualified teachers, who were better trained, achieved better learner E-L2 scores
than other teachers. Although learners in formal instruction classrooms achieved
better results, they still did not achieve competency in basic interpersonal
communicative skills in English after three months in Grade R. There was no
interaction effect between the gender of the learners and the facilitation approach
that was used.
A hybrid model, i.e. combination of the play-based and the formal instructional
approach is proposed to be implemented in rural Grade R classrooms in
Mpumalanga. Further recommendations are to train teachers in educational
linguistics, teach listening skills to learners and inform parents about the benefits
of first language proficiency before a second language is acquired.