The use and impact of two languages on examination performance and implications for language policy in educational assessment: a sub-Saharan African case study

G Yu, PM Rea-Dickins, Mbarouk Mohammed Abeid

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Contribution (Conference Proceeding)

Abstract

This paper addresses the second sub-theme of the ITC conference, i.e., “indigenous, second language, and cross-national test development”, and also relates to the fourth sub-theme on the issues of policy and ethics in educational assessment. A significant number of children around the world demonstrate their learning in formal examinations through English as a foreign or second language and the function of English for subject learning and assessment has become increasingly controversial in the context of UNESCO Education for All agenda. For example, what impact does an unfamiliar language have in determining learning progression and outcomes and, ultimately, the educational quality of the system itself? In many sub-Saharan African contexts, over 50% of children leaving school are labelled as unsuccessful on the basis of their performance in examinations administered in English, which is neither their nor their teachers’ first language. We report on the findings from two empirical studies of the SPINE research project (Student Performance in National Examinations; ESRC/DfID Major Research Grant RES-167-25-0263; www.bristol.ac.uk/spine) that is investigating the dynamics of language in learning and on the fair and ethical assessment of examination performance at the end of Basic Education in Zanzibar. This paper focuses on language issues in examinations and will report on (i) the process of how students work through two languages (English and Kiswahili) in responding to examination questions in Mathematics, Biology and Chemistry, (ii) the differential effects on students’ performance (n=800) in responding to three different versions of a Maths, Chemistry and Biology examination: English only, Kiswahili only, and English/Kiswahili bilingual versions of the three subjects, (iii) the relationships between these students’ English language proficiency (in particular, in terms of lexical knowledge) and their demonstration of subject knowledge, and (iv) such relationships as evidenced in the national data of the Form II examinations in 2007-2009 (c. 70000 students).
Translated title of the contributionThe use and impact of two languages on examination performance and implications for language policy in educational assessment: a sub-Saharan African case study
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe 7th International Conference of International Test Commission, Hong Kong, CHINA
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Bibliographical note

Conference Organiser: International Test Commission & Chinese University of Hong Kong

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