The Power of Inclusion: Embracing Multilingual E-Learning Opportunities in Science Education

The Power of Inclusion: Embracing Multilingual E-Learning Opportunities in Science Education

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7275-7.ch022
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The year 2019 saw the emergence of COVID-19, an infectious disease spread through human-to-human transmission. This resulted in the immediate worldwide suspension of contact classes as countries tried to contain the wide spread of the pandemic. Consequently, educational institutions were thus left with only one option: e-learning. E-learning is the delivery of learning experiences through the use of electronic mail, the internet, the world wide web, and it can either be synchronous or asynchronous. Through the translanguaging lens, this chapter reports on a qualitative study that sought to explore the crucial role language plays in the e-learning of multilingual science students at a secondary school in South Africa. The e-learning lessons were in the form of videos, multilingual glossaries, and narrated slides in English and isiZulu languages. Data was collected through lesson observations and interviews held via Microsoft Teams. This chapter suggests numerous cognitive and socio-cultural benefits of multilingual e-learning pedagogy and recommends its use in education.
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For decades upon decades educators and researchers the world over engaged in heated academic debates about how to enhance English proficiency. Some academics suggested that learning through two languages was somehow confusing to students and detrimental to full concept comprehension. Far too often, these academics showed little or no regard for how a student’s first language tied them to their family, community, and culture. This resulted in educational institutions adopting monolingual pedagogy in education spaces despite documented shortcomings of the approach, chief among them being students’ academic underachievement in various learning areas (Charamba, 2020a; Karlsson, Larsson & Jakobsson, 2020).

However, a body of new research on the cognitive, social, and economic benefits of multilingualism presented a paradigm shift (see for example Garcia & Otheguy, 2020; Li, 2018; Srhir, 2020) signaling the emergence of new pedagogies for the future of education. Current universal educational policy debates and research point to an urgent ongoing need to question and cross-question how a practice associated with alleged cognitive deficiencies (monolingual pedagogy) continues to be practiced and still dominates discussions about present-day educational policy and practice (Garcia, 2019). This is also the situation in South Africa where the two languages of instruction (English and Afrikaans) happen to be the first languages for less than 20% of the country’s population (South Africa Statistics, 2019). This is against a backdrop of unsatisfactory academic performance in national and international assessments by most of the country’s students who are taught through a language different from their first language (Karlsson, 2020).

For example, in the past four years (from 2015 to 2018) the twelfth-grade pass rate for Physical Sciences in South Africa stood at 58.6%; 62.0%; 65.1%; and 63.6% respectively (Department of Education, National Senior Certificate School Subject Report 2019). Although these results might appear ‘pleasing’, according to the South African education assessment standards, for a student to obtain a pass in science they must achieve a score of at least 30% (Department of Education Physical Sciences CAPS Document 2012). This, therefore, suggests that in the year 2015 for example, 58.6% of the candidates managed to obtain a score of at least 30%. Twelfth-grade is the last grade in the South African high school education. As a result, students in this grade sit for school-leaving examinations at the end of the year.

In international assessments, the country has been underachieving in both the Progress in International Reading Literacy (PIRLS) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) assessments. TIMSS is an assessment of the mathematics and science knowledge of fourth and eighth-grade students from selected countries around the world. The 2019 TIMSS results show that South African students continue to underperform academically in both Mathematics and Science assessments (Mullis 2020). In Mathematics, at the fourth-grade level 1% of South African students reached the advanced benchmark, with 5% reaching the High level, 16% reaching the Intermediate level, 37% reaching the low benchmark, with 41% scoring below the low benchmark. In science, 2% of the fourth-graders reached the advanced benchmark, 6% reached the High level benchmark, 14% Intermediate, and 28% reached the low benchmark, with 50% scoring below the low benchmark (Mullis 2020). The 2016 PIRLS results indicate that 78% of the country’s fourth-grade students cannot read for understanding (Charamba 2020b). PIRLS assesses reading comprehension and monitors trends in reading literacy at five-year intervals.

In its analysis of the results of these national and international assessments, Umalusi, South Africa’s quality assurance body on education, asserted that students being taught in a language other than their first language continue to experience great difficulty in comprehending concepts, interpreting questions and drawing up responses resulting in them underperforming academically. This suggests more should be done with regards to the languages of instruction (National Treasury Report on South African Education 2018). This was made worse in the year 2020 following the emergence of COVID-2019 (an infectious disease spread through human-to-human transmission) towards the end of the year 2019 (WHO, 2020) when schools had to suspend contact classes in a bid to curb the spread of the virus. This robbed students of the much needed further clarifications and assistance they would get from their educators and peers during contact classes.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Translanguaging: The process whereby multilingual speakers use their languages as an integrated communication system.

Home Language: A language (or the variety of a language) that is most spoken by the members of a family for everyday interactions at home.

Monolingualism: Understanding or having the knowledge to speak or write in only one language.

Multilingualism: The knowledge and use of more than one language, either by an individual speaker or by a group of speakers.

Open Educational Resources: These are freely accessible, openly licensed text, media, and other digital assets that are useful for teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes.

Synchronous Learning: All types of learning in which students and educators are in the same place, at the same time, in order for learning to take place.

Multi-Competence: The knowledge of more than one language in one person's mind.

Asynchronous Learning: Various forms of digital and online learning in which students learn from instruction such as prerecorded video lessons that is not being delivered in person or in real time.

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