An investigation into the language proficiency and critical thinking abilities of grade 11 learners in the Accelerated Christian Education System
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The purpose of this study was to investigate the language proficiency and critical thinking abilities of Grade 11 learners in the ACE system. This would aid to direct learners in the FET phase to enhance their critical thinking skills and language proficiency. ACE is referred to as the Accelerated Christian Education or School of Tomorrow. Accelerated Christian Education is the trade name of School of Tomorrow. The School of Tomorrow program is individualised and non-graded. It allows each learner to work on his performance and achievement level which can differ from learning area to learning area (School of Tomorrow, 1995:29). Language proficiency is of utmost importance when it comes to cognitive development within the classroom, the curriculum or life in general, especially when a learner has to learn his subjects in another language of learning and teaching (Donald, Lazarus, & Lolwana, 2005:73). According to Cummins (in McKay, 2007:2) each learner should be taught in his mother-tongue to a threshold level of proficiency in order to transfer the knowledge to the other language and ensure positive cognitive growth. If a learner is not proficient in the Language of Learning and Teaching (LOLT) his academic achievement will be poor as well as his critical thinking skills. South Africa has II official languages in terms of Act 108 of the Constitution (Department of Education, I997). In the Further Education and Training phase, learners have to take two of the 11 official languages as their core majors and other languages can be taken as electives (Department of Education, 2005:11). Since parents have the right to choose their child's language of learning and teaching and are not bound by law to choose their mother-tongue, English is mainly chosen as it is seen as the language of educational and economic empowerment (De Klerk, 1995:28). However, it is emphasised by Schroeder (2004:383) and Woolfolk (2004: 179) that mother-tongue education is by far preferable. Weideman and Van Rensburg (2006:157) are of the opinion that it is better to be taught and be academically successful in one's mother tongue before choosing another language of learning and teaching. De Klerk (1995:50) asserts that a lack of language proficiency in the language of learning and teaching is a main reason for low academic performance. One of the main aims of education is to gain as much information as possible. However, information is gained through communication and communication through a language (De Bono, 1969:9). If, however, the individual is not able to understand the language with all its nuances, certain information is missed. And as information is missed, it is thrown away. A person cannot think about something he does not understand (Strydom & Du Plessis, 2000: 129). Critical thinking is necessary for every day decision making. No matter what one's circumstances, a person with good thinking skills will be more successful in life. Poor thinking causes frustration, a waste of time, ineffective use of energy and pain (Paul & Elder, 2002: xiii). A critical thinker will be able to apply the knowledge he/she has learnt in real life situations. Vygotsky (McGregor, 2007: I 0) asked the question: "Does language mirror thought or thought language or both?" In educational psychology it is generally accepted that language and thinking are interwoven (Donald, et a!., 2005 :219). The descriptive research method was used. For the purpose of this study, 10 Grade 11 learners from the ACE system were conveniently sampled. These learners included six English Mother Tongue (EMT) learners and four English Second Language (ESL) learners. For the empirical research the ELSA test was used for language proficiency and the Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal Test for testing critical thinking skills. Descriptive statistics were employed to interpret the results since the sample was too small for correlations and inferences. Generally the language proficiency of the EMT learners was on a Grade level 10. The language proficiency of the ESL learners was generally also on a Grade level I 0, which is acceptable for ESL learners. Critical thinking skills such as evaluation and interpretation were overall adequately developed. However, most of the learners performed poorly with inferences. Although statistical correlations could not be made, because of the small sample, with 8 of the learners it appears as if there was a link between language proficiency and critical thinking skills. These 8 learners' language proficiency and critical thinking results were either equally good or equally poor.
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