The role of local languages in teaching mathematics in the bridging class (grade 3) within South Wahgi area of Jiwaka Province, Papua New Guinea


Muke, Charly. (2012). The role of local languages in teaching mathematics in the bridging class (grade 3) within South Wahgi area of Jiwaka Province, Papua New Guinea [Thesis].
AuthorsMuke, Charly
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Knowledge can be perceived to be constructed personally without external physical or social influence (Von Glasserfield, 1995). To think this way does not do justice to the potential of human knowledge, which could also be shared through communication in situations such as schooling and thus become a group possession (Mercer, 1995). In schools, communication is the vital link between teaching and learning. If learning is achieved only as a result of personal cognition, it would deny the important roles of teaching, a communication process that aims at guiding learning (Vygotsky, 1986). Teachers use language as the primary medium for achieving this task. As Mercer (1995) indicates, teachers’ language-use in the teaching process guides knowledge-construction that often results in effective learning. However, most classrooms in the world are multilingual (Clarkson, 2006), and how communication occurs within these classrooms becomes even more complex. According to bilingual theory, balanced bilinguals or multilinguals (able to speak all languages fluently) have the advantage of enhanced cognitive processes, compared to other students (Cummins, 1985). The students that were part of this study were in grade 3, the first grade of the bottom-up primary schooling in the Wahgi area of Jiwaka province, Papua New Guinea. They were in an additive stage of their language development: learning English as an additional language to other fluently spoken languages: Wahgi and Pidgin. The government of Papua New Guinea, which had been using an English-only policy for teaching, recognized this challenge tolearning. In 1992, the policy changed, and the new language policy recommended a ‘bridging process’ at the lower primary sector. This meant that a fluently spoken local language should be used as a resource to help these unbalanced-language multilingual students learn effectively. In this study the learning they engaged with was mathematics. This study aimed to assess this policy by specifically studying the educational role of the local languages when alternated purposefully as a resource through code-switching during the teaching process. The study observed eight teachers in ‘bottom-up’ primary schools within South-Wahgi speaking areas of Jiwaka province, Papua New Guinea. These teachers all used the local languages and English in their teaching. The study found the purpose of code-switching and alternating the local language was mainly to enhance the teaching process, increasing the potential for effectively guiding unbalanced multilingual students in mathematics lessons. The teachers believed and showed through their teaching processes that, in order to guide unbalanced multilingual grade 3 students in learning mathematical English and mathematical content successfully, they needed the use of their local languages and cultural knowledge. However, the data shows that the crucial endpoint in the teachers’ minds always remained the learning of mathematics in English. This result confirmed that the new language policy for the lower primary education in Papua New Guinea, which recommended the use of the local language as a teaching and learning resource, was enhancing the teaching process. This study did not target learning through such a teaching process, but it appeared there was a greater potential for the unbalanced students to be guided effectively if teachers purposefully code-switched and used the local language as a resource when introducing mathematical knowledge expressed in English.

PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research GroupSchool of Education
Final version
Publication dates01 Jan 2012
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