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The language environment of primary school aged children in Tonga: A case study of 4 children

The Ministry of Education and Training in Tonga’s direction for its language policy has recently changed and at present, all the local schools are expected to implement effectively the new language policy that was in place in the early 2000’s. Under the UNESCO and the World Bank’s influence, the new language policy articulates the teaching of children from an early age in their local vernacular to establish literacy in the first language before the introduction of English at Class 3 of the primary school level. This study was conducted in light of this new policy, to explore from a primary school in Tonga the language environments that children experience to identify whether or not the language input they receive is sufficient for balanced bilingualism to be supported. The study also was a way to explore children’s understanding of their language environment and choices. It was a way to help out parents and teachers understand the kind of language environment that fosters balanced bilinguals. The scope of this study, being a Master’s thesis, allowed me to use a case study for this research. Four participants from a primary school in Tonga was used for collection of the data. The research took on a qualitative approach with data being generated using two main methods: field observations (both in the classroom and at home) and a focus group interview. The data generated from these methods captured what was observed in the participant’s natural environment setting (i.e. the classroom and at home) which included what language is used, who said it and to whom, the activities that were done during the use of language (i.e. what the participants did). The data also provided the childrens’ own views of their language choices without the influence of adults to think for them. It was apparent from the research that although the language policy in place was affirmative of students being bilinguals, there was a huge gap that student participants were experiencing with their language input especially with the use of English and with being given the opportunities to use language to ensure that they have learnt and mastered the input they have received. Both the observations and the focus group identified the dominance of the teacher in the classroom and the very few chances of input for students especially on their L2 and especially the opportunity to practice and use both the Tongan and the English language. The research therefore has indicated the fact that while teachers are indeed following part of the prescription of the language policy in Tonga in terms of exposing and establishing a firm foundation on the children at an early age to Tongan, they are not following it with respect to providing English input. The research hence suggests some implications not just for teachers but for the education system to address because there is a crucial need for all parties involved (administration, teachers, parents and students) to work collaboratively to identify and to address and improve the quantity and the quality of language input students receive.
Type of thesis
Puniani, T. M. (2017). The language environment of primary school aged children in Tonga: A case study of 4 children (Thesis, Master of Education (MEd)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/11362
University of Waikato
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