Brunei children's understanding of science: the influence of change in language of instruction on conceptual development
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In 1987, as a matter of utmost urgency and importance, Negara Brunei Darussalam called for a new system of education that emphasized nationalistic commitment: “Languages for Bruneians”. With the era of globalization, the Brunei Ministry of education argued that new patterns of communication were necessary and implemented a bilingual policy where children are taught in Malay until the fourth year of primary school when the medium of instruction changes to English. While the new policy supports Bruneians’ proficiency in two languages, rumour has been magnified through recent established research findings that a large percentage of pupils are underachieving in science. The main focus of this study is the effect of language transfer, from Malay to English as the medium of instruction, on the development of children’s conceptual understanding in science. Two clusters of science concepts, evaporation and condensation and living and non-living, provide the science context through which children’s understanding is explored. The theoretical framework that includes viewing and examining children’s conceptual understanding from conceptual development and epistemological and ontological perspectives of conceptual change informs the analysis of this study. The research design employed a cross sectional case study method involving the administration of interviews to a total of 255 children aged between 6 and 12 years of age. The interviews about the concepts of evaporation and condensation involved two phases. For the first phase, 60 children from each primary level of 1, 3 and 4 (total n = 180) were interviewed. Fourteen months later, 18 children from the same sample were selected based on their fluency in the first interviews and revisited for more detailed interviews.For the concepts of living and non-living, 75 children were chosen from a wider range of primary levels, fifteen from each level of Primary 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Each participant in this study was asked 2 types of questions; forced-response and semi-structured. For the forced-response questions, scores were entered into the Statistical Packages for Social Sciences (SPSS) computer software based on a 5- point scale. For the semi-structured questions, analysis involved initial grouping of responses before entry into the software and quantitative manipulation. The data from the semi-structured interviews also were analysed qualitatively with systematic searches for themes and evidence that supported and disconfirmed the quantitative results. As this study produced qualitative as well as quantitative data, rigour was determined by two sets of parallel criteria. Ensuring rigour for the quantitative data involved the criteria of validity and reliability. Within the qualitative paradigm, the criteria that evolved in response to the quality of the research were credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability. The results indicated a steady progress of conceptual understanding when the pupils’ explanations about the concepts of evaporation and condensation were in Malay. However, the pattern of development of understanding did not reach projected patterns i n Primary 4 when only English responses were analysed. The findings show that the change in language of instruction significantly hampered communication about and possibly conceptual understanding of the cluster of concepts associated with evaporation and condensation.Similarly, the findings about children’s conceptual understanding of living and non-living suggested that the expected patterns of development were not realised. Closer qualitative inspection of the data revealed that the idiosyncratic nature of the bilingual system perpetuated particular misconceptions specifically related to the nature of the Malay and English languages in both clusters of concepts. The primary conclusion of the study was that the change in language of instruction from Malay to English in Brunei primary schools had a significant, detrimental impact on the children’s expressed understanding of the concepts associated with evaporation and condensation and living and non-living.
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