Bilingual education in a multilingual nation : attitudes towards Tok Pisin and Tolai in Papua New Guinea Primary Schools

  • Kilala Devette Chee

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This study investigates the attitudes towards Tok Pisin (an English-lexifier pidgin) and vernacular languages with specific focus on Tolai (an Austronesian language) in Papua New Guinea (PNG) primary schools and how these languages impact on PNG children's learning during transition to English in the current bilingual education program. It explores the attitudes of curriculum officers, teachers, parents and students toward these languages. Based on participants' views, the study also investigates whether the current policy on bilingual education is being implemented in schools.. Using a mixed methods framework (Creswell,2003),the study was conducted in six primary schools in the Kokopo District of East New Britain Province, Papua New Guinea. The study involved 413 participants who completed questionnaires which were analysed using descriptive and inferential statistics and 47 additional participants who engaged in in-depth interviews and whose responses were analysed using the grounded theory approach. This study contributes to international scholarship in terms of providing evidence that there was a general feeling of appreciation and support for the use of Tok Pisin more than for vernacular languages like Tolai in the education system. Children in particular embraced Tok Pisin far more than teachers and parents as it helps them enhance their understanding of English. This confirms Siegel's (1997) finding on Tok Pisin (and vernaculars),namely that it is a help and not a hindrance to students' learning. The study also addresses the practicalities of bilingual education in general, supporting the notion that where bi/multilingual education exists, there remains a dichotomy between supporters of mother tongue-based education and pidgin/creole-based education compared to supporters of the English-only curriculum. The major conclusions that emerged from this study are that, although the current bilingual education program using a modified transitional model (Ball,2010) has been in existence for the last eighteen years, the ultimate goal of the program has not yet been achieved due to many deficiencies. The current education reform seems to be encouraging bilingual education only as a bridge to learning English, and this does not help with the development of Tok Pisin and/or vernacular languages and their cultures. Secondly, there are a number of mismatches between policy and practice which need attention. The evidence shows that, among the schools that participated in this study, none are bilingual schools as initially envisaged by the National Department of Education's (NDOE) language policy. Instead the schools have trilingual and/or multilingual classes. The thesis concludes with five recommendations for practice, two recommendations for policy, and two implications for future research and directions.
    Date of Award2014
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorElke Stracke (Supervisor) & Amanda Scott (Supervisor)

    Cite this