The achievement gap between learners who are assessed in a primary language and those assessed in a non-primary language in the natural sciences learning area
In the TIMMS-R report, which compared the performance of a South African cohort of learners with international peers in Science (and Mathematics), Howie (1999) highlighted that: • The biographical information of the South African cohort who performed below par in comparison with international peers indicated that they wrote the TIMMS literacy test in a second or third language. • Non-primary language learners spend considerably more time on homework compared to primary language learners. • There is no linear relationship between the amount of time spent on homework in Science and the average literacy level in the learning area amongst South African learners. Leveraging on the TIMMS report cited above, this study sought to establish the interrelationship between learning and being assessed in a non-primary language on one the hand and related performance on the other. Specifically, this study sought to establish the performance of non-primary language learners compared to primary language learners in the Natural Sciences Common Task for Assessment (CTA). There is a groundswell of evidence mounting that tends to suggest that primary language learners outperform their non-primary language counterparts in batteries of assessment instruments. This, however, is always clouded by other extraneous factors, chief amongst which, in the South African context at least, is the strong correlation between studying in a non-primary language and family socio-economic status (SES). SES has been identified elsewhere as a determinant of scholastic achievements(Blignaut, 1981; HCDS –WC, 2006).