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Estimating the impact of language of instruction in South African primary schools: A fixed effects approach

Author

Listed:
  • Stephen Taylor

    () (Department of Basic Education)

  • Marisa Coetzee

    () (Departement Ekonomie, Universiteit van Stellenbosch)

Abstract

For many children around the world, access to higher education and the labour market depends on becoming fluent in a second language. This presents a challenge to education policy: when and how in the school programme should a transition to the second language occur? While a large theoretical literature exists, empirical evidence is limited by the difficulties inherent to measuring the causal effect of language of instruction. In South Africa, the majority of children do not speak English as their first language but are required to undertake their final school-leaving examinations in English. Most schools offer mother-tongue instruction in the first three grades of school and then transition to English as the language of instruction in the fourth grade. Some schools use English as the language of instruction from the first grade. In recent years a number of schools have changed their policy, thus creating within-school, cross-grade variation in the language of instruction received in the early grades. We use longitudinal data on school characteristics including language of instruction by grade, and student test score data for the population of South African primary schools. Simple OLS estimates suggest a positive correlation between English instruction in the first three grades and English performance in grades 4, 5 and 6. After including school fixed effects, which removes the confounding effects of selection into schools with different language policies, we find that mother tongue instruction in the early grades significantly improves English acquisition, as measured in grades 4, 5 and 6. The significance of this study is twofold. Firstly, it illustrates the power of school-fixed effects to estimate causal impacts of educational interventions. Secondly, it is the first South African study (and one of a very few international studies) to bring robust empirical evidence to the policy debate around language of instruction.

Suggested Citation

  • Stephen Taylor & Marisa Coetzee, 2013. "Estimating the impact of language of instruction in South African primary schools: A fixed effects approach," Working Papers 21/2013, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers197
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    File URL: https://www.ekon.sun.ac.za/wpapers/2013/wp212013/wp-21-2013.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Joshua D. Angrist & Jörn-Steffen Pischke, 2009. "Mostly Harmless Econometrics: An Empiricist's Companion," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 8769.
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    3. Angrist, Joshua & Chin, Aimee & Godoy, Ricardo, 2008. "Is Spanish-only schooling responsible for the Puerto Rican language gap?," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 85(1-2), pages 105-128, February.
    4. Angrist, Joshua D & Lavy, Victor, 1997. "The Effect of a Change in Language of Instruction on the Returns to Schooling in Morocco," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(1), pages 48-76, January.
    5. Servaas van der Berg & Cobus Burger & Ronelle Burger & Mia de Vos & Gideon du Rand & Martin Gustafsson & Eldridge Moses & Debra Shepherd & Nicholas Spaull & Stephen Taylor & Hendrik van Broekhuizen & , 2011. "Low quality education as a poverty trap," Working Papers 25/2011, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    6. Ivlevs, Artjoms & King, Roswitha M., 2014. "2004 Minority Education Reform and pupil performance in Latvia," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 151-166.
    7. Katherine Eriksson, 2014. "Does the language of instruction in primary school affect later labour market outcomes? Evidence from South Africa," Economic History of Developing Regions, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 29(2), pages 311-335, December.
    8. Casale, Daniela & Posel, Dorrit, 2011. "English language proficiency and earnings in a developing country: The case of South Africa," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 40(4), pages 385-393, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Rajesh Ramachandran & Christopher Rauh & Anh Mai Le, 2016. "Discriminatory attitudes and indigenous language promotion: Challenges and solutions," WIDER Working Paper Series 078, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    2. Spaull, Nicholas & Kotze, Janeli, 2015. "Starting behind and staying behind in South Africa," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 13-24.
    3. repec:eee:wdevel:v:98:y:2017:i:c:p:195-213 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Bethlehem A. Argaw, 2016. "Quasi-experimental evidence on the effects of mother tongue-based education on reading skills and early labour market outcomes," WIDER Working Paper Series 004, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    5. Nicholas Spaull, 2016. "Disentangling the language effect in South African schools: Measuring the impact of ‘language of assessment’ in grade 3 literacy and numeracy," Working Papers 19/2016, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Education; language of learning and teaching; South Africa; fixed effects;

    JEL classification:

    • I24 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Inequality
    • I25 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Economic Development
    • I28 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Government Policy

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