A qualitative exploration of the position of nursery rhymes was carried out in 2015 in the Mauritian curriculum with a view to enhancing the learning of English as an L2 (Second Language). It comes at a time when the Ministry of Education and Human Resources positioned Early Childhood Care and Education in its Education and Human Resources Strategy Plan (2008-2020) as a priority area, following the enunciation of World Education Forum (UNESCO 2000).
The National Curriculum Framework for Pre-Primary Education (2010) has been pre-pared to ensure the overall sound development of the child; and also to equip the latter with a good foundation for life-long learning. There is much debate following the new methods of teaching in Pre-Primary education as to whether children will be able to perform later in primary school as the focus now seems to be mostly on playing and singing. Moreover when children aged five years and above enter primary school, it has been observed that they lack exposure to English and they have poor knowledge of nursery rhymes.
Through interviews, the research explores the responses of different stake-holders responsible for the education of preschool children to find out how nursery rhymes are used in the teaching of English. A small sample of 15 pre-primary educators and a lecturer at the MIE have been inter-viewed. It was found that nursery rhymes, though included in the curriculum, are not sufficiently used as a language strategy as it was not viewed positively. Preschool educators use rhymes mainly for the teaching and learning of French as it is closely linked to Kréol Mauricien. Parents interviewed have little knowledge of the benefits of nursery rhymes on language development. A key finding was that preschool educators have poor knowledge about the benefits of nursery rhymes to promote the learning of English: they lack training in English language teaching.
The research enabled me as a primary school educator to deepen my knowledge about teaching young children in preschools. Furthermore I gained an insight into the teaching and learning practices in four pre-primary schools of my vicinity. Next I have achieved my research targets by exploring the perceptions of pre-primary educators on the topic of nursery rhymes as a language strategy. A number of issues emerged.
Firstly, the use of English language at pre-primary level was influenced by the personal beliefs of the educators. The perception of educators about teaching English at such a tender age is contradictory to the theorists who believe that SLL at a young age is beneficial. Educators are of the opinion that French must be used more extensively as it is closer to Creoleor because children are exposed to French at home. There is some reticence among educators to use the English language with children and to promote an English-rich environment. There are several reasons that explain their beliefs: they lack training, there is also the idea that they are not proficient in English themselves and last, they prefer to stick to traditional ways of teaching.
Second, educators are of the opinion that English nursery rhymes are difficult to teach as English is not an easy language for the children. Therefore educators choose to teach more “Comptine Française” than English nursery rhymes.
Then it was found that educators lack training to teach nursery rhymes. Mrs Koomar Reshma (lecturer at Mauritius Institute of Education) also agreed that a professional training is required to gain knowledge about ‘phonemic awareness’. Educators cannot be blamed if they have not had the proper training. Nonetheless those who were trained have the required knowledge about various teaching strategies to teach English. They have also been trained to adapt songs and rhymes to the
Mauritian context to facilitate teaching and learning. Yet it is up to the educators to make use of the teaching strategies.
It was also found that educators do not make use of Compact Discs to expose children to Standard English as they believe that children will find it difficult to understand the pronunciation. Instead they sing and children listen. Ultimately children sing along until they can sing without the educators’ intervention. One of the four basic skills of language is listening. Yet children are not exposed to a diverse range of listening activities such as English songs/rhymes or English cartoons. Instead they listen to their educators’ English discourses daily which directly affects their experience of the English language.
Furthermore out of the four parents interviewed, it was found that parents do not value English nursery rhymes as they seemed to lack knowledge about the importance of nursery rhymes. It may be due to their education level but also to the fact that they had not been exposed to English nursery rhymes during their child-hood. Finally research revealed that children liked nursery rhymes and found them funny. They were able to explore the L2 in a low anxiety environment. Hence they were not forced to use the target language. The children had the freedom to produce the L2 when they felt ready.
The research literature revealed that English nursery rhyme, as a teaching strategy to develop competencies in a second language, is a resourceful one. It enhances both the listening and speaking skills of the learners. Besides, nursery rhymes promote phonetic awareness which in turn helps children to become successful readers in the future. To encourage young learners to produce the target language, nursery rhyme is an excellent strategy. As Krashen’s theory (1985, cited in Mitchell & Myles 2004) entail ‘comprehensible input” in a low anxiety situation, we could put forth that nursery rhyme provides ‘comprehensible input’ in a low anxiety context. Thus learning takes place in a friendly atmosphere.
The policy makers, the MIE and the ECCEA as well as other important stake-holders must agree to provide an inclusive training for all pre-primary school educators. They could develop special modules on English language teaching with young learners. Educators need special training with regard to teaching an L2 with young children of 4 years.
In Mauritius, there is a complex situation whereby English is not only an L2 but it is also our official language. At the same time, the government school curriculum is written in the L2. The language of instruction is English but educators are allowed to use other languages such as Bhojpuri, Creole and French to facilitate understanding. This situation is unique and complex. Therefore policy makers and curriculum developers must seek to make the learning of English easier and fun. To in-crease second language learners’ interest and engagement in learning English, a supportive and friendly atmosphere must be built into our pre-primary schools. Motivation must be the leading factor and for that to happen, all pre-primary educators must be adequately trained. Only then will all children benefit from a standardised experience in pre-schools.
Speaking is a difficult process and should not be undervalued or taken for granted. The teaching and learning of the target language merits more thought. Both listening and speaking must be promoted so as to improve the communication skills of our learners. Fluency in English is the vehicle par excellence for social and professional growth. Therefore children must be encouraged since the first stage of schooling, which is pre-primary school, to develop competencies in the L2.
Though English is our second language, it is essential to promote it. English is one of the most well-known languages in the world and is almost the world’s lingua franca. A change in attitude and mentality towards this language would be encouraging. Language educators should be role models and stimulate the learners’ interest in the language. Exposure to the English language must be intensified. The curriculum planners need to look at means to promote the English language. It is important to start exposing children to the target language at a young age; and propose interactive activities such as nursery rhymes and songs. It is true that nursery rhyme has its place in the primary curriculum. Yet it comes too late. It would be more appropriate if a list of nursery rhymes could be introduced in the pre-primary curriculum with the audio material.