1.1 Background to the Study
The multi-lingual and multi-cultural nature of Nigerian commonwealth from one viewpoint and the lack of a unifying indigenous native language on the other have prompted the reception of English language as a mode of intra-national and inter-national communication (Fakeye 2006). It is important to know that English language has become the pivot on which the educational wheel of Nigeria moves. The language is the vehicle of guidance for all school subjects from the elementary school level to the university, in addition to being a necessary school subject that should be passed at all degrees of education in Nigeria Ajufo (2007). The terrible performance of students in English language at general examinations as of late has been clarified as a significant reason for the decrease in academic achievement and standard of education in Nigeria.
As Maleki and Zangani (2007) notice, experiencing issues in grasping fully the contents and ideas of the different subjects of the curriculum taught in the target language (English language) is by all accounts quite possibly the most significant issues that students face in their specific course of study. This is the same problem with the Senior Secondary School Students in Onitsha North Local Government Area of Anambra State whose performance in the various schools subjects at public examinations is nothing to write home about. This may be because of their shortcomings in English language, the mode of guidance, which may have negative outcomes on their general academic achievement. In the contention of Feast (2002), when students are not well-equipped in the language of guidance and instruction, it follows that they would not perform well in the different school subjects being taught in the target language. Along these lines, the general performance of Senior Secondary School Students in Onitsha North Local Government Area of Anambra State depends, to an exceptionally huge degree, on their English language proficiency. Bachman (1990) characterizes language proficiency as the language capacity or capacity in language utilisation. Oller (1983) affirms that language proficiency is not a solitary unitary capacity, yet that it comprises of a few particular yet related constructs in addition to an overall construct of language proficiency.
The connection between students’ general academic performance in the content areas and their language proficiency has been analyzed by researchers. Steward and Castellon – Wellington (2000) contrasted students’ performance in content areas with simultaneous performance on a language proficiency test and found a connection between the two. Ulibarri, Maria, Spencer and Rivas (1981) analyzed the connection between Hispanic students’ achievement in English language tests and their performance in Mathematics and found that the language test information were not exceptionally valuable in foreseeing achievement in Mathematics. Bayliss and Raymond (2004) investigated the connection between academic achievement and second language proficiency and presumed that the connection between academic achievement and language proficiency vanishes as students approach native-like proficiency levels.
Ogunsiji (2009) contend that English language assumes the major parts of instruction in Nigerian schools from primary to tertiary level. The information on the contents of school subjects is transferred to the students at all levels of learning through English language medium. It hence follows that how well students would toll in academic achievement relies generally upon their level of proficiency in English language which is the vehicle of instruction. Ogunsiji (2009) declare that their outcomes demonstrated that "there is a huge effect of English language proficiency on students' academic achievement and that English language proficiency of the students has a significant positive relationship with their general academic achievement".
The motives for the use of English as a medium of instruction was to enable leaners to have the knowledge of medium of instruction so that knowledge or skills are acquired through this medium of instruction to be assessable for both public and private employment. Another reason was that, the students‘ performance from public secondary achievement test revealed poor knowledge or understanding of language of instruction among learners, since for the past decades at least forty six per cent (46%) of learners failed to acquire the required level of performance in English in the basic level of examination (Sua, 2007).
The influence of English proficiency on Nigerian secondary school students‘ performance therefore cannot be overlooked. Adeyemi & Adeyemi (2012) in their study on the importance of the knowledge of language of instruction on junior secondary school students performance in school subjects in Nigeria viewed that, the government, in recognizing the importance of the language (English ), enacted a language policy and documented this in the National Policy on Education.
Based on the conflicting investigations, it is important to further examine the extent to which senior secondary school students’ proficiency in English language will predict their overall academic performance in Nigeria. It is on this note that this study seeks to examine the role of English Language on the academic performance of the Senior Secondary School Students in Onitsha North Local Government Area of Anambra State.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The problem of this study is poor academic performance among the senior secondary school students in Onitsha North Local Government Area of Anambra State, Nigeria. This poor academic performance might be as a result of students’ low English Language proficiency. Despite the emphasis placed on the importance of English Language in the society, the students are known to generally record low achievement in the subject when compared to some other popular ones offered. This might be connected with the degree of proficiency of the students in English Language. A lot of the guidelines and standards governing teaching and learning are rooted in English Language usage.
Deficient English Language use abilities could influence academic performance of students in a country like Nigeria where English Language is a secondary language. This may result in poor academic performance of students in learning and achieving academic excellence. Students who have low English Language use skills might find it difficult to comprehend learning rules taught and may also be unable to express themselves properly in written tests and examinations. Therefore, the study investigates the role of English Language on the academic performance of the Senior Secondary School Students in Onitsha North Local Government Area of Anambra State.
1.3 Objectives of the study
The general objective of this study is to investigate the role of English Language on the academic performance of the Senior Secondary School Students in Onitsha North Local Government Area of Anambra State. The specific objectives of the study are to:
i) To examine the level of English Language proficiency of students and their academic performance
ii) To understand the performance of students in taking English Language as a subject
iii) To investigate the teachers’ level of preparedness in their use of English in teaching English Language in schools
iv) To highlight the challenges faced by students in learning English Language as a subject in schools
1.4 Research Questions
The study provides answers to the following research questions:
i) What is the level of English Language proficiency of students and their academic performance?
ii) What is the performance of students in taking English Language as a subject?
iii) What is the teachers’ level of preparedness in their use of English in teaching English Language in schools?
iv) What are the challenges faced by students in learning English Language as a subject in schools?
The following null hypotheses were formulated to guide the study, these included;
i) There is no significant difference in the effect of English Language on Senior Secondary School Students‘ academic performance.
ii) There is no significant difference on the effects of English Language on gender performance
1.6 Significance of the study
This study is important because the result of the study could help in identifying the major reasons why academic performance of Senior Secondary School Students in English Language subject is relatively poor in comparison with other courses offered. The study could serve as a point of reference on how to sustain the interest of learning and teaching English Language Subject in Secondary Schools in Nigeria. It is also expected to serve as catalyst for students learning teaching to improve their reading, writing and comprehension skills.
The outcome of the study will encourage the Secondary Schools in Nigeria and other stakeholders in Nigeria to make and implement appropriate curriculum that will give increased attention to English Language proficiency for effectively learning and teaching.
1.7 Scope of the Study
The study covers English Language proficiency skills such as reading skills, comprehension skills, and writing skills and students’ academic performance among one hundred Senior Secondary School Students in Onitsha North Local Government Area of Anambra State, Nigeria. It covers four Senior Secondary Schools in Onitsha North Local Government Area.