ASSESSING THE READABILITY OF ON Y VA! FOR JUNIOR SECONDARY SCHOOL (JSS) IN NSUKKA EDUCATION ZONE OF ENUGU STATE
This study was
undertaken to assess the readability of On y va! (French textbook) for Junior
Secondary School (JSS) in Nsukka Education Zone of Enugu State. It also sought
to determine the readability of the text by male and female students as well as
by urban and rural students. The determination of the interaction effect of
gender and location on students’ readability of the text was equally aimed at.
Five research questions and three hypotheses guided the study. An evaluative
survey design was used. The sample for the study consisted of 272 SS I students
(because they have covered the content of the book) from three public schools
in Nsukka Education Zone. A multi-stage random sampling technique was used due
to the variables of gender and location. The instrument used for data
collection was a 45 – item French Textbook Readability Questionnaire (FTRQ),
validated by five experts in language Education and Measurement and Evaluation
from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The instrument yielded an average reliability
coefficient of 0.97 using Crobach’s Alpha method. It was administered to the
students by the researcher and collected on the spot. The data was analyzed
using mean scores and standard deviations for the research questions and t-test
and univariate analysis of variance for the hypotheses at 0.05 level of
significance. The major findings of the study were that all the sections of On
y va! were not easy to understand, but
they were interesting and had legible prints. Also, gender and location had significance
difference on the readability of the text, but there was no interaction effect
of gender and location. Based on the findings, it was recommended, among
others, that the authors of the On y va! series should carry out a more
detailed analysis of the students’ past experiences and background knowledge in
French and incorporate them in their subsequent editions of the text.
Limitations of the study were outlined, and suggestions for further study
Background of the
Nigeria is an English-speaking
country surrounded by French-speaking nations such as Benin Republic, Cameroun,
Niger and Chad. Given this geographical location, there is a great need for
Nigerians to be knowledgeable in French language for better co-operation and
understanding with these nations. Besides, French is a major international
language of science, commerce, industry, diplomacy and technology, as well as a
prerequisite for employment in international organizations such as the Economic
Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), the International Police Commission
(INTERPOL), the United Nations Organization (UNO), the African Union (AU), etc.
It is against this background that the Federal Government of Nigeria, in 1998
adopted the new French/English bilingual policy of French as a second official
language in Nigeria (FRN, 2001).
In pursuance of the above policy, the
current National Policy on Education made French “compulsory in Primary and
Junior Secondary Schools but non-vocational elective at the Senior Secondary
School” (FRN, 2004:10). The Federal Government adopted a three-phase
implementation schedule recommended by the Ministerial Task Force for the
implementation of the policy (Opara, 2005). The first phase of the schedule
which was supposed to last from September 1998 to October 2000 was aimed at
making French compulsory from primary 4 to 6 and making a pass in French a
criterion for acquiring Junior Secondary School (JSS) certificate. The second
phase (September, 2000 to October 2004) was aimed at making French a compulsory
subject from JSS I to SS I and making a credit in French a criterion for
recruitment/admission in the University. The third and the final phase
(September 2004 to October 2008) was aimed at making the basic knowledge of
French a requirement for recruitment into jobs and promotion of civil servants.
However, the actual implementation of
the policy has been bedeviled by a lot of constraints such as lack of teachers,
textual resources, awareness, poor attitude of the students, etc. For instance,
Opara (2004) reports that most of the teachers who are to implement the policy
have neither heard about it nor the proposed phases of the implementation
schedule. These prevailing situations do not show that the fortune of French
teaching and learning has really broken loose from its past, characterized by
uncertainty and hesitation. It was introduced in the secondary school
curriculum in Nigeria at the wake of independence in 1960 (Offorma, 2002). Since
then, it has been one of the two major foreign languages taught in the schools.
However, the majority of the students do not see its usefulness since it is
spoken only in the classroom. They do not show reasonable interest in it, and
the teachers have to work very hard to motivate them. In spite of the teachers’
serous efforts, only very few students opt for French in the senior secondary
school certificate (Offorma, 2002).
The above scenario has been the lot
of the French language in Nigerian secondary schools since its introduction in
the school curriculum, and efforts have always been made to address the problem
and popularize French teaching and learning. One of such efforts has been in
the area of production of textbooks by seasoned French teachers and
researchers. Hence, at different places and time in Nigeria, such French
textbooks as France Afrique, TransAfrique, Practical French, Contacts and
Bonjour l’Afriquehad been in use. All these are becoming more and more
unpopular due to the fact that the teaching and learning of French is shifting
from the existing methods such as the grammar-translation method, the direct
method, the audio-lingual method and audio-visual method to communicative
method, a method that is widely accepted as the most efficient and effective in
the teaching and learning of French language (Kim, Eke, Obobairibbojie, Nwodo,
Marcellin and Ayinde, 2007). The shift became necessary because of the obvious
shortcomings of the preceding methods. The grammar-translation method, for
instance, makes no distinction between formality and informality in language
use (Anasiudu, 2002). The direct method has its own major flaw in its over
reliance on the mechanical repetitive drills which could be engaged in without
thought on the part of the learners. Similarly, the audio-lingual method has
intensive pattern practice as its major technique. This technique serves the
need of beginners, but is definitely not suitable for all second language
learners. The audio-visual method has equally been criticized for being
teacher-centred and for having problems with the validity of the visual
elements. The communicative method takes care of all these shortfalls by
emphasizing the linguistic skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing
as well as the practical use of the language in real-life situations.
The shift spurred a group of seasoned
French teachers and reputable trainers of trainers to write a series of French
textbooks that are in consonance with the new methodology. These books: On y
va! for JSS I, On y va! for JSS II, On y va! for JSS III and On y va! for
Senior Secondary Schools (SSS) written by Catherine Mazauric and Evelyne
Siréjols with the collaboration of John Ilya Kim, Jummai Makpu and Mohamed
Tijani were published by Spectrum Books limited Ibadan and CLE International
Paris between 2002 and 2005. Earlier on, a new curriculum for teaching French
in Nigeria had been developed in 2001 (Kim et al, 2007). So, the On y va!
series were designed and a series of workshops organized by the Centres for
French Teaching and Documentation (CFTDs) throughout the country to create
awareness about them.
The books are the recommended
textbooks for the teaching and learning of French in Enugu State. French
teachers in Nsukka Education Zone, including the present researcher,
participated in the series of seminars and workshops aimed at popularizing the
books at Enugu and Jos in 2007. However, the area is witnessing increasing
apathy towards the language among the students (Ngene and Njoku, 2007). The
students perform poorly even in very simple French exercises (Eze and Meniru,
2006). The above scenario raises doubt about how readable they find the book.
The term readability refers to all
the factors that affect success in reading and understanding a text. These
factors, according to The World Book Encyclopedia (1977), include the average
number of words in sentences, the number of commonly understood words, the
average number of syllables in the words, the number of long complex sentences,
the number of abstract ideas and the use of personal pronouns. In using these
to estimate the readability of a given write-up, a number of formulas have been
developed. Such formulas include Gunning “FOG” readability Test, Fry Readability
Graph, Flesh-Kincaid formula, Power-Summer- Keerl Formula, Mclaughlin “SMOG”
Formula, FORCAST Formula, etc. These measures guide the construction of
textbook to conform to the intended grade level.
However, readability experts such as
McNamara, Louwerse and Graesser (2005) argue that scores from such formulas are
based on surface characteristics of the text, and as such, prevent valid
predictions of text comprehension. According to them, measuring elements of a
textbook that are primarily needed for surface processing does not adequately
capture comprehension and learning, which are the major concern of educators.
Hence, the present researcher is in agreement with Johnson and Johnson (1987)
who see readability as a concept which has as its major components the notions
of ease of understanding, legibility and interest/motivation.
The present study therefore aims at
investigating the readability of On y va! in the light of all these factors by
examining its ease of understanding, legibility and interest/motivation in
relation to the reading ability of the students in the public schools in Nsukka
Education Zone. The aspect of ease of understanding has to do, among other
things, with whether the assumptions about students’ prior knowledge are
appropriate and whether the content information from the text can be supported
by being directed to the examples in the text. Interest/motivation, on the
other, deals with how pleasant and attractive the students find the book while
legibility of print deals with the type such as the use of lower case and
capital letters, the bold type, italics, the size of the type, the length of
the line, the spacing between the lines, curvature of the page, the type of
paper and the colour of paper.
Therefore, bearing in mind the
prevailing condition of the teaching and learning of French in Nigeria
generally and in Nsukka Zone in particular, especially as it appertains to the
dismal performance of secondary school students in reading, determining the
readability of the recommended textbook, On y va! in line with the above
readability indices may be a plausible remedy. For instance, ease of
understanding is a major determining factor in whether a student is going to
benefit from a given text or not. Assessing the easy of understanding of On y
va! would address any readability problem associated with faulty assumptions
about students’ vocabulary knowledge, prior knowledge and experiential
background. On the other hand, assessing how the books interest the learners
would help in motivating them and sustaining their interest in the books. Also,
determining the legibility of print of the texts would help to address the
readability problems associated with type faces, size of type, the length of
lines, the space between the lines, weight of print, quality of paper the texts
are made of as well as the relationship between the colour of the paper and the
colour of the type. If all these readability related difficulties are taken
care of, the students would definitely enjoy the reading of On y va!, and
benefit from its rich communicative and linguistic content. This would
invariably enhance the students’ performance in external examinations.
Besides, as the
question of gender and school location has remained an unresolved issue in
students reading competence, this study intends to include them as its
variables. Gender is seen by Offorma (2004) as a learned, socially constructed
conditions ascribed to individuals on the basis of being born either male or
female. It is enforced through cultural practices. Hence, the type of training
and exposures given to male and female children in a given society depend on
the people’s understanding and belief. Gender, therefore, is a very important
variable because a person’s personal orientation and outlook play a crucial
role in performance. However, there are conflicting reports on whether gender
has a significant influence in language performance (Offorma, 2004). Similarly,
there has been a raging controversy on whether the school location has an
impact on students’ achievement. As schools play an important role in the
intellectual development of children, adequate provision of learning facilities
or lack of them may facilitate or hinder learning. The location of schools
comes into play here because it may determine some vital learning ingredients
such as learning facilities, infrastructure, number of teachers and the class
size. The present researcher intends to
assess how readable male and female students as well as urban and rural
students find the different components of the language such as speech, reading
comprehension, grammar and writing as they are contained in On y va! This is
aimed at contributing to research in the direction of whether gender and location
are related to competence in the named components.
Since the Junior
Secondary School (JSS) III marks the end of the first half of the secondary
school system, and is also the level when students have been exposed to the On
y va! so much that they can give a reasonable assessment of how readable they
find it, this exercise will focus on On y va! for JSS 3. With the reading age
of eleven (11) using the Gunning “FOG” Readability Test (See Appendix F), and
most of the students of JSS 3 in Nsukka Zone being above that age, it is
supposed that the students will be able to read and comprehend it with ease.
With its rich content as a whole, students at this level are expected to
understand, speak, read and even write fairly good French. Unfortunately, most
of the students of JSS 3 in Nsukka Zone are completely incapable of identifying
or recognizing the simplest French words and expressions (Eze and Meniru,
2006). It is against this background that the researcher embarks on this study
to examine the readability of the text in use in the Education Zone, the On y
va!, with a view to contributing to the improvement of teaching and learning of
French in the area.
Statement of the
It is presumed that after being
exposed to the teaching and learning of a language for two years one would be
able to make oneself intelligible in the language, both in speech and in
writing. Hence, it is disheartening to observe that the majority of the
students in Junior Secondary Schools (JSS) 3 in Nsukka Education Zone cannot
read or understand some of the commonest French words and expressions. This is
more worrisome in the light of the fact that some of these students come from
the former French language pilot schools in the area. These are schools that
are reasonably equipped for French teaching and learning, where it is presumed
that all the students have the recommended textbook, the On y va! and its
Besides, French teachers in the area
are constantly complaining that their students find it very difficult to read
the relevant textbooks and materials, and as a result are not learning. In
fact, inability to read efficiently has always been an endemic educational
problem. The problem needs solution, but it cannot be solved until one finds
out why students perform poorly in reading even their textbooks. Given that
there are teachers to guide the students, it is disheartening to observe that
only 6 out of 53 public secondary schools in Nsukka Education Zone registered
students for French language for the 2009/2010 Junior School Certificate
Examination (JSCE). It can be assumed that the students’ poor performance in
reading may not be primarily because they lack interest and capability. The
problem may, therefore, lie in the readability of the recommended French
textbooks themselves. Therefore, the problem of the study, posed as a question,
is: to what extent do the students of Junior Secondary School (JSS) in Nsukka
Education Zone find the different sections of
(On y va! ) readable?
Purpose of the
The general purpose of the study was
to determine the readability of the prescribed French textbook, the On y va!
for JSS 3, in Nsukka Education Zone of Enugu State. Specifically, the study
attempted to find out the;
Extent of ease of
understanding of different sections of the text by the students of JSS 3 in
Degree to which
different sections of the text interest the students.
Legibility of the
print of different sections of the book to the students.
different sections of the book by male and female students.
different sections of the text by urban and rural students.
Significance of the
The study promises some remarkable
contributions to the teaching and learning of French in our secondary schools.
It is the researcher’s hope that the finding of this study will help the French
language students, teachers, textbook writers, curriculum designers, examiners,
researcher and readability specialists.
Theoretically, the study will be
beneficial to researchers and readability scholars by throwing some light in
the current controversy on whether the schema theory or the text-centred is the
main determinant of a text’s readability. As the study will adopt an eclectic
approach to readability which comprises some elements of the two theories, it
will demonstrate whether the text-centred theorists’ insistence on coherence as
the major readability indicator actually translates to comprehension or not, as
well as whether the schema theorists’ emphasis on the relationship between
background knowledge and text readability is indeed indispensable.
Also, the study will expose the
learners to the aspects of their text that are contributing to their apparent
reading problem. This will help them to design their own strategies to make the
best use of the text and improve their reading effectiveness. This approach
will help the students in simplifying On y va! and in making it possible for
them to enjoy more meaningfully the rich communicative exercises there-in, and
in so doing, build up their own confidence in the study and mastery of the
Besides, the study will equip the
French teachers with the knowledge of how their students actually feel about
the textbook they are using, the On y va! With this knowledge, the teachers
will be on a proper pedestal to tackle the reading difficulties their students
are facing with the book. The study will equally help to direct their attention
to the aspects and sections of the book that the students are least comfortable
with, and as a result, provide them with some helpful clues on how best to go
about their lessons for maximum impact.
In addition, the study will inspire
the authors of On y va! and other French textbook writers to review their books
in a way that will make them more reader friendly. It will help them to address
the readability of their books more objectively. They will also be equipped
with some information that can form the basis for making decisions about
grouping and sequencing of items and the kind of drills and exercises which the
students would be presented to practice.
Moreover, the study will provide
information on reading difficulties and readability problem of the recommended
textbooks to curriculum designers. Such information can be built into the
French language materials and syllabuses. With this, the job of the curriculum
experts will be more comprehensive, objective and meaningful.
Furthermore, the study will be of
immense benefit to French language examiners by making their work easier. For
instance, if the students through the findings of this work get to read their
text better and with ease, they are most likely going to listen and speak
better, and read and write more effectively. With this improvement, the
examiners will be saved the embarrassment, disappointment and frustration they
normally face when students speak or read very poorly or even refuse to make
any attempt during oral examination. Similarly, examiners will have their work
made easier when the severity of the atrocious French that the students
normally write is reduced.
Scope of the Study
This study was restricted to Nsukka
Education Zone of Enugu State. The zone has both urban and rural settings and
houses two of the schools that were recently used for the Enugu State French
Language Pilot School Scheme.
The study examined the extent of ease of
understanding of different sections of On y va! by JSS III students. These
sections are as follows: dialogues (on the first page of every unit), speech
acts (on the second page of every unit), comprehension exercises (on the third
and the seventh pages of every unit), grammatical structures (on the fourth and
the fifth pages of every unit) and written exercises (on the last page of every
unit). The study also found out the degree to which the different sections of the
text interest the students. Besides, it found out the extent of legibility of
print of different sections of the textbook. It equally examined the
readability of different sections of the text by male and female students, as
well as by urban and rural students.
The following research questions
guided the study
To what extent are
different sections of On y va! easy to understand by JSS 3 students in Nsukka
To what degree do
different sections of On y va! interest JSS 3 students?
How legible are the prints of different
sections of On y va! to JSS 3 students?
To what extent are
the different sections of On y va! readable by male and female students?
How readable are the
different sections of On y va! by urban and rural JSS 3 students?
The following null hypotheses were
formulated to guide this study. Each was tested at 0.05 level of significance.
HO1: There is no
significant difference between the mean scores of male and female JSS3 students
on the readability of On y va!
HO2: There is no
significant difference between the mean scores of urban and rural JSS3 students
on the readability of On y va!
HO3: There is no
significant interaction effect of gender and location on the mean scores of JSS
3 students on the readability of On y va!