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1.1 Background of the study

The English language is studied and used as a school language of instruction from upper primary to tertiary level of education. This implies that is not the mother tongue nor the first language of any of the 3 major ethnic languages in Nigeria. According to Uzochukwu (2010), the English language is indigenous to Britain and the first contact by Nigerians with the English language dated back to the coming of the British to the West African coast in the 18th century as traders.

The Europeans discovered that their main purpose for coming to Nigeria which was mainly for the commercial exploitation of the region was made difficult because of language issue, therefore they had no option than to introduce the English language to the natives as a language of the classroom and it paved way for their success.

 Anagboso (2010), records that they taught the coastal middle men the type of English only meant for buying and selling. As time went on, the language progressed and later become popular in the country with the Europeans coming as colonial masters making Lagos a colony of Britain in 1862.

English language later assumed an important position in Nigeria as the official language. In the absence of a nation’s language, the English language was accepted as the language of the government, education, commerce, mass media and above all, language of instruction in the school setting. Other aspects of the relevance of English such as the language for national development, educational advancement, social mobility, technological acquisition etc; make the study of English to become more important as its roles and relevance expand.

English has been widely used in the propagation of education in Nigeria; this seems to be the most important function of English in our society. In all the levels of education in Nigeria, the English language is the most widely used language of instructions. This has been given backing by the Nigerian educational policy (2013) which makes it mandatory for the English language to be the only language of instructions in our schools from upper primary, at the secondary and tertiary level. The indigenous languages are often used mostly at lower primary level of education. English, being the language of educational instruction in Nigeria schools it also serves as the language of educational evaluation in our schools. This is applicable at all the levels of educational institutions in Nigeria. In primary schools, English language is used in conducting examinations at the first school leaving certificates (F.S.L.C). In the secondary schools, it is used in testing the students’ proficiency not only in English language but in every other subjects, in the used of English in the Senior secondary school examinations (J.S.C.E) and the senior secondary school examinations (S.S.C.E). English is also used in evaluating students’ communication ability, in the university Joint Matriculation Examination (JAMB) and the Monotechnic/Polytechnic Joint Matriculation Examination (POLYJAMB) before they are given placement in these institutions since this is the major language of instruction in schools.     

There are large numbers of books that are written in English language. If English is abolished today, it will affect the education system, unless and until the books are translated into various regional languages, it will affect education. For a student to go to abroad for study he/she will have learnt English well. But if the command of English is poor, he or she will face difficulty in adjusting with the alien environment. That is to say, good knowledge of English language promotes the study of every subject be it literature and philosophy, the charms of Shakespeare and Milton can alone be appreciated in their original works written in English.

In schools, efforts have been made to improve the students’ mastery of the English language, especially in the areas of basic skills of listening, speaking reading and writing. Among these four basic skills, achieving the goal of effective writing competence seems to be far from being realized. Evidence of this bounds in the type of tense errors committed by students in their essay writing. Tense error means when the verb is inconsistent within a sentence or when modifiers are unnecessarily added and change tense, verb in the other hand is a word that shows action, being or state of being. It is the most important word in a sentence because it tells us something about the subject, that is, the person or thing spoken about. A verb is a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence and forming the main part of the predicate of a sentence such as hear, become, happen, etc while essay is a piece of writing on a particular topic, usually from an author’s point of view.

Essay can be literary criticism, political manifesto, learn argument, observations of daily life, recollections and reflection of author. English is a medium of instruction in schools. It is in the light of this that this study sets to examine the students’ tense errors in English essay. Historically  when language competence and performance of the use of tense in English essay in secondary school students is with errors, their performance in other disciple have to be affected. As offensive as the tense errors maybe what is more important and beneficial to the students is how these tense errors should be corrected and be avoided as well as how to get communicative competence of students enhanced and this is the aim of this project.

In the Nigerian school system, the English language is both a teaching subject and a language of instruction particularly at the primary and post primary levels. But in the tertiary level university, an English language course is usually organized by general studies units; One of the aims of this course, according to Ibileye (2007) is to impact the necessary language skills which the students need to know for their effective study and life generally. It is also the expectation of the universities and the Nigerian society that a graduate should perform well in the English language with competence especially in the literary skills such as in essay writing or oral communication.

The secondary school students are found wanting in this regard, especially in the area of written communication with too many tense errors in their written works becomes questionable if they are taught English language at all and something needs to be done to help solve this problem of poor English usage among the Senior secondary school students. The situation prompts this survey on the tense errors in essay writing among Senior secondary school students to determine their areas of difficulty. The study is expected to provide evaluative information to the solution of the problem. This study will attempt to carry out survey in students’ oral communication and essay speaking and writing in English language.

1.2   Statement of the Problem

It is a fact that there are many students who find their way into secondary school with poor background in English, inherent in these students is the problem of poor expression in the English language. This is evident in the incessant error committed by the Senior secondary school students’ in essay writing. It is very disgusting and disheartening that senior secondary school students cannot communicate their thought well in a narrative essay. This situation calls for mental focus because they are prospective undergraduate students who will be expose  to a higher  level of learning  and  its requires  the transfer of knowledge  they have gained at the Senior secondary  school to tertiary level.

A learner needs to learn certain structures in the English language to enable him/her to produce correct language. Tense error is a common problem among learners. English language specialists are highly critical about tense errors in learners writing.

1.3 Objective of the study

The general objective of this study is to determine the factors militating against correct use of past tense in essay writing among Senior Secondary School Students in Barkin Ladi. Specific objectives were:

  1. To determine the factors that cause tense errors among students.
  2. To determine the teachers’ factors that lead to tense errors among students.
  3. To provide solutions to the factors that cause tense errors.

1.4 Research questions

  1. What are the factors that cause tense errors among students?
  2. What are the teachers’ factors that cause tense errors among students?
  3. What are the solutions to the proposed factors that cause tense errors?

1.5 Significance of the Study

The fallen standard of education generally could be attributed to poor comprehension of the English language lessons by the students. This is due to the fact that English language serves as a bed rock for understanding other disciplines of learning, students communicate mostly through writing in the official language and it is on the basis that this work focuses on the student written essay.

An investigation into the phenomenon of errors committed by this category of students is relevant because it will provide a feedback to the students on their language performance. Awareness of such errors will eventually empower them in making serious effort to learn the correct usage.

            The study will give the teachers an insight into the areas of difficulties that obstruct the students’ progress and guide them to adjust their teaching strategies for better result. Since an error analysis expresses areas of weaknesses of the students, it will be a source of information for the teachers on the places to lay emphasis on, the cause of teaching the students.

            Textbooks writers will find the research useful because it will help them to identify areas of problems for students and focus attention on such areas of problems for students’ better performance.

It is strongly expected that students, teacher, curriculum designers and textbook writers will benefit immensely from the findings and recommendations made this work. This will go a long way to enhance good writing and correct expression in students writing.

It will provide variable information for designing a remedial syllabus, authors of the English language textbooks will find the research useful because it will help them to identify areas of problems for students and to focus attention on these areas in their publications.

1.6   Scope of the study

The study covers factors militating against the correct use of past tense in essay writing among senior secondary school students. It will revolve around the factors that cause tense errors among students and the teachers’ factors that lead to tense errors among students. The study will be restricted to selected secondary schools in Barkin-Ladi Local Government Area. Despite the fact that the study is restricted to the selected schools and local government area, its findings will be generalized to other parts of the state and country as a whole.

1.7       Definition of Terms

Tense: is any form of a verb that may be used to show the time of action or state expressed in the verb usage either in the present, past and future tense.

Error: is a systematic deviation from the target language use by a non-native speaker of a language. It could be a deviant structures or unacceptable utterance that signifies imperfect knowledge of linguistic code.

School: is a formal institution for educating children. Is also a place for teaching and learning.

Language: is a particular way or style of speaking, it is the system of sounds and words used by humans.


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