Original Research

Cultural taboos in mediating science in a Namibian bilingual primary school

Joanne Hardman, Beata Set
Reading & Writing | Vol 14, No 1 | a399 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/rw.v14i1.399 | © 2023 Joanne Hardman, Beata Set | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 July 2022 | Published: 31 August 2023

About the author(s)

Joanne Hardman, School of Education, Faculty of Humanities, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Beata Set, Department of Education, Faculty of Humanities, University of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia


Background: The need to meet the demands of education in the 21st century has seen Namibia move, after democracy in 1990, from a segregationist educational system to an inclusive one in a bid to develop students’ capacities to think critically, particularly in science. Research indicates that cultural taboos can impact on how science knowledge is transmitted to and acquired by students.

Objectives: The objective of this study is to investigate whether and how cultural taboos impact on the teaching of science in a Grade 4 class in Namibia.

Method: Using a single case study design, we investigate the impact of cultural taboos on students’ acquisition of concepts relating to sexual reproduction and excretion, focusing on the extent to which cultural taboos influence talk as a mediating tool.

Results: Findings indicate that cultural taboos silence students and impede the teacher’s ability to unpack sensitive concepts in science, potentially creating misunderstandings.

Conclusion: Cultural taboos impact how effectively sensitive science concepts are mediated in this context.

Contribution: This article adds to the knowledge of cultural taboos in science teaching but also develops a view of science teaching in a disadvantaged rural area where children are being taught in English, not their mother tongue. The use of cultural historical theory, we feel, also adds a fairly tale lens to the understanding of how scientific concepts must be linked to everyday concepts for student acquisition.


cultural taboos; language; mediation; cultural historical theory; primary school.


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Crossref Citations

1. Examining the reading comprehension pedagogical practices developed by ESL teachers in Namibian primary schools
Marta Ndakalako Alumbungu, Nhlanhla Mpofu
Language and Education  first page: 1  year: 2023  
doi: 10.1080/09500782.2023.2292597