Mot­shekga de­fends use of African lan­guages

Business Day - - POLITICS & SOCIETY - BEKEZELA PHAKATHI phakathib@bdfm.co.za

CAPE TOWN — Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Angie Mot­shekga yes­ter­day de­fended the govern­ment’s plan to start phas­ing in the learn­ing of an African lan­guage at all South African schools, say­ing sci­en­tific re­search showed that chil­dren who study in their first lan­guages for the first years of school­ing per­form bet­ter.

Ms Mot­shekga said that “his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural op­pres­sion makes peo­ple iden­tify more with a for­eign lan­guage(English lan­guage) dom­i­nant cul­ture”, which was a chal­lenge that needed to be ad­dressed. There has been de­bate about the use of English as the medium of in­struc­tion in South African schools, with some re­ports sug­gest­ing that par­ents pre­ferred English to be used from early years of learn­ing be­cause the econ­omy is or­gan­ised in English.

Ear­lier this month, Free State Univer­sity rec­tor Jonathan Jansen was quoted as say­ing English could also be ama­jor so­lu­tion to the ed­u­ca­tion cri­sis.

Speaking at a press brief­ing on the side­lines of the In­ter­na­tional Lan­guage and De­vel­op­ment Con­fer­ence, co-hosted by the Depart­ment of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion and the Bri­tish Coun­cil, Ms Mot­shekga said: “The whole ques­tion of psy­cho­log­i­cal alien­ation of Africans cul­tur­ally and lin­guis­ti­cally does not dis­ap­pear with free­dom.

“You know in our coun­try, if you speak English well, prob­a­bly you are a clever African; worse still, if you speak it with an ‘ac­cent’, you are the best.

“It is re­ally his­tor­i­cal is­sues; it is not sci­en­tific (to say chil­dren per­form bet­ter when taught in English), for us be­cause we use sci­en­tific ev­i­dence we are able to get par­ents out of this colonised mind(set) … par­ents are able to see the value of African lan­guages,” the min­is­ter said.

She said the an­nual na­tional assess­ments made a case that chil­dren should study in their first lan­guages for the first years of learn­ing, and then be in­tro­duced to an ad­di­tional lan­guage.

Ms Mot­shekga said chil­dren who had been taught in their home lan­guages per­formed bet­ter in the assess­ments.

“Par­ents can see the ev­i­dence (and) it has made the bat­tle much eas­ier”, she said.

Ms Mot­shekga said for the first few years of school­ing, pupils use their home lan­guage as the lan­guage of teach­ing and learn­ing, and used English from grade 1. “We only be­gan this last year … in the past our chil­dren were only in­tro­duced to English in the third year.

“So we have moved it back to enable them to ac­quire lan­guages much ear­lier,” Ms Mot­shekga said.

The Depart­ment of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion an­nounced ear­lier this year that it was pre­par­ing for the in­tro­duc­tion of African lan­guages as an ad­di­tional lan­guage sub­ject at all schools next year, by phas­ing it in at se­lected schools in each prov­ince in the coun­try.

The depart­ment says the in­cre­men­tal in­tro­duc­tion of African lan­guages pol­icy in­tends to pro­mote and de­velop the pre­vi­ously marginalised lan­guages, thereby in­creas­ing the use of African lan­guages by all pupils in the school­ing sys­tem.

The depart­ment says that the lan­guage se­lec­tions made by school gov­ern­ing bod­ies of­ten fail to pro­mote pupils’ African lan­guages, forc­ing them to learn English and Afrikaans in­stead.

Bri­tish Coun­cil CE Martin David­son said “there is no ques­tion that the UK ben­e­fits from the fact that English is a medium of in­ter­na­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but it is ab­so­lutely within our over­all set of be­liefs that it is English within the con­text of mul­tilin­gual­ism … not English as a dom­i­nant lan­guage”.

“For us it is crit­i­cal that English is learnt along­side other lan­guages not in­stead of other lan­guages … one of the big­gest prob­lems we have in the UK is that we are in­creas­ingly a mono­lin­gual, not a mul­ti­lin­gual, so­ci­ety.

“We be­lieve the ad­van­tage in the fu­ture will lie with those who are able to un­der­stand other cul­tures … and speak those lan­guages, (and) this re­quires a mul­ti­lin­gual as­pect of ed­u­ca­tion,” Mr David­son said.

He said the Bri­tish Coun­cil was cam­paign­ing for the in­tro­duc­tion of other lan­guages in the UK’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

Angie Mot­shekga

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