Motshekga defends use of African languages
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.