Mother-tongue education (part 1)

(I am currently researching and developing a position on mother-tongue education in South Africa for the Shuttleworth Foundation. This is the first in a series of posts on this topic.)

School where isiXhosa-speaking learners attend The Western Cape Education Department’s (WCED) Language Transformation Plan will promote six years of mother-tongue-based bilingual education, where practicable. Currently only grades 1-3 receive mother-tongue bilingual education. A pilot project is underway with 16 schools in the province where certain subjects are being taught in isiXhosa. The WCED claims positive results thus far: isiXhosa learners are far more lively in class, their academic performance is improving, and learner and educator self-esteem is growing.

I met with Prof Zubeida Desai, Dean of Education at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), who has been directly involved in a similar project, called Loitasa. Her views are as follows:

  • There is no doubt that mother-tongue bilingual education is a good thing. It allows learners to develop cognitive skills because they can focus on the subject being taught without having to struggle with language issues.
  • In Norway, learners are taught in Norwegian, but learn English as a subject. Most Norwegian learners speak relatively good English. The same goes for Holland.The key is that English is taught in an engaging way and for communication purposes.
  • In SA, we have learners who are taught in English from grades 4-12 and yet many leave school as very poor English speakers.

Essentially, Zubeida believes that English is crucial for living and working in the world today. Mother-tongue education should not be about doing away with English. Rather, for learners, it should allow learning in a language that is familiar, while at the same time learning English as a subject in an effective and engaging manner.

Image by Crivins via Flickr (CC)

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One response to “Mother-tongue education (part 1)

  1. I AGREE WITH THAT STATEMENT AND BELIEVE I AM LIVING PROOF THAT LEARNING IN ONE’S MOTHER TONGUE DOES MAKE THINGS ALOT EASIER. IN ADDITION, ALTHOUGH ENGLISH IS MY ADDITIONAL LANGUAGE I AM HOWEVER STILL A VERY COMPETENT AND PROFICIENT USER OF THE LANGUAGE, AND MY HOME LANGUAGE, AS OPPOSE TO LEARNERS WHO HAVE BEEN TAUGHT IN ENGLISH BUT HAS A OTHER LANGUAGE AS THEIR MOTHER TONGUE. THESE LEARNERS THEN END UP STRUGGLING TO BE COMPETENT IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGE AS WELL AS IN ENGLISH. ALSO, WITH THE MEDIA AND INTERNET ETC. ENGLISH IS ALL AROUND US AND IS EASIER TO LEARN BECAUSE OF THE ASSISTANCE OF THE MEDIA AS OPPOSE TO OTHER AFRICAN LANGUAGES

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