English to become optional in South African schools

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Tue May 17 13:24:02 UTC 2005


English to become optional at school

JOHANNESBURG - English will no longer be a compulsory language in South
African schools, it was revealed yesterday.

The Sunday Times reported pupils will be able choose any two of the 11
official languages when the Further Education and Training (FET) system is
rolled out - possibly as early as next year. The new system will replace
the senior certificate matric exams and usher in a new era for Grade 10,
11 and 12 pupils. Tomorrow Education Minister Naledi Pandor will announce
during her budget speech whether the system will be introduced next year
or in 2007. The new system will revolutionise school education by:

Making English and Afrikaans optional and offering pupils the chance to
study any two of the official languages;

l Making life orientation a compulsory subject;

l Trimming the curriculum to offer just 31 subjects; and

l Making maths or maths literacy compulsory.

It will also see the current grading format of A to F symbols changed to a
new system of 1 to 6 - which is linked to percentages in the same manner
symbols are linked. The system is in line with the government's plan for
universities to teach in indigenous languages, as suggested in a
ministerial report handed to Pandor earlier this year.

The Education Department's director for higher education policy and
development support, Dr Pamela Dube, said her department was reviewing the
FET policy as it would affect entry requirements to university. "Obviously
there would be some modification in terms of entry requirements. We are
awaiting recommendations." English academics have criticised the language
policy, while parent and teacher bodies said schools may not be ready for
an early roll-out.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal's Professor Jean-Philippe Wade dismissed
the policy as "absolute nonsense". "As it stands, the level of teaching
English at schools is absolutely appalling. It draws attention away from
improving the teaching of English." Professor Henry Thipa, chairman of the
Pan SA Language Board, said allowing for a choice of languages was in line
with the Constitution.

But, he said, making English optional was "not so commendable". Paul
Colditz, of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools,
said issues like teacher training and the supply of support material such
as textbooks must be resolved before the roll-out. Vincent Maphumulo of
the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu)  said he was
concerned that not all schools were ready, especially those in rural
areas. Sadtu had no problem with English not being compulsory.

Meanwhile, Pandor said in a speech at the University of Zululand at the
weekend that Africans must stop the "spirit of entitlement" that leaves
them waiting for others to take action for them. "Despite the writings and
teachings of scholars and leaders such as WEB du Bois, Julius Nyerere,
Walter Rodney and Kwame Nkurumah, our African peoples appear trapped in a
vortex of seeking action by others and a refusal to become independent
crafters of their own destinies," Pandor said.

She congratulated the university's leadership on its striving for positive
change. Her department was "progressively achieving" the national plan for
higher education's objectives. The plan made the higher education system a
major contributor to South Africa's development, would allow greater
access to education and produce skilled and competent graduates.

There had been a dramatic increase in the enrolment of black and women
students at tertiary institutions. The government had increased the
National Student Financial Aid Scheme budget from R20 million in 1994 to
R1,2 billion this year. Because this aid would be "frittered away" if
recipients didn't graduate, academic development programmes needed to be
put in place to ensure students succeeded, she said.

Academic institutions needed to ensure they equipped students to
participate in the country's economic life. "Some of our institutions
imagine they are on another continent: few acknowledge our indigenous
languages and even fewer teach and focus on our history," Pandor said. -

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