Home-tongue teaching 'a must'

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Wed May 18 12:52:27 UTC 2005

Home-tongue teaching 'a must'
16/05/2005 22:32  - (SA)

Alet Rademeyer

Pretoria - The relation between performance and instruction in the
mother-tongue is so strong that it cannot be ignored, says Duncan Hindle,
new director-general of education. Hindle says the department of education
has just done an evaluation of about 35 000 Grade 6 pupils countrywide to
measure their performance. The report will probably be made public at the
end of this month.

Hindle said: "Some of the findings are fascinating. It cannot be denied
that learners who did well are those who were taught in their home
language, in other words, in Afrikaans and English. "There should be more
opportunities where learners are taught in their home language for at
least the first three to four years." Hindle said that, at this stage, it
was difficult because the decision about a school's language policy was
left to the governing body.

'Best to begin in your home language' "And, furthermore, there are many
parents who, for understandable reasons choose Afrikaans or English as the
language in which their children should be taught. "They do not want
something different." Hindle said "all educational research shows that
even if one switches over to another language, it is best to begin in your
home language".

"Important concepts, ideas and thinking are laid down in the home
language." People who later switched over to another language did not have
problems with transferring these skills. According to Hindle, there were
people who said that "if this evidence is so clear, why should the
language decision be left to parents and why doesn't the department
enforce teaching in a learner's home language?".

"The department does not want to do this and it would be very difficult."
In relatively homogeneous communities, such as KwaZulu-Natal, it might be
easier to bring in Zulu, but what about schools in Soweto where more than
a dozen languages were spoken? Hindle said: "But, the relation between
performance and instruction in learner' home language is so strong that it
cannot be ignored and the department is going to emphasise it."

Theuns Horne, an expert on literacy and the impact of mother-tongue
instruction in the workplace, confirmed the education department's

Damage can be caused

He referred to a study among 258 top candidates selected for bursaries at
an industrial giant, in which it was also clear that those who had been
taught in their mother tongue had performed better by far than the others.

"Language plays an extremely important role in a person's cognitive
development. Great damage is caused if this does not happen.

"The problem in South Africa is that there are so many people who cannot
read and, for this reason, cannot learn either.

"Many people understand nothing of what is conveyed to them in English."

Edited by Iaine Harper

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