South Africa: Schools set for major language shake-up

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed May 31 12:59:25 UTC 2006

Schools set for major language shake-up

By Brett Adkins Garden Route Bureau Chief

THE Western Cape education department is about to announce a new
language-in-education transformation plan to improve pupils' marks by
teaching them in their mother tongue for as long as possible. This was
announced by Education MEC Cameron Dugmore at a conference on language
solutions in education held at the Cape Teaching Institute in Kuils River
at the weekend. Dugmore said research had shown quite clearly that using
the mother-tongue approach provided children with an improved chance of
success in their later education. Now the department plans to announce
targets to schools to achieve the language transformation.

Dugmore said the first target would be that, wherever possible, pupils
should have mother-tongue instruction until the end of Grade 6. We have
many careful plans to make this happen properly and in stages. It can
never just happen overnight. Dugmore said linguists were of the opinion
that language and identity were completely intertwined. We have a number
of habits that have developed in our country and around the world for that
matter and we understand all the historical influences that have pushed us
into this place.

One habit was that people were increasingly choosing English as a medium,
even when their home language was Afrikaans or Xhosa. We are making our
children turn their backs on their own languages. We are practising what
they call subtractive bilingualism--we are simply giving up our own
languages for the perceived or imagined benefits of another one. He said
it had to be remembered that the country had a policy of additive
bilingualism or even multilingualism. This would mean at least three years
of trilingualism for all pupils before the end of the general education
and training (GET) band. We plan to make sure that all three of the
languages of the province are given status.

We're saying that no-one need stop using his or her language. We want to
grow language pride if others are learning my language then it helps me to
know that my language is also valued. My self-esteem grows. Dugmore said
South Africans needed to keep their own language strong and add more
languages to it. To this end, the provincial education department was
planning to encourage, firstly, bilingualism the home language plus a very
strong additional language. English would probably be either the first or
the second of these two. A third language would be added later.

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