[lg policy] South Africa: Let ’s not make reckless changes to the language policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jan 16 15:49:22 UTC 2010

Let’s not make reckless changes to the language policy

I GENERALLY agree with Laura Miti’s comments and enjoy her column. But
I only partly agree with her views on language policy (DD, January
12). To support mother tongue instruction is not a “romanticised”
notion. Mother tongue instruction is exactly what matric learners
lack; they have to learn, and to express themselves, in English. A
fairly distant dream (sadly) would be to allow all learners their
basic human right – to write matric in their mother tongue, and to
continue to study in their mother tongue beyond that, as Japanese,
Chinese and German students do, while learning to use English
proficiently for academic reading and national/international

However, for the present, it is vital that we do not make reckless
decisions about changing the language policy in primary education. The
South African Language in Education Policy is, in the view of many
educationalists, correct. Educational research all over the world has
long confirmed that it is educationally, psychologically and socially
sound for children to start learning in their mother tongue in order
to promote cognitive abilities. Our policy proposes additive
bilingualism, ie: once a child has developed basic literacy they can
move on to developing literacy in other languages, for example
English. If necessary, they can then use English as a language of
learning. Other African countries, like Zambia, that promoted English
as medium of instruction from Grade 1 in the l960s were forced to face
the damaging impact of that policy and reverted to mother tongue first
in the 21st century.

We desperately need, not to change our additive bilingualism policy,
but to implement it effectively. And for that we need good language
teachers in all the languages. We also need to improve the language
proficiency of teachers of other learning areas as well.

If the government and higher education institutions take seriously the
urgent need to improve the quality of language teachers and materials
at all levels, but particularly at foundation phase, the linguistic
difficulties of matriculants that Miti described so accurately and
movingly, will become a thing of the past. It is not the only reason
for the matriculation crisis, but I agree it is a vital one. —
Lorraine Lawrence, East London



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