[lg policy] Botswana: LANGUAGE: A Barrier to Literacy in Gantsi

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Mar 11 14:10:49 UTC 2010

LANGUAGE: A Barrier to Literacy in Gantsi
Written by EDITOR
Wednesday, 10 March 2010 12:00

“……..technology is very vital in today’s world, computers made it
possible for globalisation….” Blah blah blah the teacher continues!!!!
Cukuri Xara sits in front of the class, attentively staring at the
teacher teaching about the importance of technology. The majority of
Cukuri’s classmates are Basarwa.  In Gantsi, there are three main
spoken languages namely; Shekalahari, Seherero and Sesarwa. Junior
secondary schools admit students from New Xade, Bere, D’kar, Xanagas,
Hanahai and Kuke. Almost all these students are Basarwa and
comprehension of English and Setswana is a challenge they face from
Standard One up to Form Three.

In our current education system, only English and Setswana are used in
all public schools for both communication and teaching. For unifying
the nation, the Government got everything right by adopting Setswana
as our main language; this can make us proud as Batswana and Setswana
acting as a catalyst to a united and proud nation. However, language
is a major setback in acquiring reading and writing skills for Gantsi
children. Research shows that if someone hears and associates with
what is being spoken, he/she can comprehend the speaker’s words.

For effective learning to take place, communication between two people
must also be effective. Communication can be verbal or visual.
Verbally, language is a tool through which information is shared and
understood by both parties. When we are listening to a speech,
lecture, song or anything in English, our minds unconsciously
translate what we hear to our mother-tongue languages. We learn
through listening; paying close attention to, and making sense of what
we hear. Students spend almost 90 percent of their time listening than
doing any other activity; more than reading, more than writing, and
even more than talking.

Hearing, translating and comprehending information occurs at different
levels. For Setswana speakers, it is English-Setswana, for
Bakgalagadi, it is English- Setswana-Shekalari, for Basarwa it becomes
English-Setswana-Shekalahari-Sesarwa. For Setswana speaking students,
one translation level is not as tiresome and time consuming as Sesarwa
speaking students who undergo three levels. Meaning of what was being
said by the teacher can be distorted if translation errors occur.

Basarwa and Baherero students do not speak nor understand Setswana
well. Baherero say Setswana is for Batswana, and Basarwa say Setswana
is for Bakweni. They have negative attitudes towards other languages,
and this makes it impossible for learning and listening to occur.
Research asserts that students with highest grades are usually those
with strongest listening skills, and lower grades are associated with
poor listening skills.

Cukuri and other children find the learning process unfair and
difficult, and as a result they resort to dodging lessons and school.
They spend most of their time at shebeens and shopping complexes
begging for handouts from strangers. Some desert school and go back to
settlements or farms. Those with the will to stay in school are
burdened with ridicule from other students, and punishment by teachers
for failing tests and assignments.

They have lost hope and vision in education; they feel useless and
unwanted in a system where only kids with good grades are recognised
and rewarded by teachers and the Government. They cannot voice out
their worries and difficulties even in Setswana. Their faces are
covered with sorrow and remorse, souls in wilderness wishing to write
JC examinations even at Form Two.

Government must review language policy. At least at primary schools,
most subjects must be taught using first language (mother-tongue).
Countries like China uses Chinese to teach, and majority of students
understand many concepts as they can relate well to what is being
spoken. If we stick to the current language policy, many people will
be left illiterate, and our Vision 2016 pillar of an Educated and
Informed nation will remain a pipedream.

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