[lg policy] South Africa: Can Basic Education=?windows-1252?Q?=92s_?=new language policy work?
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Thu Jun 13 13:55:06 UTC 2013
Analysis: Can Basic Education’s new language policy work?
- Rebecca Davis
- South Africa <http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/section/south-africa/>
- 12 Jun 2013 01:31 (South Africa)
“A new policy will come into effect in 2014 mandating the learning of an
African language in all schools,” announced Basic Education Minister Angie
Motshekga just over three weeks ago, upon delivering her department’s
budget speech. Since then, details of what this might look like have been
scant. On Tuesday, however, the parliamentary portfolio committee on
education heard a little more about it – and it sounds like the policy may
simultaneously be too much (in terms of timeframes and teachers) and too
little (in terms of the intended effects). By REBECCA DAVIS.
Few details have been forthcoming up to now as to the Department of Basic
Education’s proposed new language policy. In response to questions posed by
the *Mercury* newspaper<http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-06-12-analysis-can-basic-educations-new-language-policy-work/#.Ubdav5rfr4g>following
Motshekga’s budget speech, the department said that an African
language would be introduced “incrementally” to students in Grades R and 1.
The department also said it would be phasing in the policy already this
year at selected schools in each province.
In comments made to
the same time, department spokesman Panyaza Lisufi indicated that the
policy had been in the works for three years. Lisufi described the policy’s
purpose as being “for unity in our country”, saying that “social cohesion
is the reason we have started the programme”. The move within basic
education is paralleled by at least one initiative in higher education, as
the University of KwaZulu Natal has announced its
make isiZulu language classes compulsory for all first-year students
At Tuesday’s meeting of the parliamentary portfolio committee on education,
it fell to Mathanzima Mweli (Acting Deputy Director General: Curriculum) to
give an outline of what he called the IIAL: Incremental Implementation of
African Languages. The policy, Mweli said, is “long overdue”, and he added
that there was ample empirical evidence to suggest there is a “desperate
need” for it.
Explaining the legislative background to the policy, Mweli said that it
flows from the constitutional provisions about languages: Section 6
requires that “all official languages must enjoy parity of esteem and must
be treated equitably”. The South African Bill of Rights provides for
everyone to receive an education in the official language of their choice,
Mweli pointed out, though there are two caveats: in *public* institutions,
where this is “reasonably practicable”.
Multilingualism in South African education has been policy on paper since
1996’s “Language in Education
which clearly states that “being multilingual should be a defining
characteristic of being South African”, in order to “counter any
particularistic ethnic chauvinism or separatism through mutual
understanding”. As Mweli noted, the passage from policy in 1996 to
implementation in 2014 represents a “considerable period”.
He pointed out that there have been a number of provincial initiatives with
regards to raising the status of African languages running for some time.
In the Eastern Cape, for instance, a pilot project is testing the
introduction of Xhosa as the language of learning and teaching at the
intermediate phase (Grade 4 – 6) in 74 schools. Often, however,
well-meaning initiatives in this vein from schools have been left to the
support of governing bodies rather than the government. Mweli pointed here
to the Western Cape, where from 2006 a number of “former Model C schools”
voluntarily requested the introduction of African languages but failed to
receive backup from government. Similar situations have played out in the
North West province and Mpumalanga. In certain cases, groups of schools
have clubbed together to share the expenses of African language-teaching.
It appears that the sense of urgency around the Department of Basic
Education’s move to accelerate the quality and quantity of African language
teaching at this point is due to an increasing belief that many of the
problems in the country’s education system can be placed at the feet of a
language issue. “Learning outcomes are poor because of poor language
proficiency,” Mweli said. “Research has confirmed this on various
occasions, but very little has been done by institutions or civil society
to address this problem.”
So what’s the plan? Well, it’s to improve proficiency in, and the utility
of, previously marginalized African languages, by introducing learners to
learn an African language “incrementally” by Grade R.
While many may be on board with the principles behind the idea, Mweli was
least convincing when it came to laying out how, practically, this would be
achieved. The availability of teachers was not a problem, he said; only the
availability of paid teaching posts, which would have to be budgeted for.
This seemed a direct contradiction of a point made earlier in the meeting
by the Department of Higher Education’s Dr Green, who stated that the South
African education system had “huge difficulty” attracting African language
school leaders to work at the foundation phase.
When it came to all the new textbooks which would be required – in a
context where, obviously, many of the old ones are not reaching their
intended learners – Mweli was similarly reassuring, stating that the
department had “developed capacity” to make the necessary workbooks
The policy is by no means set in stone yet; it will still be put out for
public comment. Mweli said they would also be launching an “aggressive
campaign” targeting parents and learners to win support for the measure.
The DA’s Shadow Minister for Basic Education Annette Lovemore expressed
skepticism over the timeframes, given that the policy is supposed to be
implemented in 2014: it’s already mid-year, she pointed out, and the draft
policy still has to be released for public comment, a final policy decided
on, and only then can implementation begin.
In general, most of the MPs present expressed cautious approval for the
idea, though one expressed confusion over one element of Mweli’s
presentation. It appeared, she said, that one of the African languages from
which learners would be permitted to pick would be Afrikaans. Stressing
that she did not mean her point to sound “racist”, she nonetheless asked:
if Afrikaans is counted as an African language, what will meaningfully
change in the current situation?
It is certainly a valid question if one of the policy’s stated aims – as
has been repeatedly stressed – is “greater social cohesion”, as well as the
need to raise the status of “previously marginalized” languages. If
Afrikaans can indeed be substituted for a majority language like isiXhosa
or isiZulu, in the policy’s parameters, then the department will open
themselves up to the suggestion that they are not meaningfully shifting the
status quo. Mweli provided little clarification after the fact, however,
saying only that the department was grateful for the committee’s “sound
advice”, and that they hoped to return soon with a more concrete policy.
Any move to foster multilingualism in as socially-fractured country as
South Africa should presumably be welcomed. But a question which will need
to be addressed is as follows: how will the additional teaching of African
languages escape the wider systemic problems of the education system?
During Tuesday’s meeting, portfolio committee members consistently lamented
the quality of teaching more generally.
One problem raised was the low status accorded to teaching as a profession
in South Africa, which was suggested as a reason for an inability to
attract many desirable candidates. The DA’s Lovemore pointed out that the
countries which consistently fare best in educational measurements
worldwide – like Finland and South Korea – aggressively target top
graduates to move into teaching. The profession cannot be seen as a
“fallback option”, more than one committee member said: serious thought
needs to go into new strategies for teacher recruitment.
Another concern mentioned was that certain provinces have far less
difficulty attracting teachers: Gauteng, for instance, is a desirable
employment location and therefore depletes the pool of teachers available
for other provinces. This has to be addressed, and teacher education scaled
up in provinces like the Eastern Cape and Limpopo.
Without the wider problems of the image of the teaching profession, the
quality of teachers and the availability of teachers being resolved, then,
it’s hard to see how a scaled-up language teaching initiative can hope to
succeed – however worthy it may be. Mweli ended his presentation by quoting
Mandela: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his
head. If you talk to him in his language, it goes to his heart.” *DM*
- Tongue-tied on language policy, in the
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