[lg policy] South Africa: Go-ahead on African Languages in all schools

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Oct 10 14:43:27 UTC 2013

Africa: 'Go Ahead' On African Languages 9 October 2013
  The planned introduction of the Incremental Implementation of African
Languages (IIAL) in all schools in 2014 was welcomed by members of the
Portfolio Committee on Basic Education and their counterparts in Higher
Education as a way of boosting language skills and nurturing our heritage.
By Rajaa Azzakani, Kim Barlow and Kuhle Mkize.

All languages must "enjoy parity of esteem and be treated equitably",
according to South Africa's Bill of Rights, which also provides for
learners to be educated in the official language of their choice.

This was pointed out at a recent joint meeting of Basic and Higher
education bodies by the acting Deputy Director-General: Curriculum, Mr
Mathanzima Mweli. He said the policy was long overdue and there was ample
evidence to suggest that there was a desperate need for it. Explaining the
legislative background to the IIAL,

Mr Mweli said the action flowed from the constitutional provisions on
official languages.

The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, Ms Hope
Malgas, welcomed the initiative, saying it was "long overdue". She called
for the implementation of the programme to get "the attention it deserves".

Mr Mweli pointed out that multilingualism in education had been policy on
paper since the 1997 Language in Education Policy, which clearly stated
that "being multilingual should be a defining characteristic of being South
African in order to counter, through mutual understanding, any
particularistic ethnic chauvinism or separatism."

Mr Mweli explained that the passage from policy to implementation had taken
a long time. "There have been a number of provincial initiatives with
regards to raising the status of African languages. In the Eastern Cape, a
pilot project is testing the introduction of Xhosa in 74 schools as the
language of learning and teaching at the intermediate phase (Grades 4 to
6). Often, however, well-meaning initiatives of this nature have been left
to the support of school governing bodies rather than the government."

Mr Mweli pointed out that in the Western Cape, where a number of "former
Model C schools" had voluntarily requested the introduction of African
languages, the schools had not received government support. Similar
situations had arisen in North-West and Mpumalanga provinces. In some
instances, schools had shared the expense of teaching an African language,
Mr Mweli said.

It was generally recognised that South African students currently lacked
language proficiency, since many schools were not teaching children in
their home language. Additionally, many schools were still not providing
students with the opportunity to learn an African language.

Unless positive steps were taken, these languages could be lost altogether,
along with their linked culture and heritage, Mr Mweli said. Currently,
learners at Grade 5 level were most proficient in Afrikaans and English,
but scores in these languages were well below international averages. The
Incremental Implementation of African Languages would be implemented in
Grades R and 1 in 2014, and reach Grade 12 by 2025.

The Department of Basic Education's move to accelerate the quality and
quantity of African language teaching reflected an increasing belief that
many of the problems in the country's education system could be placed at
the door of poor language usage.

"Learing outcomes are poor, with poor language proficiency. Research has
confirmed this on various occasions, but very little has been done by
institutions or civil society to address the problem," Mr Mweli said.

He said teacher availability was not a problem that would need budgeting
for, but new textbooks would be required and the department had "developed
the capacity" to make the necessary workbooks available. He said the policy
would still be made available for public comment and that the Department
would be launching an "aggressive" campaign targeting parents and learners
to win support for the measure.

Committee member Ms Annette Lovemore expressed scepticism over the
timeframes for implementation, given that the starting date was 2014. She
pointed out that most of 2013 had already passed and the draft policy had
not yet been released for public comment. She also pointed out that the
final policy still had to be agreed upon and implementation could only
begin after that. She raised concerns about the number of teachers
available and said the Committee knew that there were not enough.

Most Committee members cautiously approved the idea, although Ms
Nomalungelo Gina asked for verified information on how many teachers there
were in each province. She also expressed concern that schools might choose
Afrikaans as the Second Additional Language.

Another Member, Dr Annelie Lotriet, stated that it was a pity to wait until
2025 for full implementation. She said a positive aspect of the policy was
that it would revitalise African language departments at universities.

Committee member Ms Jabhile Ngubeni-Maluleka asked if the policy would be
compulsory from the first year of implementation, or if there would be a
pilot, and if there would be consequences for non-compliance. She also
asked if Khoisan languages had been taken into consideration.

Committee member Mr Donald Smiles asked where the policy was mentioned in
the 2013-2014 Annual Performance Plan. He believed that the school system
was not ready for the plan and said that in some provinces no single
language dominated. He asked how schools would decide which language to
teach in these circumstances and how consensus would be reached on this

One high school principal who made an imput at the joint meeting suggested
that, with globalisation, it might be more useful to teach Italian, French
or even Mandarin, although he welcomed the current proposal as it placed
emphasis on local growth and would keep local culture and traditions alive.
This principal said he was looking forward to seeing how the Department of
Basic Education implemented the policy, particularly in relation to the
quality of teaching skills.

The principal of Crewe Primary School in East London, Mr Peter Beeby, said
his school was already teaching an African Language, isiXhosa, in all
grades. He did not believe the Department of Basic Education had the
financial means to implement the policy, as it was unable to supply the
quota of educators as per the 2013 staffing establishment. Teachers were
often not equipped to teach African languages.

The Chairperson of the Portfolio Commitee on Higher Education, Mr Ishmael
Malala, expressed his approval of the draft policy and said he hoped it
would enhance the development of South Africa's indigenous languages.

Ms Malgas indicated that the Committee would monitor the Department's
progress on the plan, and that the Department would be required to update
the Committee later this year on progress made and readiness to implement
the policy.

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