[lg policy] South Africa: Student organisation calls for exams to be written in mother tongue

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri Feb 23 10:18:33 EST 2018

Student organisation calls for exams to be written in mother tongue
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Makhosandile Zulu

Cosas says if the Constitution gives pupils the right to be taught in the
language of their choice then that right should extend to the language used
for assessment.

The Congress of South African Students  (Cosas) intends to take the
Department of Education to the High Court so it would implement its call
that all pupils should have the right to write their examinations in their
mother tongue.

“As Cosas, we are working with the CRL Rights Commission and the solution
we came to is to take the Department to the high court,” said the Congress’
president, John Macheke during an SABC interview.

He added that the ANCYL is also on board in the organisation’s drive to
ensure that this becomes policy and is implemented by the department.

Macheke said the matter will be escalated to a high court because of the
complexity of changing policy at a departmental level.

He said the department’s efforts of promoting indigenous languages by
implementing the Introduction of African Languages policy in 2014, which
states children can study one African language, does not address the
assessment issue.

“We are meeting with the Department of Education and the CRL Rights
Commission this week and we will engage the Department of Education and
then we will take this issue to the high court,” he said.

Watch the interview:

Macheke said considering that section 29(2) of the Constitution states that
every pupil has the right to be educated in the language of their choice
then that choice should include the language used for assessments.

“We have been using English in our schools as a language of assessment but
that does not mean I cannot write my question paper in Tswana, I cannot
write my question paper in Xhosa,” Macheke said during an SABC interview.

He said this could be applied to subjects like Life Sciences and Geography
whose learning objectives are content focused rather than on the language.

“This has been affecting our learners and it is high time we take it to the
upper levels,” Macheke said.

He added that the call made by the organisation is based on research which
shows that a language barrier makes it difficult for pupils to grasp the
content of a subject.

Macheke added that another hurdle is that from pre-school till grade 7
pupils are taught their mother tongues, which becomes a challenge for
pupils whose first language is not English when they reach grade 8 where
they are taught English.

“But you understand SeTswana better than English. Now when your question
paper comes in English before you answer the question paper you have to
translate English into [your mother tongue],” he said.

He said this becomes problematic because understanding the question becomes
time-consuming which at times forces some pupils t skip certain questions
because of comprehension challenges.

He added that in schools where an indigenous language is the first
language, teachers go to the extent of explaining the content in the
vernacular, which exacerbates the problem because the pupil would most
likely remember that specific explanation in the language it was delivered


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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