Medium of Instruction
This is a pertinent question to everybody in the country: what role should our South African languages play in education? Can a student get an effective and consummate education in Science through Afrikaans? Can a history class be conducted in isiZulu?
The biggest point of contention is that with the more technical subjects, English is vastly superior as it has the wider vocabulary and is internationally used and will, thus, help our future researches and businessmen to participate in a global economy. However, Afrikaans has persisted well as a medium of instruction in a subject like science (for whatever reasons – that’s not what we’re discussing). If you were French, would you allow your son to learn Science in French or do you think that would place them at a disadvantage? And what is the point of learning Science in a language besides English?
On the other side, though, are the non-technical languages. While History or Tourism may have some specific words, it is not crazy to think that a History class could be carried out in a language beside English. So long as you understand the sequence of events and the various opinions and commentaries, you can learn it in Sotho and explain in Venda to an Afrikaans speaker.
Our constitution ensures that students have the right, where possible, to learn in their language of choice. If a language does not have the vocabulary to teach, say, Science then the language must first be developed through encouraging scientific research and publication and a culture of science among native speakers such that the concept that light moves in straight lines or the concept that two lines deviate by an angle can be fluently expressed by a child in his or her native tongue without having to learn addition vocabulary. It is my opinion that Maths and the Sciences should be taught in English. I know there are those who disagree and I encourage them to voice their opinions in the comments. As for the non-technical subjects, I think students should be given the right to choose their language of choice with consideration as to the school’s capabilities – but there’s no reason to restrict it.
Also, the question arises about medium of first instruction. Does it make more sense to first teach in the native tongue to get the concepts and ideas in the kids’ heads and then switch to English, or should it be English from the get go?
In RSA, the official high school curriculum is virtually limited to English and Afrikaans (to the best of my knowledge). I do know though that many teachers, working out of an English textbook, still choose to give the trivial information in whatever language is that of the students. A Science teacher might be explaining the concept of an ionic bond, where electrons are taken and not shared, and might see it unnecessary to use English, as the idea is core, until he has to use scientific parlance and give the kids a formal definition. Is this a good idea, or should teachers speak English all-throughout to accustom children to explaining themselves in English (or Afrikaans) as that will be what is required of them in the final paper?
Very interested on hearing the opinions of people who have grown up learning in English and Afrikaans, and even in some Vernacular languages, and especially in hearing the opinions of my fellow Model C’s, if you’re out there. What do you think about language use in Education?
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