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Fana Jeffrey Shisinga
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Teaching vernaculars in school

12 October 2013, 10:32

Teaching learners in our own vernacular will not improve pass rate but introducing home literacy will do.

After a long and dedicated extensive reading on the issue of language barrier when it comes to teaching in our public schools; I am glad to say that the only way forward would be to set up the commission of enquiry to find out as to what are the language(s) teachers doing during their periods at school with our kids.

If I get paid every month to teach learners Xitsonga and at the end of the year learners do not know how to use Xitsonga, surely there is something that I am not doing right.

Maybe it could be that the department of education is employing teachers who are not competent enough on their fields, or it could be that teachers are not encouraging and motivating learners to see the need for improvement or even the need for getting educated.

As much as we want to preserve our own indigenous languages, let us not do it in a way that it will substitute the use of English or other languages that have been working for us all along.  Teachers should use vernaculars to explain concepts but not to entirely teach the whole subject.

Teaching Learners Geography is Xitsonga for instance may sound great but do we really have enough authors in our country to translate or to write Geography text books in Xitsonga? Or can the government manage to employ two teachers of the same subjects (the one who does it in English and the one in Xitsonga)

Another thing worth pondering is the fact that our department of education test our learners on a national basis, for example the UMALUSI , requires that for any student to gain access to the university, he or she has to pass English and a mother tongue Language before we consider a pass for any other subjects.

So, if we start translating all our text books to vernaculars as others propose, won’t we be taking ourselves backwards?  Even if such a move could be adopted, what would qualify the current educators to do better? I mean they already speak the vernaculars themselves but we still have learners who are doing those subjects and yet cannot be good on them.

What we need are teachers who are competent. So, the department of education should be strict on awarding any teaching degree, diploma or certificate. Teachers should be well trained to an extent that when he/she is in a classroom, they must teach those learners as if they are training them to be teachers.

Lastly, the only thing that scholars, teachers and fellow South Africans should be advocating for is home literacy not introducing vernaculars to all subjects.  Kids spend most of their hours at home as compared to the time spent in the classroom. Danger occurs to those learners whose parents are not literate. However, they can also help their kids by introducing them to the university, college, FET graduates in their community who are not working or those that are not at school. Just Imagine if each of us (graduates) can adopt 1 or 2 learners from our community and pay attention to their studies, surely something great can come out of it.

I am Shisinga Jeffrey, Currently enrolled for a Master degree in African studies with Leipzig University, Germany. Originally, I am from Limpopo (Tzaneen). I have a Bachelor degree in Media and Communication Studies, and also an Honours degree with the University of Limpopo.

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