Mother-tongue rule next year

2011-06-13 00:00

CONFUSION reigns about how the new policy of enforcing the teaching of mother-tongue as a medium of instruction will work, with many of the schools visited by The Witness appearing to hold their own interpretations of the rule.

The policy, which is due to be introduced as early as next year, is based on the recommendations of a ministerial committee that was tasked with the review of the implementation of the National Curriculum Statement in 2009.

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga announced last year that from 2012 the language chosen by a pupil as the medium of instruction will be taught as a subject or as a first additional language starting from grade one.

Motshekga at the time said this means that English will be taught alongside mother-tongue instruction for those pupils who choose English as a language of teaching.

This is in support of the widely held view that that pupils who enjoy mother-tongue education perform better or master concepts more quickly compared to children who are taught in a second language.

Teacher unions and civil rights group Afriforum have been the biggest supporters of this view.

The latest circular received by primary schools in KwaZulu-Natal states that all grade one pupils must be offered one official language at home language level.

But schools appear to hold differing views about what this means.

Some agreed that this could mean that schools would be forced to teach all their pupils of different ethnic groups in the vernacular.

They claimed that this would be impractical given that many teachers have been deployed to other schools because of the “one teacher for every 35 pupils” rule.

“Let’s say there is a demand; who is going to supply the teachers? We would have to restructure the whole timetable to accommodate everyone and exactly where would we put everyone?” one teacher asked.

However, some teachers said schools could choose a single language for teaching as their medium of instruction.

They said they believe that vernacular would be enforced in the case of single-medium settings, such as those schools with only Zulu or Afrikaans pupils.

Another new requirement is that all pupils in grade one must now take a second official language at first additional language level.

From grade four to nine a third language may be offered at second additional language level, the circular states.

This has raised the question of whether all schools are adequately equipped to offer these official languages at first additional language level.

Some principals said the mother-tongue rule is proof that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, as is usually the case with the Education Department.

Said one principal, “We are dealing with a problem where parents are removing their children from schools where they are taught in the vernacular because they feel that by being taught in an English-medium school their children will have a better chance.”

“We are actually fighting to keep them away because parents want to move their children as late as grade six or seven to English-medium schools.”

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