Cash woes stall language project

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Durban -

Schools in KwaZulu-Natal where Grade 1 pupils were meant to be learning a third, African language this year have confirmed that they are still waiting for teachers and workbooks to arrive.

They have cited the provincial Education Department’s perpetual cash woes as the reason for the delay.

The schools were meant to start offering Zulu lessons three weeks ago as part of a pilot project, but the Basic Education Department’s much-vaunted African language policy has yet to get off the ground in the 15 pilot schools in Chatsworth, Phoenix and Pietermaritzburg.

Both the national and provincial education departments have, however, downplayed the problems in the face of fierce criticism from teachers’ unions.

The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA said yesterday that while it embraced and supported the intention of the policy, the delays in getting the pilot project off the ground were a consequence of the “undue haste” in implementing it.

The National Teachers Union branded the pilot project a “failure”, and the SA Democratic Teachers Union argued that the national department’s poor planning was indicative of it not taking indigenous languages seriously.

But Basic Education Department spokesman Elijah Mahlangu said the department was not perturbed because the purpose of a pilot phase was to identify the pitfalls.

Mahlangu said the teaching of a third, African language was proceeding smoothly in the 41 pilot schools in Mpumalanga, 97 pilot schools in the Eastern Cape, 10 in the North West and 12 in Gauteng.

Mahlangu said that Free State and KZN had not been able to implement the pilot as initially planned because of budget constraints.

Last November, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga published the much-talked-about draft policy for public comment in the Government Gazette. The document stated that she would have to appeal to the National Treasury for more money to be able to fund the salaries of extra teachers, and for textbooks, workbooks and readers in each of the languages.

Next year’s Grade 1 class will be the first to have its school day lengthened, to make space for a second, but first additional language. Its timetable would then include the teaching of a home language, two first additional languages, maths and life skills.

As The Mercury reported in May, the policy aims to foster multilingualism and promote social cohesion, and Afrikaans has been included on the list of African languages.

KZN Education Department spokesman Muzi Mahlambi said the department ought to be “commended” for opting to pilot the policy before the full-scale implementation next year.

“When a project is piloted it seeks to check the readiness of implementation in terms of the ground personnel (officials and teachers), engagement and buy-in of the stakeholders and the public opinion. The challenges and comments that have been experienced thus far can only help us to improve the pilot project and sharpen our implementation in the near future,” Mahlambi said. - The Mercury

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