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Durban - It has been a late but enthusiastic start to Zulu lessons for Grade 1 pupils in KwaZulu-Natal where a third African language is being taught for the first time.
Fifteen public schools in the province were selected for the pilot project of the new, national policy. According to the policy, “‘African languages’ is a term used as a geographic rather than linguistic classification of languages spoken on the continent”.
Although this was only the third week since a Zulu first-additional language teacher joined the staff at Ferndale Primary in Newlands East, pupils were already able to name the parts of the body and the extended members of their families in Zulu.
Without prompting and in unison, they greeted their new teacher, Mbalenhle Makhoba, in Zulu and quizzed her on the Zulu words for “chair” and “desk”, and whatever else their little eyes fell upon.
Most of the pupils were English speakers, and although there were some Zulu mother-tongue speakers, not all were able to write and read in the language.
“They are surprising me, they are picking it up so quickly,” said Makhoba.
The teacher is part of a crop of newly graduated Zulu first-additional language teachers in the province, whose university studies were funded by the government’s Funza Lushaka bursary.
She teaches Zulu to each Grade 1 class every day for half an hour, and by the third term the pupils should begin writing short sentences.
Although the African language pilot programme was scheduled to begin in KwaZulu-Natal schools in February, it was stalled by the scarcity of qualified teachers.
Of the 15 schools – in Chatsworth, Pinetown and Pietermaritzburg – the provincial Education Department needed to find teachers for 13.
The department said all the schools were provided with workbooks and 142 subject advisers were trained to mentor the new teachers.
The principal of Cavendish Primary in Chatsworth, Lallman Dharumrajh, said the subject adviser regularly checked to see whether their Zulu teacher was coping and stuck to the lesson plans.
On Monday morning, Sindisiwe Manzini started an hour-long lesson with the school’s only Grade 1 class.
It was the children’s second week of Zulu lessons and they shyly sang the Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes song in Zulu.
Asked why it was important to pay attention in Zulu class, one pupil piped up: “So that you don’t get zero,” while another responded: “So you can speak to other people.”
Next year Grade 1 classes in all public schools will have the school day lengthened to make space for a third African language. The timetable will include a home language, two first additional languages, maths and life skills.