School language project pilot test fails

By DAILY NEWS REPORTERS Time of article published Feb 24, 2014

Share this article:

Plans to introduce mandatory lessons in indigenous languages across junior classes at primary schools have failed to take off, and educationists have blamed the Department of Basic Education for the failure.

The language policy, which is aimed at promoting and developing marginalised official languages and building social cohesion, would require children to learn two additional languages as well as their home language.

The policy was meant to be piloted at 15 schools in KwaZulu-Natal, with roll-out to begin nationally in 2015.

It is expected to be implemented in all grades up to Grade 12 by 2026.

HOD for the KZN Department of Education, Nkosinathi Sishi, acknowledged the programme had not been fully implemented at schools in the province.

“Piloting a project is not about full implementation. It is about establishing ourselves at the schools, experimenting and seeing what problems arise,” he said.

He said the 15 schools that had volunteered for the pilot programme, had been supplied with documents to enable them to start teaching.

But, teachers were still being trained by the national department, Sishi said.

“These schools have never offered this before so there are no systems. It is our role to assist the subject advisers and mentor the schools. This does not happen overnight. “

Anthony Pierce, KZN chief executive of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, said the intention of the programme was good, but that fault lay with the implementation.

“One of the things South Africa is prone to is rushing into projects. There is very little thought given to the implementation. This is a prime example.

Meanwhile experts warn that African languages are in danger of dying out if not given the same status as English and Afrikaans.

Stakeholders said the lack of consultation on the introduction of the programme at schools had been a major downfall for the department, because their contributions would have been the key to successful implementation at the start of the term.

“We don’t have the details on progress, or lack of it, but we do know that it has not kicked off,” SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) general secretary, Mugwena Maluleke, said.

The department announced the launch of the pilot project last year with minister Angie Motshekga, saying 860 public schools would start with local languages for Grade R and Grade 1 classes at the start of this year.

The department had said the project would improve the learning and communication capacity of pupils.

Implementation would be incremental, continuing gradually until it reached Grade 12 in 2026.

But it would take more than deploying teachers to get the project off the ground, DA Gauteng education spokesman, Khume Ramalifho, said.

He also complained about the lack of consultation, and said stakeholder input was most important, because the department could not implement a project of this magnitude on its own without as many ideas as it could garner.

Last year teachers’ unions, school governing bodies and community members expre-ssed apprehension about the implementation of the project, with some worried about being overlooked when the languages of instruction were chosen.

Some had pointed out that Gauteng was a melting pot of languages, and said the department needed to consult widely before introducing a second language.

“Rushing into the programme to fulfil a mandate will take us many steps back in terms of integrating society,” Maluleke said.

The department was unable to respond to enquiries by Friday, but in an earlier response to reports on the apparent failure of the project owing to, among other things, lack of consultation, the minister had said: “Strictly speaking… we do not have to consult labour unions on implementation. On this we work with education departments and schools.”

But a senior lecturer of African Languages and Literature at the University of Cape Town, Dr Tessa Dowling, warned that enrolment numbers at universities had been dwindling and linguists were worried that if the numbers did not improve, the languages were in danger of dying out.

Dowling said: “People at universities think it is a joke to take the language.

We need to change the perception that the languages are rural, poor and traditional. We have to reimagine the languages and campaign that they have the same status as Afrikaans and English.”

Medical students at UCT took a compulsory Xhosa course.

University of Johannesburg (UJ) senior linguistics lecturer Dr Eleanor Cornelius agreed that the inclusion of languages had to be encouraged, but students should not be forced.

UJ offers Sepedi and Zulu.

Share this article: