Durban - 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.

In KwaZulu-Natal, unions confirmed they were still in the dark as to how the project would run.

Education stakeholders said the lack of consultation on the introduction of the programme had been a major downfall because their contributions would have been the key to successful implementation at the start of term.

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

A “whole month” of learning had been wasted, he said. “I have heard from schools that they are expecting teachers some time before the end of February, who will start teaching in indigenous languages in March.”

When the department announced the launch of the pilot project, which was to have been initiated when schools opened last month, minister Angie Motshekga said 860 public schools would start with local languages for Grade R and Grade 1 classes. The target was 10 schools in each district, and the long-term goal was the creation of multilingual schooling.

In KZN, 11 schools in the Chatsworth and Phoenix areas – which had not offered African languages in the past – were selected as pilot schools.

The National Teachers Union’s deputy president in KZN, Allen Thompson, said “nothing has happened” and the project was yet to be implemented in the province.

“It is not only a failure; it is a non-communication to us. Teachers need to be trained. A plan needs to be laid out,” he said. “The department (of education) is hard to find these days. They are all politicians with their minds on the elections,” he added.

The department had said a project of this nature would improve the learning and communication capacity of pupils. Implementation would be incremental, continuing gradually until it reached Grade 12 in 2026.

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

“Teachers cannot just teach because they know the language; they need training on teaching the languages if it is to fulfil the ideals set out,” he said.

He also complained about the lack of consultation on the matter and said stakeholder input was important because the department could not implement a project of this magnitude on its own.

Last year, teachers’ unions, school governing bodies, and community members all expressed apprehension about the implementation of the project, some saying they were worried about being overlooked when the languages of instruction were chosen.

They pointed out that some provinces were a melting pot of languages and the department needed to consult widely before introducing a second language for children.

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

He said there should have been proper allocation of subjects, followed by plans to streamline periods to suit the new introduction.

The department was unable to respond to enquiries at the time of publication, but in an earlier response to reports on the apparent failure of the project Motshekga said: “Dilly-dallying would imply the initiative would never see the light of day. But strictly speaking… we do not have to consult labour unions on implementation. On this we work with education departments and schools.”

The Mercury