The ANC in the Eastern Cape condemned the closure of a number of schools in the Mbizana region by party members who were  dissatisfied with election candidate lists. Photo: Independent Newspapers
The ANC in the Eastern Cape condemned the closure of a number of schools in the Mbizana region by party members who were dissatisfied with election candidate lists. Photo: Independent Newspapers

School plan spells trouble

By Angelique Serrao Time of article published Mar 3, 2011

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The teaching of grammar could soon disappear from classrooms from Grade 10 and upwards if a new curriculum document is adopted.

Language grammar, which consists of lessons on how language works, punctuation, spelling, sentence structure etc, is currently being covered as a separate section in language teaching. It is tested in a separate exam paper, paper three, at Grade 12 level.

The Star has seen a document, called the National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement for Grades 10 to 12 for English Home Language, and it shows that this third paper is being done away with, and will be “integrated” into the writing and literature components of the subject. This will not affect only English, but all other home languages.

No teaching time is being allocated to the language component, and while the document gives a list of grammar items in an appendix, it states: “Teachers do not have to teach all or any of it. It is a reference list only, and the needs of the class must dictate what is being taught.”

On page 31 it gives the rationale for this by saying that by Grade 10, pupils should be familiar with the basics of grammar, parts of speech, rules of concord, use of tense, auxiliaries and modals, and sentence structures. “Discreet, isolated lessons of grammar should not now be part of the teaching time,” the document says.

A teacher, who spoke to The Star on condition of anonymity, said he was horrified.

“This is effectively confining language teaching to the dustbin,” said the teacher. “I know a lot of teachers who will read this and will immediately not teach any language conventions. Language will disappear from our schools.”

The document is not yet available to all teachers.

The teacher said that after studying the 72-page document, he felt that language teaching was being “slipped dishonestly off the radar screens”.

The teacher also said the “integrated approach” could be taught effectively only by experienced teachers.

“We are going to breed a group of people who won’t know how their home language works and is constructed. Has this been done to improve matric pass rates?” he asked, and suggested that perhaps the curriculum was being dumbed down to help children pass, because language was known to be a difficult paper.

Department of Basic Education’s spokesman Granville Whittle said the document was “not doing away with language”.

He said the department was moving towards “an integrated language teaching… which is the most current international trend”, where language is not taught in isolation but is based on texts.

Whittle said both the reading paper and the writing paper for grade 12 would integrate comprehension and grammar.

Professor Hilary Janks, from Wits University’s School of Education, said this integrated approach had been adopted by the Independent Examinations Board for several years and had worked well.

She quoted a sentence in the document: “By observing how grammar has a real part to play in making meaning, in revealing truth and promoting a clearer understanding of how it works, learners are more likely to see the point of grammar.”

Janks said the fear was that pupils could fail their exams because the failure to award marks separately for language structure would mean teachers would fail to give language any attention in class.

But teachers aren’t the only ones expressing concern with the changes.

Dr Leila Kajee, from the education faculty at the University of Johannesburg, said she had heard concerns about the changes from their students who are teaching in schools.

She said while the approach was academically a good one, university professors were noticing that students’ academic writing skills were not of a high standard.

- The Star

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