Schools to offer African language
Cape Town - Nearly 4 000 schools across South Africa are expected to introduce an African language in Grade 1 next year following the success of a pilot project in 228 schools this year.
The Department of Basic Education’s Incremental Introduction of African Languages (IIAL) initiative will be implemented in 3 738 schools next year, spokesman Elijah Mhlanga said.
He said the targeted schools did not offer an African language in Grade 1.
“It is envisaged that in each year thereafter a subsequent grade will introduce IIAL until all grades implement an African language.”
The Eastern Cape, where isiXhosa was piloted in 87 schools, had the highest number of pilot schools, while Setswana was the second most dominant language in the pilot project.
In the Western Cape 10 schools volunteered to participate in the pilot and introduced isiXhosa in Grade 1.
“One of the aims of the IIAL is social cohesion, and this has been realised in all the pilot schools where the whole school community have supported the offering of an African language in the curriculum. Parents in particular have requested that IIAL should be continued.”
But the department may be jumping the gun, Governing Body Foundation national chief Tim Gordon says.
“The intention is very good, but we don’t think that the somewhat half-baked pilot project has given us sufficient information,” he said.
“There are massive logistic difficulties that have to be overcome.”
Gordon said the problems in hiring first language staff would be huge, as well as catering for families who change schools and areas. “What happens if your primary school teaches Sepedi, and then the high school you go to teaches Sotho? They haven’t taken into account the mobility of the population.”
Another issue is time, and Gordon doesn’t believe there should be too much more of it in the school day.
“I don’t think we can have an additional four hours added on to our school week. They need to cut back on other things to make space for this, instead of extending the school day.”
Gordon also said that a recent study of matric education suggested that seven subjects were already too many, and officials should be looking at cutting back instead of adding on.
Importantly, Gordon said, the proposed African language curriculum should break free of the academic mould other subjects were taught in, to favour practicality over theory.
“We would prefer to see a strong focus on an oral component,” he said. “One needs to be able to talk to people in the languages - not just study them at an abstract level at school.”
Education MEC Debbie Schafer said it was too early to judge the proposed implementation.
“We are waiting for a formal indication on the highest level nationally including indications of the planned budget.”
Last year Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said the intention of the African language policy was to promote and develop previously marginalised languages and expose pupils to “languages academically that they may use at home but do not study as part of the curriculum, as well as introduce those who have never been exposed to an African language”.
Her department also said that because the policy would be implemented gradually, there would be enough African language teachers.
Mhlanga said that extending the school day (in order to offer an African language) had been challenging in some schools, but with support and guidance this was managed.
Earlier this year Terence Timmet, principal of Montevideo Primary in Montana, one of the 10 Western Cape pilot schools, told the Cape Argus that he hoped learning isiXhosa would improve his pupils’ future job prospects.
“Our hope is that it (the project) will be extended for years to come so that our learners from all race groups in the Western Cape can benefit equally from the language tuition,” he said. - Additional reporting by Chelsea Geach.