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Minister Angie Motshekga promises mother tongue lessons in schools

South African is forging ahead with plans to incorporate mother-tongue languages in schools. Picture: African news Agency (ANA)

South African is forging ahead with plans to incorporate mother-tongue languages in schools. Picture: African news Agency (ANA)

Published Apr 21, 2022


Pretoria - Education Minister Angie Motshekga has yet again promised that her department would be moving forward with plans to incorporate mother tongue languages in schools.

Speaking in Parliament last week, she said education was highly valued and the department wanted to encourage pupils to learn in their home languages wherever practicable.

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Motshekga said this was a constitutional obligation.

“The Constitution lists the official languages as IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, IsiNdebele, Siswati, Sesotho, Setswana, Sepedi, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, English and Afrikaans, and all these languages can be used as languages of learning and teaching or, as subjects,” she told MPs.

She also quoted the Bill of Rights, saying it provided that everyone has the right to receive education in the official languages of their choice in public educational institutions, where that was reasonably practicable.

The department had developed the National Curriculum Statement Grade 1 to 12, which makes provision for equal use of all 11 official languages and South African sign language in the schooling system.

“The National Curriculum Statement Grades 1 to 12 encourages learners to learn through their home languages, particularly, though not limited, in the foundation phase,” Motshekga said.

She said the policy did not restrict the use of home language instruction up to Grade 3, but emphasised the use of the home language in Grade 1 to 3.

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“Additive multilingualism allows maintenance of learners’ home language as they acquire additional languages as subjects or as languages of instruction,” Motshekga said.

In 2014, the minister made an undertaking that would see schools introduce indigenous languages, aimed at strengthening the development of the use of African languages from grades 1 to 12.

The plan also included ensuring that non-African language speakers also knew at least one indigenous language.

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Stakeholders at the time blamed the department, and government, for the incremental demise of African language-speaking communities and said the task was bigger than the department to handle on its own.

Even teacher unions said it would not take off and commentators said mother languages were viewed as a “domestic appliance” to be kept at home.

While Motshekga said the plan emphasised the need to develop mother tongues as integral to education, science and technology, develop and preserve these languages, stakeholders, among them education experts and unions, said without consulting them it would again fall flat on its face.

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“The hegemony of English as a preferred medium of instruction and communication seems to prevail, which together with Afrikaans are still the dominant languages of learning and teaching in the majority of South African schools.”

She added some teachers used multiple different languages to help children learn and get their point across, but when it came to assessments – typically done in English – they were forced to grapple with a language they did not understand while they were learning .

“They are no longer being tested on their cognitive development or understanding (of the work).

“Government has begun the process of changing this, and the next step is to assess them in the language they are taught,” the minister said.

Pretoria News