Many black parents are preventing efforts aimed at educating their children in their mother tongue out of fear that this will adversely affect their future job prospects, according to Pearson Institute academic Dr Nhlanhla Thwala.
Thwala was responding to a presentation made by his colleague Brian Wafawarowa, the executive director for learning services at Pearson, during Edu Week – a two-day sub-Saharan Africa conference on education in Johannesburg.
Wafawarowa tabled a paper on exploring the importance of teaching, reading and writing in a mother tongue to improve literacy and education outcomes, and argued that this would create a conducive learning process.
However, he explained that his paper was not advocating for English to be dumped.
He said studies showed that children who were introduced to their mother tongue in grades one to three and gradually introduced to English from Grade 4 performed better.
“Mother tongue usage can improve literacy in education and improve learning outcomes. The use of African languages can improve productivity in the workplace and enhance social cohesion.
“To achieve this, the role of African languages in education, society and the workplace needs to be affirmed beyond the education system,” Wafawarowa explained.
Thwala said: “This is an elephant in the room. Because of the country’s colonial past, parents still view English as the only language that will get their children into top jobs.”
He said the will of parents not to steer a school in this direction always won whenever thorough discussions about the topic took place in schools.
City Press spoke to parents to find out what they thought about Wafawarowa’s call.
Monde Duma, whose wife took Gonubie Primary School in East London to court in 2012 over a language policy dispute to force the school to make isiXhosa an additional first language, said what happened in schools reflected power relations in society.
“In our case, there has never been an appetite to promote and develop our languages, even in this democratic dispensation.
“There is also a tendency for black parents to go along with the status quo by not advocating for meaningful change because of the energy and costs involved in pursuing such projects in an environment where the system is loaded against the black child and parent.”
He blamed former Model C schools, saying they manipulated the elections of school governing bodies, whereby a majority of white parents were elected into the body to defend the status quo.
“Later, the school governing body chairperson goes shopping for a pliant black parent who won’t challenge or advocate for the interests of the black child and parent, but will endorse decisions to legitimise those decisions in the eyes of all parents,” Duma said, adding that African languages were still not given the same status as English and Afrikaans.
“I actually would not blame a parent who thinks that these languages will not put bread on the table and allow their children to compete as equals in South African society.
“From a different perspective, they may be right because there is hardly anything in our society that has transformed – not our education or economy, and you cannot separate the two as they feed into each other,” Duma said.
Aretha Linden said she would like her children to be taught in isiXhosa, but, sadly, society was not so “welcoming” of non-English speaking people.
The standards set by society makes it hard for non-speaking English people to “make it”.
Blackie Zola kaTshayana: I am one of those advocating for mother-tongue tuition. Actually, we see a number of our brilliant students not progressing, because they either cannot articulate well in English, or they struggle with the language. White, English-speaking students excel in English-medium schools, and so do white Afrikaans-speaking students in Afrikaans medium schools. The issue here is not about the students not knowing what is required, but being slow to, or having difficulty in converting their thoughts from their mother tongue to English, then packaging that in the proper tense and grammar. Actually, when the non-English speaking student is taught, their mind has to convert the lesson from English to their vernacular language, then store it. When they have to bring back the info, they have to convert the thoughts from vernacular to English. This happens sub-consciously, and the person might not even realise it. On a more controversial point, European countries don’t all use English, yet we are told that this is a universal language. Bull cr*p!!
Scish Mtwesi said it was fruitless to learn an indigenous language because children might work in an environment where not a single person understood isiXhosa.
The Dumas lodged their court case at a time when a policy was being reviewed to introduce indigenous languages in schools.
Since then, Eastern Cape education authorities introduced isiXhosa and Sesotho as additional first languages in 372 former Model C schools across 22 districts.
Since 2012, Eastern Cape education department language policy manager Naledi Mbudeshale has spearheaded the project.
At the time, Mbudeshale noticed that former Model C schools’ governing bodies entrenched English as the language of instruction, learning and teaching, and relegated Afrikaans and isiXhosa to additional first languages.
The department provided schools there with a parallel option for a pupil to choose between the two, while English was treated as a home language.
Eastern Cape education spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said that, after a successful pilot project, a decision was made to implement the changes.
Below, City Press spoke to parents to find out what they thought about Wafawarowa’s call.
Zusiphe Mtirara: I have a serious problem with our kids being taught in their mother tongue. Yes maybe they understand better and faster than they do in English but what is the use if they are not going to do anything with it? My son for example is being taught everything in isiXhosa, if you speak of “minus” in maths that’s foreign because he knows “thabatha”. If that is the kind of education he will get in the next nine years will he ever be able to compete with other kids at varsity level? Will he ever be able to present his ideas to the masses? No because instead of learning what he is supposed to learn he will be learning the language. With that said though, I believe as parents we have a responsibility to ensure that our kids know who they are and are not ashamed of it kulo [during] in the process, we should not let the system mislead us. Makuthethwe ulwimi lwenkobe ekhayeni [Indigenous languages must be spoken at home].
Mandlakazi Phelisa Gumede: English it is for me. We are building a generation of entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, medical specialists. If they are taught in their mother tongue how are they going to work with other specialists from around the world? What is this going to achieve? It means they cannot collaborate with anyone outside people speaking their own language. How are they going to do Pythagorean theorems in isiXhosa and be able to explain to the rest of the world in language that is only known to them?
Andile Nduna: I am of the personal persuasion that in order to fully liberate a person, you have to allow them to embrace fully who they be. This to me applies in all aspects from language, to attire, to food and to even the paintings of their houses. Look for instance how the Ndebeles paint their homes as an expression of who they are. Then language as not just a vehicle of exchange of information but as a cultural advancement becomes an integral part of that cultural advancement and the broad upliftment of a people. Then what better stage to start this on than when the child is young, so they grow entirely embracing who they be. And by embracing who we are we should not be allowed to be guilt-tripped by such questions as: ‘What about English?’ We’ve been Englishing far too long! And having 11 official languages in South Africa should most definitely count for something.
Gomotsegang Motswatswe: You can’t master anything else if you haven’t mastered yourself first. This is why we have serious learning deficits in our education system – not only with educators who haven’t grasped foreign languages enough to impart learning material effectively to children but also with education policies that are vastly flawed and interfering with the process of education. Afrikaans and English native-speaking children have the competitive edge because of that. It appears impossible because we have not allowed our native languages to flourish and thus be developed.
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