Western Cape language committee think tank: education
2 October 2000 to 5 October 2000
Current problems, issues and obstacles
These are the main problems educationists identified.
- Educationists found problems with literacy, especially concerning the lack of a culture of reading among learners. They also identified a lack of literacy and creativity due to a lack of mother-tongue education, especially in pre-tertiary education. Parents usually determine language preference but they are often not informed about the issues surrounding L2 dominance and its impact on education. This is exacerbated by the negative attitudes regarding the learning of African languages and a general intolerance towards other languages.
- A second problem identified by the educationists is inadequate human resources development in respect of multilingualism. There is a marked shortage of specialised teachers. Undertrained or maltrained teachers have great difficulties in coping with the overcrowded multilingual classroom reality. The monolingual bias of teacher education makes it difficult for them to handle language diversity in the classroom. In some cases, this widens the communication gap. However owing to the lack of job opportunities, multilingual teachers paradoxically find themselves jobless.
- The print environment is one of English/Afrikaans.The language of service delivery is problematic. For example, people speak one language and are governed in another. Also, the existence of monolingual road signs, place- and street names is unacceptable as they do not sufficiently reflect the presence of other languages.
- This problem is further highlighted when we consider the publication and printing of materials. There is a lack of documentation, resources, original teaching materials, technical terminology, among other things, in the African languages in comparison with the abundance of English material.
- Language inefficiency and low standards of translation lead to misinterpretations. The quality of education in the townships cannot be equated with that in former white and coloured schools. Moreover, learners are penalised for not obtaining the correct percentage requirement in a second language. This is one of the causes of the high failure rates. The matric results are the most dramatic example,.
- Educationists found the educational standard measured in one language, namely English, as problematic. This preference for English as everything creates much tension. At tertiary education level, even fewer incentives for the promotion of African languages exist. No differentiation between first and additional languages is made, which highlights the lack of clear language policy at tertiary institutions. Legislation appears not to ensure language equity.
Educationists sketched the following ideal educational system.
- They envisaged the existence of economic power for multilingualism, along with a well-established highly funded language industry with mechanisms for identifying and financing top class teachers.
- Their ideal is to use language as a tool to bring people together to create opportunities and to promote language co-operation instead of conflict. All citizens should be able to speak and write in 3 languages.
- The use of at least 2 languages in all public domains. This necessitates the assistance of government with the implementation of language policies.
- Professional speakers, such as chiefs and politicians, should become role models and should promote the use of their mother tongue.
- Mass education in mother tongue at least up to matric, with the matric exams in 3 languages. Learners to write in the language of their choice. This means having trilingual educators who are linguistically competent to meet the diverse needs of learners at all levels, with multilingual teaching of subjects. Supported by informed and caring parents (with regards to the advantages of multilingualism), with parents and schools in co-operation with each other. Educationists foresee higher levels of proficiency in the home language as well as additional languages, indirectly leading to an improved quality of education in the townships.
- A multi-lingual print environment, with the creation of sufficient reading materials and other resources in African languages, with libraries in all communities and in all languages. Publishing teaching materials, books, newspapers, etc., in the African languages including multilingual glossaries for technical languages for all disciplines. This implies the production of social, economic and political knowledge in the mother tongue.
- Educationists further envisaged the translation and publication of all official documentation, academic texts, textbooks, central literary texts and oral traditions (through the help of trained translators) in all South African languages, leading to the recognition of the mother tongue in education and the economy.
- Creating a culture of establishing written language traditions for marginalised languages.
- Through positive language learning and empathy for other language groups, an ethos of multiculturalism is forged, creating an equal status for all people and their languages. In short, creative, competent and confident contributors to the country will operate in a context of equal opportunities based on expertise.
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- Educationists suggested that educators be locked in a classroom filled with other individuals who speak an unknown language- throw away the key for at least a week. The educator without a cell-phone of course!!!
- They stressed the need to promote language awareness and to erase the stigma on mother-tongue education. Initially, through the recognition of the African languages, by refraining from using Xhosa only for Gumboot dances and cultural days. Instead, organise cultural exchange programs and introduce the language to the Job Market.
- African languages have to be prioritised. Educationists suggest the step-by-step addition of other languages. These additional languages should be developed to higher levels (not in competition). Volunteers can be used to promote multilingualism.
- Educationists suggest that schools have smaller classes and encourage a culture of reading at school and at home. Schools should also make teaching of subjects in the mothertongue compulsory and phase in exams in Xhosa. Schools could also improve teaching approaches to include literature and story reading for all learners. They could improve training in language teaching towards more communicative approaches.
- Provision should also be made for early childhood education (implementation plan accelerated for all 0-6s). Universities, techikons and schools should take seriously the cultureal background of each learner. Tertiary education in all South African languages should be provided, and research in the 3 languages should be encouraged. The publishing of educational support material should also be trilingual.
- Educationists also suggested the radical reform of teacher education and development, including the retraining and transformation of the whole education system. They insist on language proficiency in obtaining a teacher qualification. It was also suggested that a few educators should be taken out of the system for 3 months and immersed in the target language. Alternatively, development and deployment of an A-Team of experts to train the facilitators. Train multilingual students to facilitate in-service programs for educators. Make multiculturalism a compulsory component of teacher training.
- It was also suggested that computers be programmed for compatible use in the three languages. Consultations with business to encourage them to become trilingual. The creation of jobs through setting up translations between languages is encouraged, with translation schools playing a significant role. Funds also need to be raised to buy books and for the building and developing of libraries. For example: using money from the Lotto, or providing tax deductions to further multilingualism.
- Agitate for policy implementation. Politicians must become role models, and must respect and understand the issues on the ground. Presentation of practical language courses on radio and television is encouraged, through the provision of incentives for the media. Educationists suggest that tri-lingualism/multilingualism be used as a requirement for entry into a political career, and that penalties should exist for monolingualism, while posts and promotions are linked to multilingual proficiency.
- The creation of multicultural youth programs, like cultural camps, or language days, i.e. Xhosa day/ Afrikaans day/English day is suggested. The promotion of Afrocentric concepts in education and multicultural language training programmes should be explored. Language committee should organize workshops and awareness campaigns for parents, teachers and government. Emphasis is placed on the importance that parents be included in change-making decisions. Mechanisms need to be developed for including parents in changing schools and informing parents on policies in their own language. Education starts at home. No matter how hard the teacher might work, parents need to participate.
- Educationists stressed the importance of avoiding unrealistic goals.
- Schools in the townships are not to be shunned by learners from the private or ex-model C schools. This can only be addressed by addressing all the problems that devalue these previously disadvantaged schools.