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Media Release

11 December, 2002

Task team completes mother-tongue education report

Statement by André Gaum, Western Cape Education Minister

I am pleased to announce that the Ministerial Task Team I appointed in February 2002 to develop a strategy for expanding mother-tongue education in the Western Cape has completed its final report.The task team handed the report to me today. The completion of the report marks an important moment in the development of education policy in the province, as we seek to provide effective education for all.

The title of the report is “Language Policy in the Primary Schools of the Western Cape”. The primary objectives of the study were to:

  • Summarise research findings on the language of learning and teaching in schools;
  • Develop a strategy for implementing home language, or mother-tongue instruction in Grades 1 to 7 in all primary schools in the Western Cape; and to
  • Develop a strategy for introducing a third language in primary schools in the province.

    The report makes two central recommendations, namely, that the Western Cape Education Department should:

  • Implement a policy of mother-tongue-based bilingual education in Grades R to 6 in all primary schools in the Western Cape; and
  • Provide incentives to guide all children towards choosing the third official language of the province as their second additional language.

    The 42-page report recommends a range of measures needed to implement this policy, from training of educators to heavy initial investment in preparing learning support materials in three languages, and a campaign to promote awareness of the benefits of mother-tongue-based bilingual education.

    The team paid particular attention to Xhosa in developing the strategy for mother tongue instruction, given the current access to mother tongue instruction already enjoyed by learners whose home language is Afrikaans or English.

    The team advanced the concept of “mother-tongue-based bilingual education” in view of “enduring sentiments and sensitivities around language education generally, and mother-tongue education in particular”.

    Mother-tongue-based bilingual education, according to the report, includes the following:

  • Using the mother tongue of the child as a formative language of learning and teaching from Grade R or Grade 1 to the end of Grade 6;
  • Introducing the first additional language as a subject as soon as possible in the foundation phase, including Grade R;
  • Assuming that a dual-medium approach is preferred by the parents or guardians, gradually using the first additional language as a supportive language of learning and teaching as and when the children have adequate competence; and
  • Ideally, using the home and first additional languages as complementary languages of teaching and learning on a 50/50 basis by the end of Grade 6.

    Other recommendations include investigating the implications of extending the proposed language policy to Grade 7 to 12, and undertaking a full cost analysis of the report’s recommendations.

    The report identified two critical issues in its research, namely, that English is gaining ground over Afrikaans and Xhosa at an increasing pace in the Western Cape, and that the educational and social advantages of bilingual education are not always fully understood and exploited.

    According to the report, all researchers agree that mother tongue education results in cognitive advantages for learners, especially in the first years of primary school.

    The majority of studies also support the proposition that bilingual education affords children numerous cognitive advantages over monolingual children.

    Research has generally found that mother tongue education affirms children in their self-worth and in their identity.

    To quote the report: “Children exhibit increased and more lively participation in the classroom process. Their levels of self-assurance are raised, as is their critical engagement with the teacher/educator.”

    “Conversely, children all over the world who are submerged in an education system through their second language, demonstrate loss of self-confidence and low self-esteem.”

    Most modern research confirms the proposition that a sound foundation in the mother tongue facilitates the learning of additional languages.

    “It also supports the intuition that children who are obliged to learn through a language they do not know are in most cases extremely disadvantaged and unable to catch up,” the report says.

    The report adds that most children need at least 12 years to become competent in their home language.

    We are familiar the poverty that afflicts the majority of people in the Western Cape, and we are committed to playing our part in addressing this issue through education.

    This report now adds to our understanding of the roots of disadvantage in our society. It is clear that we must address the issue of mother-tongue education if we hope to address the broader challenges facing our society in the Western Cape and the country.

    My officials and I will study this report carefully to see how best we can take up this challenge.I would like to take this opportunity of thanking the task team for all their hard work in producing this excellent report. We’ll certainly give their recommendations our fullest attention.

    The task team comprised Mr E E Pratt (Chair), Dr N Alexander, Mr S Makosana, Mrs P Satyo, Professor S Satyo, Mrs A Schlebusch and Dr C van Louw.

    The report, “Language Policy in the Primary Schools of the Western Cape” is available on our web site at http://wced.wcape.gov.za (see “Language policy report” on the A — Z index). We will welcome rigorous debate and comment on this issue. The report will be open for comment until 28 February 2003.

    Media inquiries:
    Andrè Gaum


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