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I-MAG's reaction to Minister Pandor's stated position on Mother Tongue Education (Budget speech in Parliament, 21 June 2004)

Press release

We, the members of the Multilingualism Action Group, wish to express our concern and dismay at Minister Pandor's recent budget speech in Parliament, in which she declared her Department's support for the current practice of allowing only three years of mother tongue education before switching to English as medium of instruction in Grade 4. It is this system which must surely carry a great deal of the blame for the academic failure and high drop-out rate from schools and tertiary institutions suffered by especially speakers of African languages. Children's cognitive and academic language proficiency in their mother tongues needs a much longer period than three years to develop fully before such skills could be transferred to a second language.

Research conducted in South Africa and other countries indicates that mother tongue education is more successful than English in those situations where the teachers do not have an adequate command of English. This is the case in most primary schools where pupils and teachers are predominantly African language speakers. Probyn's research (2001) in township schools on the current practice of using English as medium of instruction clearly demonstrates the stress that teachers and pupils experience in teaching and learning through the medium of a language in which they are not able to communicate freely. This has direct and negative consequences for learning. Most of the teacher's time is spent explaining the English words and concepts in the mother tongue, rather than actually teaching the subjects! Small wonder then, that we currently have what Kathleen Heugh (2004) calls a "two-tiered" education system, in which certain basic constitutional rights and educational benefits are enjoyed only by English and Afrikaans speakers, but not by African or Sign Language speakers.

Pupils are able to attain high levels of proficiency in English by studying the language as a subject (NEPI, 1992). I-MAG agrees that more money should be spent on training excellent teachers of English, and urges the minister to do the same for the other official languages. However, we believe that quality mother tongue education is an attainable ideal, instead of the currently unattainable ideal of English as medium of instruction. We urge the Minister to re-consider this position, instead of repeating past mistakes which have condemned so many of our children to academic failure and unemployment.

Heugh, Kathleen 2004. To what extent does the Revised National Curriculum Statement accommodate the Language-in-education policy and constitutional obligations of equal access and non-discrimination with regard to language? Paper presented at a conference entitled Continued Quality Education - The Road Ahead. University of the Western Cape, 4-5 June 2004.

NEPI 1992. Language. Cape Town: National Educational Coordinating Committee and Oxford University Press.

Probyn, Margie 2001. Voice from South African Classrooms. Paper presented at the Third International Symposium on Bilingualism, Bristol, April 2001.

Issued by:
Mhlobo Jadezweni, Alet van Huyssteen, Gerrit Brand, Annette Humphries-Heyns,
Pedro Dausab, Zanele Mbude-Shale, Sandisiwe Mangcu, Charlyn Dyers

On behalf of the Multilingualism Action Group (I-MAG)

  • Lees die Afrikaanse weergawe van hierdie persverklaring
  • Read the Xhosa version of this press release
  • Click here to read the National Language Body for Afrikaans's response
  • Klik hier en lees die NTLA se reaksie op Minister Pandor se verklaarde standpunt oor Moedertaalonderrig

    LitNet: 30 Junie 2004

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