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African Language Teaching Introduced in South African Schools


Next year, close to 4,000 schools in South Africa will start African language classes in grade 1. This decision has been made based on a pilot project that ran in schools this year.

In South Africa, the Department of Basic Education’s Incremental Introduction of African Languages (IIAL) has recently announced an interesting new programme that will commence in schools next year. According to an article on IOL news written by Ilse Fredericks, spokesman Elijah Mhlanga stated that an African Language project will start in 3,738 South African schools.

In this project, pupils in Grade 1 will be given African Language classes. Mhlanga also said these language classes will be extended to a higher grade that every year, until African languages will be taught in every grade.

Fredericks tells us that the dominant South African region in the pilot project was the Eastern Cape, in which isiXhosa was taught in 87 schools. The language was also taught in 10 Western Cape schools. In addition, she says, the second most taught language was Setswana. Mhlanga points out that the IIAL hopes to create a better social cohesion, and that this was achieved in all pilot schools. In fact, he says, many parents asked for the programme to be continued!

However, despite the spokesman’s  enthusiastic remarks, some South Africans believe that the pilot wasn’t as successful as claimed. The national chief of the Governing Body Foundation Tim Gordon, for example, states that although the project’s intentions are good, he describes the project as “half-baked.” The information it has yielded is insufficient, he says, and there are many logistic difficulties such as the hiring of first language staff and the relocation of students that are taught one language in primary school, but live close to a high school that teaches a different one. In addition, he believes introducing language classes shouldn’t result in longer school days, meaning other classes should be removed from the curriculum.

According to Fredericks, Gordon also believes language teaching should focus practical use: students should use the languages in their communication with other people instead of studying them in abstract form. Education MEC Debbie Schafer is holding back on her verdict of the project. She is awaiting the formal indication that is given by the South African government, which includes budgetary consequences as well.

Last year, when speaking about the aim of the African language policy, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga stated that the project started in order to develop and stimulate smaller languages and bring pupils into contact with languages they either use at home but not at school or that are wholly unfamiliar to them. Her department, Fredericks says, also noted that as the policy would be implemented slowly, plenty of language teachers would be available. Another benefit from the project, principal of Montevideo Primary in Montana Terence Timmet says, is that the isiXhosa will hopefully improve the job prospects of his students. Therefore, he hopes the project will run for several years.

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