"Don't blame language when the education system is broken"
Readers respond to an article about how language is used in schools.

A few readers respond to an article by Carolyn McKinney and Xolisa Guzula called How schools use language as a way to exclude children.

Don't blame language when the car is broken

The sudden obsession with schools' language of instruction is like complaining that a car's air conditioner is out of order, while the car is not even in running condition. It is a valid complaint, but not one that should be addressed first.

In 1994 the government had to fix the education system, especially in dysfunctional township schools. Blame Apartheid as you like, but other factors such as the ANC's policy of "Liberation before education" (which included using school children as activists and protesters, and the burning of schools) completely destroyed whatever quality there was in these schools. Nevertheless, the ANC government now had the power to do something about it.

So what did they do? 

  1. They gave the South African Democratic Teachers Union carte blanche, with the result that the union and teachers placed their interests above learners. Strikes in the middle of exams and teachers not working full days has been extremely detrimental to an already shaky education system.
  2. They closed down the Education Colleges. These would have ensured a constant supply of well trained educators, but the government did not seem to think so.
  3. They changed the curriculum. Then changed it again. And did not train teachers adequately in these changes.
  4. They created a culture of corruption within the department of education, resulting in funds not being used what it was intended for and overall incompetence in the department. Schools do not receive text books on time (or ever), principal and teacher positions are sold to the highest bidder and the list goes on.

Taking this into account, it is clear to see that the major disparities we see today in schools can well and truly be blamed on the incompetence of government, and not solely the language of instruction. Had they acted differently, schools would have been functioning better and more resources could have been spent to develop other African languages into academic languages that could be used as medium of instruction. Which brings me to my final point.

Afrikaans and English are the only two languages at present that are academic languages of instruction. The technical terms and definitions of most subjects simply does not exist in the other official languages. The benefit of being able to study in your mother tongue has been proved time and again, so it is obvious that the other languages must be developed further so that children can be afforded this privilege. But this cannot happen until the structural problems addressed above are tackled by government. 

In short, don't blame language when the car is broken.

- Derik van Wyk.

The education system needs to be fixed first

Good day

I find it perplexing that we are discussing the use of different languages at school when the current schooling situation is already in dire straights. Many of the young children are still not able to go to schools as there are not enough schools, schools are under supplied, text books non existent, sub-standard teachers etc (30% a pass mark?) and we are discussing education in a mother tongue or a multi-language discipline? Surely this discussion would be better suited once the education system is performing at internationally excepted norms. 

The next thing is that we want children to be multi-lingual taught (hoping that English is one of them) so that they might go out into the world and be competitive and useful, not only here in South Africa but maybe elsewhere. If the English language is not used as a "common" language which would you say should be used?

It is all fine and well if the person wishes to forever stay in South Africa but should they wish to go to any other country how would they communicate with that host? Most reference material is written and published in English. Worldwide is scientific, literature and other papers not written in English so that peer review can take place.

I think that all other languages should be taught but as a second language but in all educational aspects English should be the medium used. This would allow all our people to become globally competitive should they wish too.

Look at some of the world biggest economies USA, China, India, etc all have English as a language taught at school as the have already worked out that should their population want to be globally competitive that language is not a barrier.

My thoughts.

- Manlio

We need more qualified teachers

It is all well and good to take in a high moral point of view, but have you sufficient qualified, registered and willing teachers, fluent in languages other than English, who are interested in fulfilling your dreams of teaching in local languages? Will the department of education produce Matric exams, Memoranda and exemplars in 11 developing languages in all 100+ subjects? Think again?

Dream on, I was giving my life for teaching from 2009 to 2015, but found learners and many parents are unmotivated and unsupportive.

Pieter Bredenkamp

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