Schools dropping Xhosa and Zulu?
Are kids losing the opportunity to learn additional languages?
We heard last week that Xhosa is, for the foreseeable future, no longer offered at my children’s school due to a resignation by the Xhosa teacher. This sad news coincided with this editorial in the Sunday Times and this article on Times Live.

The editorial talks about how language is connected with identity and culture. It’s also a constitutional right to demand to be taught in your mother tongue. In reality, though, South African schools have found it difficult to offer more than English and Afrikaans.

New curriculum, fewer languages

The Times Live article reports that both Xhosa and Zulu are increasingly being removed from Model C schools. Where previously, schools offered two extra languages apart from English, the new curriculum makes it possible for schools to offer only one extra language. And many are opting for Afrikaans. The article names five schools that are now only offering Afrikaans, including one that has had to retrench its Xhosa teacher.

In our school, the reason is a resignation, but if you dig a little deeper, we’re told that Xhosa teachers are thin on the ground. Is this true? We’re in the Western Cape. Surely there are Xhosa teachers available and willing to teach the language?

Fewer teachers, more tuckshops?

A further concern is the fact that government is only paying for a small percentage of the school’s teacher’s salaries. If someone who is teaching a “non-essential” subject resigns, that’s more funds for other facilities in the school.

Columnist Khaya Dlanga lamented this issue on Twitter this weekend. He argues that “African languages should be compulsory in schools” and that “this should not even be debated”.

I remember trying to learn Xhosa. It wasn’t easy. The ‘clicks’ eluded me and I left the lessons with no more than a passing understanding of the language. I justified my lack of skill by telling myself that it was too much of a challenge to learn a new language while I was working a full day and then going to three hour lessons in the evening. But it’s a weak excuse. I know I have an obligation to learn another of the South African official languages and it’s on my bucket list to do so.

So when my children’s school offered Xhosa and they excelled at it, I was elated. At least they would be able to converse with their fellow South Africans and perhaps teach me along the way. But now, who knows how long it will be before Xhosa is offered at our school again? My oldest son moves on to high school next year. What future lies ahead of him if State schools are no longer required to offer a third African language? Or if he enters a high school that offers Xhosa and he is lagging one year behind?

Is it a race thing?

“We participate in the advancement of white languages,” argues Dlanga, “yet white people do not participate in the advancement of ours.” Undoubtedly a contentious statement, but I find it difficult to deny the truth of it. We’re a multicultural country and yet our Education system seems to be promoting the demise of the majority of our languages.

Do you think enough is being done to promote all of SA’s official languages in schools?

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