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South Africa: Learning an African Language to be Required at all Schools

south African StudentsBasic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is defending the government’s plan to start phasing in the learning of an African language at all South African schools, saying scientific research showed that children who study in their first languages in the first years of schooling perform better.

Motshekga said that “historical and cultural oppression makes people identify more with a foreign (English) language-dominant culture”, which was a challenge that needed to be addressed. There has been debate about the use of English as the medium of instruction in South African schools, with some reports suggesting that parents preferred English to be used from early years of learning because the economy is organized in English.

Earlier this month, Free State University rector Jonathan Jansen was quoted as saying English could also be a major solution to the education crisis.

Speaking at a press briefing on the sidelines of the International Language and Development Conference co-hosted by the Department of Basic Education and the British Council, Motshekga said: “The whole question of psychological alienation of Africans culturally and linguistically does not disappear with freedom.

“You know in our country, if you speak English well, probably you are a clever African; worse still, if you speak it with an ‘accent,’ you are the best.

“It is really historical issues; it is not scientific (to say children perform better when taught in English), for us because we use scientific evidence we are able to get parents out of this colonized mind(set) … parents are able to see the value of African languages,” the minister added.

She said the annual national assessments made a case that children should study in their first languages for the first years of learning, and then be introduced to an additional language.

Motshekga said children who had been taught in their home languages performed better in the assessments.

“Parents can see the evidence (and) it has made the battle much easier,” she said.

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