Advice Column, Education, Impaq, Parenting

Mother tongue education matters

Your husband is transferred to a small town and you have some difficult choices to make – one of which is where your children will be going to school. Your eldest is in Grade 1 and your youngest in Grade R. There are two schools in town.

You head to the first school – it is your first choice as it offers education in your native language. When you arrive, there is no-one in sight. You eventually find someone to show you around. The school is neglected… The classrooms don’t have tables or chairs, the paint is peeling, and the gardens haven’t been tended in some time. 

There are more than 40 children per class, you are told, and they sit on the floor. It’s definitely not what you had in mind for your children. You greet politely and leave, hoping that the other school will be better. 

Upon your arrival you are greeted warmly. Everything is neat and tidy, the buildings and gardens are well maintained, and everyone you pass is friendly. This is exactly what you had in mind! There’s just one problem… the language of tuition. 

After careful consideration you decide that, as your children are still young, they should have no trouble learning a new language. But things turn out to be harder than you anticipated. As parent you can still handle the phonetics and grammar, but trying to understand Maths in another language is a nightmare, not to mention Life Skills!   

Your children often tell you that they don’t understand the teacher and you realise that, if you continue on this path, they may be held back. The worst part is that you can’t really help them with their schoolwork. You consider your children to be quite smart, but both fail their first term. 

Native language teaching

In South Africa, there is a struggle over schools that want to protect their native language. This is understandable. After all, children’s best chance at a successful education is being taught in their mother tongue. It is what they know and are comfortable with.   

Unfortunately, many children are disadvantaged – and end up failing – when they are educated in a different language. While schools are increasingly offering a variety of languages in the Foundation Phase, the main languages of instruction from Grade 4 to 12 remain English and Afrikaans. 

The development of all the official languages of South Africa is one of the most important factors in ensuring all children having a fair and equal chance at educational success. 

By Hilda Erasmus, Foundation Phase specialist

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