|dc.description.abstract||ABSTRACT: Systemic evaluation and baseline assessment of literacy and numeracy for grade 3 and grade 6 undertaken by the National Department of Basic Education indicates that the literacy and numeracy skills of learners are much lower than what is needed for them to learn and develop effectively. According to educationists (e.g. Jansen 2008, Ramphele 2008, Bloch 2009) the problem starts in the foundation phase where learners do not succeed in mastering the basic literacy and numeracy skills.
One of the main causes for learners’ poor performance in literacy and numeracy is the fact that many learners – as many as 600 000 of all learners in the foundation phase and most of the learners from grade 4 – are not being taught in their mother tongue (Yeld 2009). This has a profound effect on learners’ ability to master the curriculum. It is important that learners receive tuition in their mother tongue during these formative years. Webb (2006) points out that mother-tongue education affords the learner the best opportunity to develop skills like literacy and numeracy, but he also points out that mother-tongue education is not the only determining factor for good learner performance. Other factors are leadership,the work ethic of teachers, available resources, (in)adequate facilities and the language proficiency of learners. It is evident that mother-tongue education will not help if these contextual aspects are not addressed.
This article provides an overview of the advantages of mother-tongue education, with specific reference to African languages. The following research hypotheses serve as point of departure: • That mother-tongue education as entrenched in Section 29 (2) of the South African Constitution makes provision for all the African languages, because they offer learners more opportunities to perform better academically.
• That the language-in-education policy provides for mother-tongue-based bilingual education because it exposes learners to a world language (WCED 2007).
The research methodology entails mainly a literature study undertaken to collect data on the role that mother-tongue education plays in learners’ levels of literacy and numeracy. The literature study is supported by an empirical study which comprises a questionnaire directed at scholars of language policy and language in education. The aim of the questionnaire is to collect data on the latest trends in mother-tongue education, as well as on how these scholars regard the future of mother-tongue education. Various issues are investigated. Initially, the article reflects on the monolinguale habitus. According to Ingrid Gogolin (in Alexander 2010a) the monolinguale habitus is the collective thought that the use of one official language is sufficient for the purposes of school education. Consequently the monolinguale habitus ignores the multilingual nature of the population, with negative consequences for the speakers. Although it is true in principle that a child can learn through the medium of any language provided that he/she is fully proficient in the language, it is clear in the case of the African-language speakers in South Africa – based on research findings (e.g. Heugh and Skutnabb-Kangas 2010) – that English cannot play this role in South Africa, at least not before grade 7.
The educational value of mother-tongue education for learner performance, against the background of the low level of literacy in South Africa, is discussed. Webb (2006:39, 2005:41) argues that mother-tongue education facilitates the acquisition of knowledge and understanding and the development of cognitive, affective and social skills according to the learner’s potential; secondly, that mother-tongue education assists with the development of the learner’s academic language skills; thirdly, that mother-tongue education takes into consideration the importance of the social, psychological and cultural functions of language within the educational context; and finally, that mother-tongue education is cost-effective. In spite of the above-mentioned arguments in its favour, not all South Africans are convinced that mother-tongue education is best for their children. Mother-tongue education is a controversial subject and there is currently widespread mistrust of it. This mistrust arose from apartheid’s attempt to foster and impose ethnicity as a divide and rule strategy. According to Gxilishe (2009:3) this mistrust can become a divisive factor that will require hard work in order to change black parents’ attitude towards mother-tongue education.
Because it seems that no significant progress has been made to improve the status of South Africa’s African languages (Ramphele 2009, Kamwangamalu 2000) and that these languages are in reality being scaled down (Ngwenya 2010), a brief discussion on the value of African languages for effective literacy (Batibo 2011:16) is provided. Young learners are exposed to new information; they try to fit new concepts into their already existing conceptual and intellectual framework (Carrell 1998 refers to this as “schemata”), after which it gets internalised. If the new information is presented in an unfamiliar language the learner has insufficient supportive mechanisms to bring about comprehension.
The article then provides an overview of the language-in-education policy (LiEP) and its shortcomings, which contributed to the most recent revision of the school curriculum – the so-called Curriculum and Assessments Policy Statements (CAPS) – and changes in the LiEP. The article investigates the possibility of mother-tongue-based bilingual education (MTBBE), particularly in the indigenous languages, as a possible solution to the decline in literacy and numeracy levels. In terms of the Constitution of the RSA the state has a specific responsibility to implement a LiEP. The state is also obliged to increase the status of South Africa’s African languages and promote their use. The new LiEP is aimed at promoting learners’ home languages in school, and to ensure that learners acquire a second language. Not only will this improve nation-building, but it will also encourages respect for other languages.
The results of the empirical study, based on a questionnaire completed by a number of established scholars in the area of language policy and language in education (Alexander, Carstens, Du Plessis, Gxilishe, Heugh, Van der Elst, Webb), highlight the following: • South Africa’s poor performance in literacy and numeracy starts with learners’ inability to master the basic literacy and numeracy skills, primarily because vast number of learners in the foundation phase, and the majority of learners in the intermediate phase, are not instructed in their mother tongue.
• The inability to implement effective mother-tongue education is the main reason for the poor literacy and numeracy ability.
• The closing of teaching colleges contributed to the poor literacy and numeracy levels.
• The government’s unwillingness to implementa language-in-education policy (LiEP) contributes to the poor performance in literacy and numeracy because it undermines mother-tongue education.
• A language-in-education policy should make provision for the literacy development of learners to take place in a language in which they are well grounded.
• The legacy of Bantu Education is only partly responsible for the negative attitude of African-language speakers towards African languages as mediums of instruction. The emphasis should be on improving the skills of incompetent teachers.
• There is an increasing tendency to scale down the importance of indigenous languages, which amounts to a disregard for these languages as part of the cultural heritage; it bears testimony to intolerance and even the undermining of the Constitution which entrenches the right to mother-tongue education. • International research has indicated that learners who receive education in their mother tongue for eight years, with English as a second language, perform the best academically.
• A national awareness campaign is needed to change black parents’ attitude to mother-tongue education.
• Civil society should mobilise around language rights and the practical advantages thereof, but it is not generally agreed that litigation is the solution.
• The debate should be shifted to mother-tongue-based bilingual education and the recent declaration by the Minister of Basic Education to expand mother-tongue-language education to grade 6 is therefore a positive sign.
Based on the results of the empirical study, and supported by the literature review, an education system based on MTBBE within which the mother tongue and English (or Afrikaans where applicable) are intensively taught, is recommended. Strong empirical grounds exist to support the view that this approach could be a solution to South Africa’s low levels of literacy and numeracy.||en_ZA