XHOSA-SPEAKING children in the Eastern Cape could soon be taught in their mother tongue if the ANC in the province gets it way during discussions at the party’s national policy conference this week.
The party is yet to confirm if the proposal was accepted as discussions went on until late last night. But an Eastern Cape member who was at the closed meetings said the proposal was likely to be accepted as they had received support from other provinces.
In an interview with The Herald on the sidelines of the conference yesterday morning, ANC provincial spokesman Mlibo Qoboshiyane said the delegates from the conference were "strongly pushing for a bilingual approach to the medium of instruction in schools”.
This would mean children would be taught in Xhosa and have English as the second teaching language. The same would apply to children in other provinces who speak languages indigenous to those provinces.
"We are saying the medium of instruction should be one of the African languages,” Qoboshiyane said.
"We want this to be phased in over time. The reason for the high failure rate in the country is that children are expected to unlearn [sic] their mother tongue.
"It is better to translate your mother tongue to another than the other way around.”
The province wants government to develop an Institute of African Languages and Translation centre to encourage the development of African languages.
It has also proposed that exam question papers across all grades be translated into African languages. "Even if a Xhosa-speaking child is in a multiracial school, that child should have the option of being taught in their mother tongue,” Qoboshiyane said.
Political and social analyst Dr Somadoda Fikeni said while studies had shown the benefits of mother-tongue instruction as "immeasurable”, strong political will was needed to carry out the proposal.
"When children are taught in their mother tongue, they are able to have a deep understanding of the subject as they are able to create a picture of what they are taught in their mind's eye. That makes it easier than to translate it into a second language like English,” he said.
"The reason our children fail is that they are first taught about the ‘other’ and not the ‘self’.”
Education expert Professor Susan van Rensburg said although the suggestion was a "noble educational issue”, it was also a political tool to force schooling back to the townships schools.
"It will not bring a second economic transition, it will bring disaster. What kinds of checks and balances will there be that multilingual instruction will take place and that the child’s ability to speak English will develop?” she said.
"Such a policy will force those attending ‘white schools’ to go back to township or rural schools, where all the wheels come off.
"It sounds educational, but it actually takes your right away to be taught in the language your parents would choose for you.”
Van Rensburg said it would also affect white teachers at former Model C schools, who she said would need to quickly develop their skills in Xhosa, resulting in a change in the job requirements under which they were appointed.
Education analyst Graeme Bloch said there was a lot of work to be done in the form of teacher training before the realisation of vernacular instruction in schools.
"Children should start learning in their home language, but there are only four foundation phase teachers at Eastern Cape universities who speak Xhosa at home,” he said.
The province is also pushing for government to establish a factory or state company which would develop, produce and deliver textbooks countrywide.
Yesterday’s debate on the proposal came as government missed its second deadline set by the Pretoria High Court to deliver textbooks to schools in Limpopo on Tuesday, a situation ANC senior leader Jeff Radebe called a shame.
"We are advocating for government to have its own factory or a state company, to develop the content, produce the textbooks and deliver them,” Qoboshiyane said.
"We want to do away with the tender system of procurement. Government should be fully in charge of this.”
Asked if Bhisho had the capacity to implement these proposals should they be given the green light by the ANC, Qoboshiyane said the "government never had the political will to implement them because they were never seriously considered by the ANC”.
Fikeni said while the necessary resources were available – capacity and funding – there were concerns about the implementation.
"Doing away with the tender vultures would work, but a strong leadership base is needed to ensure a radical paradigm shift so that people do not concentrate on how individuals can benefit, but rather the pupil,” he said.
"We cannot have a situation where half-way through the year pupils do not have textbooks because of petty squabbles about who was meant to deliver them, and so forth.”
Van Rensburg said there would be a limited choice of books and the idea of a free market would collapse.
"We are living under a capitalistic and free-market system.” she said. "Therefore, publishers commission authors to write books and revise them according to each revised version of the curriculum.
"Then there are reps who liaise with educators about their choices from catalogues from the various publishers. Then the orders are printed.
"In order to implement the suggestion, the ideology needs to shift. You need to state up front that you have shifted from an open society to a closed society and from capitalism to socialism or blatant communism.”
She said it would also amount to "intellectual engineering through the government textbook system”.
"If the government gives you the curriculum, interprets it for you, puts its own henchmen in to write what they want in these books, what chance will there be to develop free minds and leave scope for the teacher input?” she said.
The Eastern Cape ANC also called for the government to declare it a criminal offence for any parent to not take a child with a disability to school. This has raised questions around the accessibility of schools to pupils with disabilities and the capacity for teachers in ordinary schools to handle special needs children.
Fikeni said while there were laws in place to deal with ensuring every child was in school, there was a need to ensure schools were sufficiently resourced to cater for disabled pupils.
"It is not just a parental issue, but also speaks to teacher and pupil training to ensure they are all sensitive to the special needs of a disabled pupil,” he said.
"We don’t even care for hungry kids, so we will not help disabled kids unless we have the right money, teachers and accountability systems,” Bloch said.
Van Rensburg said: "Normal schools cannot even cope with ‘normal kids’, so what are they going to do with this ‘obligatory child’ dumped on them?”