SOUTH African basic education minister Angie Motshekga announced last month that the country will now be moving toward teaching children in their mother tongue in all provinces, because, according to Motshekga, children are performing poorly in school because they are being taught in English—a language that is foreign to them.
Speaking during a parliamentary Q&A, Motshekga explained, “They [students] are no longer being tested on their cognitive development or understanding. You are now testing their language abilities, which is a problem. Government has begun the process of changing this and the next step is to assess them in the language they are taught—so that we are able to assess performance and not language proficiency. The bottom line is that we need to adopt mother-tongue instruction in South Africa.”
The minister added that mother-tongue pilot projects in the Eastern Cape had proved successful, leading the way for projects across the country.
BusinessTech reports that 2,015 schools in the Eastern Cape are using isiXhosa and Sesotho as the languages of learning and teaching (LoLT) beyond elementary level. Students in these schools are taught subjects such as mathematics, natural science, and technology in their home languages of isiXhosa and Sesotho.
However, Motshekga noted that it would be impossible to transition to a purely mother-tongue-based system, and that the government will use technology and other systems to effectively translate complicated scientific and mathematical concepts into languages that do not necessarily have the same terminology.