Using home languages in primary education will improve education in South Africa and Africa, but government policies on home language education lack substance to stimulate use and development of these languages, say various international and local experts.
Primary school teachers are poorly equipped to impart literacy in foreign languages to child- ren who may not have an opportunity to discover these foreign languages outside the class- room and cannot practise at home or in their neighbourhoods, says City University of New York Lehman College associate professor Immaculee Harushimana.
English is introduced as an exclusive academic language too early in schools. International research has consistently indicated that there is a direct correlation between mother-tongue education and academic performance, agrees North-West University (NWU) former vice chancellor Dr Theuns Eloff.
NWU has implemented a pilot programme on its Mafikeng and Potchefstroom campuses where education students can choose to listen to lectures translated into Setswana, the regional language. This was done because those students who are mostly from rural areas did not understand the language used, English, well enough to follow lectures properly. This language experiment has led to a markedly higher academic performance by these students, notes Eloff.
“Let us teach our children to love themselves and their heritage first before we introduce them to the languages and cultures of other people. Let us enable the acquisition of foundational school knowledge through the language they know best — their mother tongue – like all other countries are doing,” emphasises Harushimana, who spoke at the African EduWeek conference.
The acquisition of language becomes easier when literacy in the home language has been achieved. Mother-tongue instruction and foreign-language instruction are mutually supportive, she notes.
Research has demonstrated that children learn better in their mother tongue at an early age. Encouraging the use of South African languages in primary schools may improve the performance of learners and, simultaneously, create a platform for these languages to grow and develop, says University of Pretoria Afrikaans and Dutch literature Dr Andries Visagie.
A language can only thrive if it is used and developed in many sectors of society. After many years of little movement to implement constitutional stipulations about official lan- guages, particularly the very necessary promotion of the Nguni and Sotho languages, there are now plans to stimulate the use of these languages, he says.
“I remain hopeful that the new awareness about the value of mother-tongue education, particularly in primary education, will lead to the stimulation of the various South African languages and that speakers of these languages will acquire a new sense of pride in their linguistic heritage,” concludes Visagie.