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Media Release

21 February, 2002


Task Team to develop home language education strategy

Statement by André Gaum, Western Cape Education Minister

I have asked the Western Cape Education Department to establish a Ministerial Task Team to develop a strategy for implementing home language instruction for the first seven years of schooling in the province, in so far and as soon as this is practicable.

The strategy will go a long way towards ensuring effective education in the Western Cape, given the importance of mother tongue education in the cognitive development of primary school children.

It will support language policy objectives in the province, as well as the Language in Education Policy (LiEP) of the national Department of Education.

The LiEP supports the constitutional principle of "creating conditions for the development and for the promotion of the equal use of all official South African languages", while promoting practices which recognise home languages as powerful tools for cognitive development.

I have proposed that the team should include experts in the field of language of instruction.

I have also asked the WCED to form a Ministerial Advisory Committee consisting of the main stakeholders in the language of instruction debate. The Advisory Committee will include representatives of:

  • The main teachers' unions;
  • Faculties and schools of education of higher education institutions in the province;
  • School governing body associations in the Western Cape; and
  • Other possible stakeholders with a particular interest in language in education.

The Ministerial Task Team will be asked to develop a document summarising the research on language of instruction in schools.

The document should emphasise the contexts and conditions under which learning and cognitive development are maximised. No new research should be undertaken, although existing research should be summarised in an accessible form.

The team will be asked to develop an implementation strategy and plan for the introduction of mother tongue education in schools and the introduction of a third language in primary schools.

This plan should indicate the human, financial and other resources required to introduce such education over the next five to 10 years. This will entail an investigation of:

  • The legal and other steps that will have to be taken to support a policy on using mother tongue education for the first seven years of schooling in the Western Cape;
  • The language profile of learners in all primary schools;
  • The language policy in all primary schools;
  • The teaching staff language proficiency; and
  • The availability of textbooks and readers in the home languages of our learners.

Our national Constitution and the Language in Education Policy (LiEP) are among several key measures designed to promote the use of our official languages in South Africa.

Others include Section 5 of the Constitution of the Western Cape (Act 1 of 1998); the Western Cape Languages Act (Act 13 of 1998); and the Pan South African Language Board Act (Act 59 of 1995).

The LiEP has not been implemented in large numbers of schools in South Africa. The main reason for this is that the legislation places no obligation on schools to offer particular languages, but encourages schools which are "willing and able to offer more than one language medium in order to accommodate parental or learners’ preferences".

The decision on languages of learning and languages offered as subjects is left to the school governing body (Department of Education, 1996).

The South African Schools Act (SASA) stipulates that school governing bodies are required to "announce the school’s language policy, and to state how it will promote multi-lingualism through a variety of measures".

Research conducted in 1998/1999 found that very few schools had developed language policies in line with the requirements of SASA, although all have de facto policies.

These polices in general evolve from staff language proficiency and parental preference for what are perceived to be high status languages.

Researchers writing at the time recommended that government support its language policy with an implementation plan. The Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA) puts the responsibility for such a plan at the door of the provincial education departments.

PRAESA has said: "It is safe to assume that in the absence of a concerted implementation strategy on the part of the provincial education authorities together with NGOs, to empower governing bodies, the latter will go the way of least resistance and delay taking difficult decisions on the language of teaching and learning and teacher appointments."

In 2001 the DoE began the process of developing a Language in Education Implementation Plan. This plan will roll out over the next five years. The WCED will be represented on the structures planned for this intervention.

I am confident that the work of the Ministerial Task Team in the Western Cape will make valuable contribution to both national and provincial plans to promote the use of mother tongue education in our schools.

Issued by:
The Communications Directorate
Western Cape Education Department
Private Bag X9114
Cape Town 8000
Tel: (021) 467-2531
Fax: (021) 467-2363
Email: pattwell@pawc.wcape.gov.za
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