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Media Release

22 August, 2007

WCED Language Transformation Plan promotes six years of mother-tongue-based bilingual education and conversational trilingualism

The Western Cape Education Department's (WCED) Language Transformation Plan will promote six years of mother-tongue-based bilingual education and envisages that all learners in the Western Cape will by the end of Grade 9, have some basic conversational trilingualism.

Significantly, all schools will for the first time, submit a comprehensive School Language Policy and Implementation Plan to the department by 10 September.The plans will be studied by officials who will respond to the schools in the fourth quarter.

We are encouraging schools to provide at least six years of mother-tongue-based bilingual education wherever practicable. Research has indicated that this is long overdue. There is clear evidence that learners need a minimum of six years of tuition in their mother tongue in order to achieve enough language skills to cope with the linguistic challenge of learning through the medium of a second language.

The WCED has set up 16 project schools, which have enthusiastically adopted this policy, in consultation with parents, and which are already reporting obvious changes in classroom behaviour and academic performance.

They report, for example, that the learners are far more lively in class, now that they can learn through the medium of isiXhosa and that their academic performance is improving. The model is being used effectively in the trilingual and bilingual schools in the project group as well.

All eyes will be on these schools later in the year when they will write, for the first time, the WCED Grade 6 Assessment Tests in isiXhosa. Schools are reportedly looking forward to improved scores on the Numeracy tests and to demonstrating that their problem has not been with Numeracy as such, but with the language of assessment. Evaluators note that it is not just learner self-esteem, which is growing but that educator esteem is on the increase as well.

Lecturers at UWC are impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment of the 16 teachers from these schools who have been enrolled by the WCED in an "Advanced Certificate of Education" in language studies.

Dr Neville Alexander, who serves on my Provincial Language Consultative Committee, notes that this is a really promising model. He delivered a lecture to about 70 teachers from the project schools who came to Cape Town for a Saturday seminar to discuss research plans and found their enthusiasm and dedication infectious.

The project schools indicate that virtually the only constraint they are experiencing is the lack of text books in isiXhosa after Grade 3. In this regard I approached publishers last year with a view to getting partnerships going.

I have found that the publishing houses were ready to commit and some are ready with books, which schools are ordering now as part of the current WCED special project to put two text books into every classroom from Grades 4 - 7 in all schools in quintiles 1 to 4 (in which the Project Schools all find themselves).

In pursuit of the second target - at least conversational trilingualism - I want to announce that a volunteer cohort of about 30 - 40 teachers has been working on a provincial learning programme for the teaching of isiXhosa as a second additional language. The department seconded a core group of teachers for a week but beyond that the work has been voluntary.

The core group has been implementing their draft programme and report that their lessons are going very well. In the past one of the problems with the teaching of isiXhosa at the primary school has been that teachers have had to work out their own programmes.

They have struggled with standards and often also struggled with enthusiasm levels amongst learners and even a lack of enthusiasm amongst colleagues and principals. The material developers feel that this will soon be a thing of the past. The new documents will be sent to schools this term and the WCED plans to meet with principals in the new term to set challenges for the further roll out of isiXhosa teaching in schools.

The next task to be tackled by the WCED team will be a similar project to develop a programme for Afrikaans second additional language. There have even been requests for a similar product to support isiXhosa First additional language.

There are promising indications that isiXhosa will grow in status across all sectors in the province. If we have more schools offering tuition through isiXhosa and if results improve then clearly confidence will grow.

If English speakers and Afrikaans speakers are all also learning isiXhosa and Xhosa-speakers add Afrikaans to their curriculum then some of the barriers that we now experience will fall away. This is truly a nation-building process in pursuit of the vision of a Home for All.

To prepare for this period the WCED provided week-long orientation courses to all relevant officials in the first quarter. Three representatives from each school - the principal, the chairperson of the school governing body and a teacher all attended a day-long workshop.

By the end of the quarter over 3,500 people had training of some kind. The WCED printed 500,000 leaflets addressed to Xhosa-speaking parents and has distributed half of these already. In the next fortnight the remainder will go out at taxi ranks, bus and train stations, and at a range of other outlets.

This will be part of a major media blitz, including radio messages, to encourage all parents to enroll their children in mother-tongue learning. Parents also need to know that it is both their duty and their right to get to their children's schools to make sure that the policy submitted on September 10th is one, which has been fully consulted.

We have prepared a video in isiXhosa to address some of the issues. In it the national Mininster, Naledi Pandor, firmly endorses the plan. Other prominent supporters featured on the video are Archbishop Desmond Tutu, writer Sindiwe Mangona, Dr Nokuzola Mdende, Professor Abner Nyamende and Vuyani Ngcuka.

Because decisions about the language of learning and teaching are vested in the parents, the WCED has taken the matter of advocacy very seriously. A key thrust maintained by almost all the contributors - who included members of the Provincial Representative Council of learners for example - is that the time is ripe for people to claim the chance to learn through their mother tongue as a 'right'.

Although much of the thrust is into the isiXhosa community the effort is very much geared to the Afrikaans-speaking parents who have increasingly been enrolling their children in English classes.

The message is clear - whatever your mother tongue is, the more time you have to build up conceptual clarity through your home language the better are your educational and life chances in the long run.

Eventually we need to see results in real terms - we want empowered learners who can achieve to their full potential. We are really excited as we look at the beginning of a new society - one where all languages are held in high regard and where children and adults can use and develop their languages with dignity. The days of having text books in isiXhosa only up to the end of Grade 3 must be a thing of the past."

Until all of us in this province can speak one another's languages well enough to communicate with one another in full, we will be limiting our own economic growth. If isiXhosa has a low status in the market-place, then its speakers will continue to sacrifice their mother tongue in favour of the perceived benefits of other languages.

We want our Afrikaans citizens likewise to be able to embrace their own language with confidence. We must grow language to grow people to grow the economy.

For enquiries, contact Gert Witbooi:  082 550 3938, or gwitbooi@pgwc.gov.za.

Issued by:
Gert Witbooi
Media Liaison Officer
Office of the MEC for Education
Western Cape
Tel: 021 467 2523
Fax: 021 425 5689

Visit our website: http://wced.wcape.gov.za

The Western Cape - A Home for All
INtshona Koloni - iKhaya loMntu wonke
Die Wes-Kaap - 'n Tuiste vir Almal

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