Teaching in mother tongue, is Africa ready?

In recent weeks, South Africa, like a number of other African countries has once again been huddled in debates on whether education, particularly at primary level should be taught in pupils’ mother tongues.

For many, this issue is deep-rooted in nationhood and identity. On the other hand, the issue of mother tongue as a language of instruction in schools is undergoing research on how to better serve the African child in the classroom. It is a debate that many African countries have battled with since the attainment of independence.

The argument raised by those in favour of making mother tongues the medium of instruction is that countries like Germany have used this model and it has worked well for them. However, countries like Germany have managed to produce textbooks for various subjects written in their own languages – and this is something most African countries are yet to achieve.

This is by no means saying it cannot be done, but perhaps is a realisation that there are scientific and mathematical concepts that will take a long time to be conceptualised in our own languages.

Language is such a fascinating notion because it forms the core of any society’s expression of social identity. Therefore, the choice of language that one consciously or otherwise chooses is an important political and social statement.

Now and again, the issue of which language should be used in schools becomes a vital touching point because languages shape thoughts and emotions as well as determining one’s perception of reality.

Language is especially sensitive for Africa because the language used in schools and business in most countries is the language of former colonisers (the west). Pragmatically, policy makers still concede the importance of English, French and other languages from the west as important in the socio-economic sphere.

Research by UNESCO and other scientific bodies has shown that that teaching children in their mother tongues during the first three years of formal education goes a long way to prepare them for a better grasp of concepts and enhances the quality of learning and educational achievement.

Whether we like it or not, after the first three years, we in Africa are still a long way from achieving an all-indigenous education system, no matter how appealing the idea is. The importance of being able to participate in a global market place, where languages from the west are the medium of communication, cannot be understated.

Post published in: News
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  1. Donette Read Kruger

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