Monday, 3 October 2011

In Search of a People's Education

In order for us to have an education system that serves young people in preparing them for the world of work, a system that helps them in identifying their strengths, and one that makes them aware that they are part of the solutions to the many challenges we face as a country, we need to think a little deeper about the education crisis we find ourselves in. (I am taking for granted that the crisis is evident).

The above is based on the assumption that our education system is not working, or put differently, our education system is not yet yielding the results we hope to see. Having said that, I am fully aware of the government's initiatives in addressing the crisis in education and commend their efforts (with some reluctance I might add).

My point of departure is on the language policy (I should be saying the lack of a language policy) and the ramifications that it has on the poor results that we continue to see. The Annual National Assessment (ANAs) scores released early on this year paint a gloomy picture of our education system and its achievements. At the core of these results is not the poor training of our teaching personnel as some say, or the lack of resources in our disadvantaged schools, or the lack of intervention on the part of the Department of Basic Education. While the afore-mentioned have their merit, it is the language question that is at the core of this debate as far I am concerned.

Many of our learners are taught in a language that is not their mother tongue. This puts them at a greatly disadvantaged position where they first have to decode what has been put to them in a second language into their mother tongue so as to understand what is expected of them. The learners’ conceptualization of curriculum content is thwarted, especially those learners whose mother tongue is not English or Afrikaans because these are the languages of learning and teaching (LOLT) from Grades 4 – 12.

The analysis of the ANAs reveal that the bulk of the learners who took this test battled with language barriers. The ANAs were conducted in English yet we have 11 official languages. It seems to me that our Education officials are of the opinion that proficiency in English spells doing well in school. I am confident that this view is proving to be narrow-minded and more people are coming to this realization.

The common tests that are set for the various grades are in either English or Afrikaans. Schools are usually left to translate these tests into an African language so as to give their learners a chance at passing them. The picture is no different when one looks at Grades 4-12, where the medium of instruction is English. The youth of '76 played their part in addressing this, though back then we had a different regime. However, it appears that not much has changed since then in as far as the medium of instruction is concerned.

Unless we get this sorted, our future is gloomy!