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By Nthabisang Moreosele | Feb 05, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

It would only take five or six years to produce excellent matric results if African children were taught in their mother tongue.

It would only take five or six years to produce excellent matric results if African children were taught in their mother tongue.

Professor LMZ Khumalo of the University of Zululand says African children have to contend with language and knowledge before they can answer exam questions.

"Our children know their languages. Do not be fooled by people who say you need other people's languages to process information," Khumalo said.

Most children learn in their mother tongue for three to four years before switching to English or Afrikaans.

It is estimated that pupils need at least six to eight years to learn a second language, which at best will produce pass rates of between 30percent and 40percent.

This estimate is reflected in the poor matric pass rate among African children. Last year about 38percent failed matric.

Khumalo says Afrikaner children learn in Afrikaans from preschool right up to matric and university and produce excellent matric results. Government and parents are the ones who confuse children by teaching them in other people's languages.

Africans tend to ridicule anyone who cannot speak English. It has become a status symbol and a sign of intelligence.

"People died on June 16 1976 over language usage. But some languages are more equal than others," says Stanley Letsoko, a director at Wits Business School.

"Parents and the government lack confidence in our languages and their own culture. It is a common trait for the colonised to idolise the master and not to respect themselves.

"All the people of the world, the English, French, Germans, Spanish learn in their own languages. They guard them jealously for that reason - except the colonised.

"All that is needed is a bold step from the government - in five or six years everything will be fine," Khumalo said.

He says the university has compiled dictionaries for all disciplines from the arts to the sciences.

"We have had 15 years of democracy but that is not enough. We can only know that we are free in 40 years."

Letsoko says the government erred by pronouncing on a flawed policy that made all 11 languages official.

"Languages should be spoken but also have power. Ours do not. Most MPs do not bother to use African languages and we do not fight to protect our languages the way the Afrikaners do."

He cites the case of a Durban mother who went to court about the quality of the language taught in her son's school.

The mother of a pupil at Durban High School had complained that her son was being taught "kitchen Zulu". She believed it would be disadvantageous for him culturally and socially, and that the language was being subjugated in favour of English and Afrikaans.

She said she expected him to be taught isiZulu at the same level as English and Afrikaans, but the court heard that isiZulu and Afrikaans were taught at lower levels.

The court found that there was no justification for discriminating against isiZulu speakers.

English and Afrikaans are the preferred languages in Parliament and in business. Blacks themselves are the ones who promote English.

Letsoko says most French- speaking Africans had lost the bulk of their languages.

"To say all languages are official and equal is to duck the issue. The English are laughing while we make fools of ourselves over their language. English is the most exported commodity of their country," he says.

Sibusiso Nkosi of the Pan-South African Language Board says they would welcome a decision for mother tongue instruction in schools.

"We advocate mother tongue instruction for pupils as it will help them understand their studies. It should not only be used at university but should start in kindergarten," Nkosi says.

"If the Education Department were to consider its use, Pansalb would welcome it."

He says that Pansalb has developed lexicographies in all official languages, including Khoi and San, which would be published this year.


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