Matric pupils to write 2020 exams in isiXhosa and Sotho at Eastern Cape schools

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga will reveal the performance of the matric class of 2019 on the evening of January 7.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga will reveal the performance of the matric class of 2019 on the evening of January 7.
Image: 123RF/Julija Sapic

In a decision that will have major implications for isiXhosa and Sotho speaking pupils in the province, the Eastern Cape education department has given the go-ahead for matric pupils to answer exam questions in their home language from 2020.

The announcement was made by provincial education MEC Fundile Gade at a media briefing earlier this month, reports the Daily Dispatch.

To date, matrics have only been able to answer exam questions in English and Afrikaans. Multilingual exams will ensure that pupils receive question papers in their home languages as well as English and Afrikaans and can choose which language to use. ​

Eastern Cape schools will be the first in the country to apply this exam model in grade 12. It will mean that pupils who struggle to understand English or Afrikaans will now be able to understand subject content more easily, according to some education experts.

Addressing the media in Zwelitsha, Gade said more and more schools in the Eastern Cape had started mother tongue-based teaching, learning and assessment at the foundation phase to improve results.

Seven years ago, the Eastern Cape became the first province to move towards implementing the home language programme.

In September, Gade said of the 5,400 schools in the province, more than 2,000 had adopted the programme in grades 1, 2 and 3.

He said in 2012, 74 schools in Cofimvaba adopted the model and started teaching subjects, including mathematics, in isiXhosa. In 2017, the model was rolled out to a further 310 schools and extended to other lower grades.

In 2020 the programme would be implemented at grade 12 level, Gade said.

“We have passed through the 2019 examinations. Our eyes are now on the 2020 examinations because we are going to have grade 12 exam questions in isiXhosa, Sotho, Afrikaans and English.”

He said the Eastern Cape was the first province to take this step, which would “decolonise” education.

“If the project fails in front of our eyes, then we will be undermining the decolonisation of education, not as a country, but as a continent. It would suggest that the people of Africa are comfortable with colonisation.

“That is how serious the issue of grade 12 writing exams, including maths and science, in their mother tongue is. Many people in the country are thinking it is impossible, but successful nations are nations that conduct education in their mother tongue.”

The MEC believes this decision will improve matric results dramatically, to the extent that the province could soon rank among the best performers in the country.

“China, Singapore and Germany use their own languages. English is a secondary language, like other languages, so it can't be given preference as if pupils can't learn and develop outside of English.”

He said the programme would be rolled out to other provinces in future.

Gade's announcement was met with overwhelming support in the province, both in the education sector and among politicians.

Hlathikazi Beni, of the Umnombo Foundation, an NGO that supports struggling schools and pupils in the province, said the move would lead to transformation.

“Learners will better articulate themselves and understand the curriculum better. This will make things better for teachers as well. This is such a much-needed change in our learning experience,” Beni enthused.

Eastern Cape EFF boss Yazini Tetyana was equally buoyed by the decision.

“This is a good initiative by the department. We are proud of our languages and anything that makes our languages a priority is welcomed. The education department has our support because language defines who we are. If our people can read mathematics in Xhosa, sizovuya kakhulu (we will rejoice greatly)," Tetyana said. ​

Another education commentator has, however, noted that the writing of exams in home languages is not a guarantee that pupils will perform better.

“It is not enough that learners will get a chance to answer the examination papers in their mother tongue,” said education activist Hendrick Makaneta.

“The writing of exams in isiXhosa is not a guarantee that learners will perform better. Therefore, the Eastern Cape education MEC should not completely hide behind language for the province’s poor performance.” 

Teaching and learning has to take place thoroughly to prepare pupils for success, Makaneta said.

“If language alone was a guarantee for success, then no one would fail, but it is not. That is why you still find English-speaking learners who fail English as a subject despite the fact that it is taught in their mother tongue.

“As far as African languages are concerned, we still have a long way to go as most of our languages are not fully developed academically to accommodate mathematics and science for instance. There are many concepts which are yet to be taught in as far as sciences are concerned.

“It may well prove to be a big mountain to climb if learners can be tested without exposure to some of these concepts.

“Let us first develop our languages to an extent that they are on par with the English language and then let the learners be tested. What do we mean when we say let’s develop our languages? The answer is simple: Maths and science textbooks are still written in English and Afrikaans. Let us translate them into African languages and let the learners assimilate concepts in their mother tongue.”

  • Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga will reveal the performance of the matric class of 2019 on the evening of January 7.

Additional reporting by Kgaugelo Masweneng

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