Beware the pitfalls of education in English

Black children get absorbed into cultures foreign to their own, which leads to loss of identity, when parents send them to schools with European culture domination. /Raymond Preston
Black children get absorbed into cultures foreign to their own, which leads to loss of identity, when parents send them to schools with European culture domination. /Raymond Preston

There is a psychological weapon which has made some sections of the black population to dislike and even abandon their own languages.

This trend happens alongside a growing perception that English is more important than our own African languages, and the believe that speaking English equates to success.

There is a group of African parents, across society spectrum, who insist on education for their children at formerly white schools, where their children would be taught in English.

Taking black children to such schools for their better infrastructure and resources is not so much of a problem. The problem is when they do that for their children to be assimilated into cultures foreign to their families', and therefore destroying the children's identities.

The problem appears destined to be with us for a long time because even the lawmakers in parliament prefer such schools, and worse private schools steeped in English culture, for their children.

No wonder these politicians see no urgency to correct all that's wrong about language policy in schools, or fixing structural challenges in townships and rural villages schools.

Black consciousness should be compulsory at schools to start decolonising the young minds. But given the reasons above, that law is unlikely to be passed.

It is disappointing that there are still people who think being educated means speaking good English.

I wonder if the policy makers in our country understand what they talk about when they speak of "decolonised curriculum".

Decolonisation should speak to the language issue, which is the foundation of our identity as a people.

To achieve on this we need to direct our conscious away from glorifying everything of European traditions. When we were growing up we heard older people saying "u dya xilungu", loosely translated to "you eat like a white person" whenever you had a good meal.

It is a well-researched fact that the children who do well are those who learn in their mother tongues.

It is therefore mind-blogging that educated black families, including those of the lawmakers, still insist on sending their children to schools with European culture domination.

As a teacher, earlier this year, I encountered what I deemed a shameful situation, when a black child wanted to start doing Zulu in grade 10.

Parents need to fight for their children to access their African languages in the schools they go to, in order to help them to stay in touch with their identities.

The general secretary of teachers' union Sadtu Mugwena Maluleke puts it succinctly when he said: "Nothing done by a black person is accepted because you as a black person you cannot accept yourself because you are so damaged."

However, the article in SowetanLIVE yesterday, about introduction of matric examinations with African language option, points to an encouraging future.

The article indicates that the programme will be piloted in Eastern Cape with Xhosa as the language of choice to write final exams.

This mission responds to National Development Plan's Chapter 9 provision about the urgent need to preserve and promote indigenous languages in SA, using formal school system as one of the tools.

Hopefully, this groundbreaking option will reach all black children across the country soon.

Failure to achieve on this plan might lead to us waking up one day and realise that we no longer have our own languages and culture.

Not having your own language is equal to death of one's identity. Let's appreciate and preserve what is ours.

Shishenge is language activist with Wena Research Institute

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