Newspaper clipping – The Mercury – 19 November 2008

Mother tongue as first language


Public schools offering indigenous languages to mother tongue speakers could soon be forced to do so at first-language level.

This call from the council of education ministers – which provincial departments are expected to heed – stems from a court ruling against Durban High School earlier this year.

Teachers’ unions have supported the recommendation, but questioned whether provincial departments had the capacity to employ more teachers. The Pan South African Language Board also welcomed the news with reservation.

The Equality Court recently ruled that DHS had discriminated against its isiZulu-speaking pupils by teaching only “kitchen Zulu” in grades eight and nine last year. The complaint against the school was laid by Ntombenhle Nkosi, the chief executive of the language board, whose son was a pupil at DHS.

At the time, DHS offered grade eight and nine pupils English as a first-language subject, Afrikaans as a second-language subject and isiZulu as a third-language subject. The school has subsequently changed its policy and now offers Afrikaans and isiZulu on the same level in both grades.

Education ministry spokesman Lunga Ngqengelele said yesterday that the ministry agreed with the court’s decision.
“The decision has serious implications. If a pupil is isiZulu-speaking, they must be offered that language at an appropriate level,” he said.
“But this applies to all languages, not just isiZulu. Where there are enough pupils doing a language, Sotho for example, a public school must not offer that language to the pupils on an inferior level.”

This means that if pupils are first-language speakers of the additional languages that a public school offers, the school will have to offer the languages at the appropriate level specified by the curriculum. Ngqengelele said provincial education departments would also have to monitor curriculum choices closely “so that schools do not discriminate against African languages”.

The SA Democratic Teachers Union threw its weight behind the council, saying it shared concerns about the provision of quality education in all languages, which was a “constitutional matter as much as an educational issue”.

National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA president Ezra Ramasela said that the only challenge was the supply of teachers for additional languages.
“As much as we support this, we think the department was short-sighted in closing down teacher training colleges, which has affected the supply we have. Provincial departments do not have enough teachers,” he said.

Jabulani Simelane, of the language board, said students opted not to study indigenous languages at tertiary level because of fears of there being no job opportunities with those qualifications.
“The education department needs to be more proactive. We speak of equality in the Constitution, but there is no follow-through on the ground. We hope the provincial departments will do what they are called to do,” he said.