Government wants to make language changes at South Africa’s schools – including matric exams

The Department of Basic Education will look at piloting new language changes to assist students who do not study in their home language.

Responding in a recent written parliamentary Q&A, minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga said that in terms of current policy a candidate must, unless otherwise stated, respond to the question paper in the language of learning and teaching.

“Currently, at the Grade 12 level, the learner is either taught through the medium of English or Afrikaans. Hence, provision is currently made only for learners to respond in English or Afrikaans, in their non-language subjects.

“However, the department is currently investigating the option of providing candidates with question papers that are presented both in the language of learning and teaching and in the mother tongue of the learner,” she said.

“This option will first be piloted in either Grade 10 or Grade 11; and based on the outcome in this pilot, it will (be) considered for implementation in the high stakes Grade 12 examination.”

This aligns with broader language changes that the Department of Education is seeking to introduce across a number of earlier grades.

The Department of Basic Education, working alongside Unicef, has developed a new multi-language concept paper to encourage the use of mother-tongue languages at the country’s schools.

In a separate written parliamentary Q&A, Motshekga said that her department now intends to introduce African languages as mother tongue incrementally beyond the foundation phase (Grade R – Grade 3).

Motshekga said that this change follows a successful ‘Mother Tongue Based Bilingual Education pilot’ run by the Eastern Cape Department of Education.

As part of the pilot, 2,015 schools are using IsiXhosa and Sesotho as the language of learning and teaching (LoLT) beyond the foundation phase.

Motshekga said that learners in these schools are taught Mathematics, Natural Science and Technology in their home languages IsiXhosa and Sesotho.

“This initiative was started in 72 Cofimvaba (Eastern Cape) schools in Grade 4 in 2012 and incrementally in subsequent grades – the cohort is in Grade 12 in 2020.

“The province is working with other stakeholders such as the Rhodes University, University of Fort Hare, Oxford University Press, Pearson, and PanSALB.”

Motshekga added that learners in the pilot outperformed those not in the cohort in the June examinations on 17 out of 18 questions.

“The National Curriculum Statement encourages learners to learn through their home language, particularly in lower grades where learners learn the critical foundational skills of reading, writing and numeracy.

“English and Afrikaans are used as LoLT throughout the system, although just 23% of South Africans identify English and Afrikaans as their Home Languages. African Home Languages are used as LoLT mainly in the foundation phase, and thereafter transit to English.”

Read: Here is South Africa’s updated school calendar for 2020 – including the new terms and school holidays

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Government wants to make language changes at South Africa’s schools – including matric exams