4 new language options coming to schools in South Africa

South Africa must begin a serious debate on mother-tongue teaching and learning, says basic education minister Angie Motshekga.

Presenting her departmental budget speech this past week, Motshekga said that given the demographics of the country, more than 80% of learners, continue to learn in a language other than their mother tongue.

“We must begin a serious debate on mother-tongue teaching and learning. Currently, learners learn in their mother tongue until Grade 3, then switch to English or Afrikaans as the language of learning and teaching.  Not doing so, will continue to contribute greatly to under-achievement.  We must have a policy shift in this area.”

“We must acknowledge the interesting work currently underway in the Eastern Cape on teaching some gateway subjects across the curriculum in isiXhosa and SeSotho with positive results. The North West has realised the importance of delivering the CAPS in Setswana across all Phases and Grades.”

This follows comments made by Motshekga in March 2022, in which she noted that one of the biggest reasons why South African children have such poor reading comprehension skills is that they are essentially learning in a ‘foreign language’ by being taught in English.

However, the minister acknowledged that there were issues with moving to a purely mother-tongue-based system, noting that it was likely impossible to have a pure class in Sotho or Xhosa in Gauteng the way similar classes have been held in the Eastern Cape.

She added that in classes teachers use multiple different languages to help children learn and get their point across. However, when it comes to assessments – which are typically done in English – they are once again forced to grapple with a language they did not understand while learning.

“They are no longer being tested on their cognitive development or understanding (0f the work). You are now testing their language abilities, which is a problem.

“Government has begun the process of changing this and the next step is to assess them in the language they are taught – so that we are able to assess performance and not language proficiency.”

New languages

Motshekga also confirmed that her department is working to introduce several second additional languages in the country’s school curriculum.

“We strategically decided to expand the list of South African languages offered as second additional languages in the curriculum, she said.

The additional languages include:

  • Khoi
  • Nama
  • San
  • South African Sign Language (SASL)

“We have also signed an agreement with Kenya, and we are in the process of signing another with Tanzania on the development of curriculum and the South African teachers in Kiswahili. Had it not been for the Covid-19 pandemic, we would have been far in piloting Kiswahili in Grades 4-6 in 2021-2023,” she said.


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4 new language options coming to schools in South Africa