Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Afrikaans and the mother tongue

Kathleen Heugh's wide-ranging essay "Literacy and Bi/Multilingual Education in Africa: Recovering Collective Memory and Experience" in Multilingual Education for Social Justice: Globalising the Local (click here for ordering information) has an ironic example of the effectiveness of Mother-Tongue Medium (MTM) education.

"Apartheid logic included separate ethnolinguistic education systems. This meant eight years of MTM education for African children, followed by a transition to an equal number of subjects in Afrikaans and English in secondary school. The use of MTM education under such circumstances tainted its educational legitimacy amongst African language communities in South Africa....

"Resistance to the compulsory use of Afrikaans medium for half of the subjects in secondary school for African students culminated in a student revolt in Soweto in 1976. Government was forced to make Afrikaans medium optional and MTM education was reduced from eight to four years of primary....

"At the time, heated political debates deflected attention from the de facto achievements of MTM education in South Africa. The secondary school leaving pass rate for African students rose to 83.7% by 1976. The English language (as subject) pass rate improved to over 78%. Within a few years of the reduction of MTM education to four years and earlier transition to English, the school leaving pass rates declined to 44% by 1992, with a parallel decline in English language proficiency (Heugh 2002). Macdonald (1990) was to show that students could not become sufficiently proficient in English by the end of the fourth year to facilitate a successful transition to English medium in grade 5.

"Although African parents hoped that extended and earlier access to English in school would deliver higher-level proficiency in English and educational success, the educational gap between speakers of African languages and speakers of Afrikaans and English, who have MTM education throughout, has widened. The knock-on effect of this is that those leaving school and going into the teaching profession are now less well-equipped for teaching and there is a downward spiral of teaching competence across the entire system....

"Ironically, by accident rather than design, apartheid education offered optimal opportunity for first and second language development alongside cognitive and academic development from 1955-1976. Despite the intention of separate and unequal education, an unintended consequence was greater educational success than other educational policy in the region. (pp. 101-2)

1 comment:

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