Western Cape Education MEC Cameron Dugmore officially launched the Western Cape Education Department's Language Transformation Plan on Saturday 30 February at a meeting at the Cape Town Teachers' Centre in Claremont.
Representatives from 16 project schools, which will form the laboratory for part of this plan, and various experts and planners have been working on the implementation detail since an in-principle agreement eighteen months ago to set two provincial targets, namely:
1. The promotion of mother-tongue based bilingual education for at least six years wherever practicable. This refers to the medium of instruction in the classroom.
2. The advancement of a plan to provide at least three years of teaching in all three official languages of the province. This refers to languages as subjects and is a plan to ensure that all learners will have at least a basic communicative competence in all three languages before the end of the General Education and Training band (ie grades 1 - 9).
All schools across the province will be asked to examine their enrolment, their staffing and their timetables to set out policies and plans for the short, medium and long term. Even schools with a single medium of instruction need to have plans to advance multilingualism in terms of the national Language in Education Policy of 1997. Schools continue to have the right to set their own language of learning and teaching according to the South African Schools' Act,
Says MEC Dugmore: "The education department will be setting up an information and advocacy programme to support schools and parents in this year of getting ready.
"The idea behind the transformation is that schools will voluntarily take up the issues, especially once the advocacy programme brings to the attention of parents the vital connection between laying a good conceptual foundation in the mother-tongue and then adding on to that an additional language or even two additional languages.
"We know that English is the language of admission to the global market and we are not talking about either isiXhosa or English. We are talking about both the good teaching of isiXhosa and the good teaching of English or good teaching of Afrikaans.
"If the parents want it then it will be good Afrikaans and good isiXhosa. Our test results for learners who are not being taught in their mother tongue speak for themselves. The time has come for tackling this matter head-on and that is what we are doing.
"I see this as building the province as a learning home for all, for breaking down the divisions between speakers of different languages and, in fact, making a direct contribution to economic growth and development.
"The plan informs our provincial Literacy and Numeracy strategy and should also help parents' confidence about the value of neighbourhood schooling,
"The plan does not expect an instant, burdensome or costly switch. The idea is for the changes to be made incrementally. The real point is that we must make a start. We must put our weight behind the arguments for better educational and life prospects for learners by extending the use of the mother-tongue for longer than the current practice.
"The second target is important because it makes good nation-building and economic sense for us to learn one another's languages. We are talking about language status here. The status of language and the status of its speakers are tightly linked.
"To date it has been expected of speakers of isi-Xhosa to learn English. The move of the WCED will go a long way to shift power more equitably and fits in with the language policy of the province, which has three official languages.
"The plan was announced in a circular sent to schools this week. Before the end of the term the principal, governing body chairperson and a teacher from each school in the province will have attended an orientation workshop.
"The first workshop for schools will be held in Knysna on Monday. Language experts in the province have thrown their weight behind the developments as have teacher unions and school governing body associations. I am also happy to note that publishers are part of the process, because at the moment there are no text books in isiXhosa beyond Grade 3 level.
"I am so serious about the transformation of languages in education, that I have seconded a respected language expert and WCED official Anne Schlebusch to my office, to oversee this venture."
For full text of speech: www.capegateway.gov.za/education