The Department of Basic Education in the Eastern Cape has launched a project that will see learners write their exams in isiXhosa. Although the project has been welcomed by experts, there are minor issues that have been brought to the surface regarding its practicality.
Exams in the mother tongue are being tested by the Eastern Cape Education Department as part of its efforts to ensure that indigenous languages are prioritised in the sector. However, the effectiveness of the pilot project’s implementation has been questioned as some believe that it has been rushed.
One of the resounding complaints about the project revolves around flaws in the translation of the provided learning material. This, according to media reports, is due to there being certain learners who are already accustomed to writing their examinations in English or Afrikaans and have to write their science and accounting exams solely in their indigenous language.
However, the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union’s (SADTU) Malibongwe Ntame Mthembu says issues in implementation would have barriers to an extent, particularly in the project’s initial phases. He adds that this is owing to the historical lack of transformation in the education sector’s prioritisation of indigenous languages.
The issue of language in education is a barrier. At some point, it is the question of translation becoming a relevant tool to assist the maturity of learners to understand the content and questioning through their mother-tongue language.
The union further states that teachers and learners were informed about the project which lead to six subjects being identified for a static status. These concerns are less prominent in the vast majority of schools, which are located in rural areas throughout the province.
The pilot project was initially introduced in 2012 from Grade 4 of each participating 70 schools in the Cofimvaba district and Ntame Mthembu maintains that it has so far yielded positive results compared to other provinces.
In February earlier this year, Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga convened a Seminar on the Eastern Cape Mother Language Education Programme where she stated that the Eastern Cape Department of Education is a trailblazer in the Mother Tongue-based Bilingual Education.
The MTbBE cohort was performing well in English, mathematics, science, and technology by 2016, according to the results of the pilot phase (MST). Ten schools per district were initially included in the 2017 provincial-wide rollout, which later included 100 schools.
By the original implementation plan, a thorough review would have been possible in 2020 with a sufficient representation of MTbBE learners in grades four to seven. The Department has trained 2520 officials and teachers in bi/multilingual teaching techniques as of this writing.
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