The debate over English versus mother tongue instruction at school and at tertiary level is an ongoing one in South Africa with its 11 official languages.
Because English is currently the preferred language of education, many non-native speakers are at a disadvantage, which influences their progress at school and in their future careers.
Nonetheless, a study by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) based on the most recent South African Social Attitudes Survey, found that popular support for English as the language of instruction during the foundation phase had gone up to 65% – the highest level since polling began.
CapeTalk's Africa Melane speaks to Jaqueline Harvey, researcher at the HSRC's Education and Skills Development programme.
She says one of the main reasons for this preference is perceived economic benefits. The fact that greater resources are devoted to helping teachers educate pupils in English, also reinforces the perception that it is superior to African languages, whereas the focus should actually be on promoting multi-lingualism.
English is not the only language that is worthwhile. We must promote the other languages as well because they all have value.— Jaqueline Harvey, Researcher - HSRC Education and Skills Development programme
Harvey says a combined approach would most benefit pupils.
Good English language teaching should not come at the expense of schooling in the vernacular language.— Jaqueline Harvey, Researcher - HSRC Education and Skills Development programme
If you are taught in your own language you will have a better understanding because how are you going to master the content if you're not understanding what is being said or if you cannot express your own thoughts to ask questions?— Jaqueline Harvey, Researcher - HSRC Education and Skills Development programme
She says a large part of the responsibility for raising parents' awareness lies with researchers like herself in spreading the word about the benefits of home language teaching.
But is the government doing enough to implement a dual system to support school children? Harvey feels positive that the education department is working towards the ideal scenario.
I know of several studies and people in the government that we are working towards this, especially with the new policy of incremental implementation of indigenous languages.— Jaqueline Harvey, Researcher - HSRC Education and Skills Development programme
Listen to the conversation with Harvey here:
This article first appeared on CapeTalk : Majority of South Africans prefer children to be taught in English - study