KEETMANSHOOP – Parents in the //Karas Region are against their children being taught in their mother-tongue although research shows that children taught in their vernacular attain higher grades.
An interview with teachers in the region confirmed that parents are objecting to a recommendation by teachers that children be taught in Khoekhoegowab. They insist on having their children taught in Afrikaans. Wilhelmina Tooispan, principal of Don Bosco Primary School says most parents prefer instruction in Afrikaans for their children rather than KhoeKhoegowab. “It is so sad when parents insists on Afrikaans when they speak to their children in Khoekhoegowab in front of you and when the child goes back home they will also speak Khoekhoegowab. It really is worrying,” she sighed. According to Constance Wantenaar, principal of Schmelenville Combined School in Bethanie, there is overwhelming evidence that children taught in their mother-tongue from Grade 1 have an advantage over the ones taught in Afrikaans or English in later years ion terms of their performance. “We have discovered that 70 percent of our learners who sat for the Grade 10 exam who had Khoekhoegowab as a mother-tongue passed the grade, while 100 percent of those who had Khoekhoegowab as mother-tongue from Grade 1 got A to D symbols in their exams,” according to Wantenaar. She also emphasised that that learners are more inclined to speak English and that they pick it up easily. She says the importance of mother-tongue instruction annot be over-emphasised. According to the Subject Advisor for Khoekhoegowab of the education directorate in the //Karas Region, Petrus Goeieman, the best language in which learners can form a concept is in their own language. He pointed out that the first year at school for every child is a very challenging and overwhelming year and with the added trauma brought about by a strange language, learners find it immensely difficult to cope. Goeieman insists that learners should use their mother-tongue as a foundation. She says when children exposed to a strange language overnight it does more damage than good.
“A child who grew up on the farm knows the word ‘sheep’ in its mother tongue and now teachers come with English and that’s when the child finds it difficult to form a concept around this new word. Even when we follow learners up to Grade 10, you can see many of those learners who had Afrikaans as a second language fail, which affects their grading tremendously. Those who have Khoekhoegowab as a first language have an advantage, because they usually maintain an A grade,” he noted. Lourentius Davids, Chief Education Officer, African Languages at the National Institute for Educational Development (NIED), says it is imperative for parents to understand that teachers are not against English as a medium of instruction, but that mother-tongue education in fact should be seen as a support for the acquisition of a second language such as English. Davids made it clear that the issue surrounding mother-tongue instruction is coming a long way since 1953 and that it has been proven that it is ideal and beneficial, because it is the first language the child learns and knows, the language spoken at home and the language that the child understands completely.
He also noted that the philosophy of a ‘learner centered’ education should ideally mean the child is at the heart of the teaching process. Most importantly he explained, is that there must be a language of common understanding, a language the child understands best and if it is not the mother-tongue then how can justice be done to the child. “The child needs a vehicle to make meaning of the knowledge transferred, in the absence of such a vehicle no effective teaching and no real transfer of information can take place. Scholars agree the world over that mother-tongue education is imperative. Look at European countries, the Scandinavian countries where they boast a 100 percent literacy rate, those people speak their mother-tongue. Look at the advanced nations like China and Korea they use their mother-tongue, even their pamphlets and instructions come in their mother-tongue. Russia developed without English and look where it is now. We can only give parents tangible examples to make them understand the importance of this,” he noted. He also advises parents to look at the Germans who enrolled their children in German schools and Afrikaners who enrol their children in Afrikaans schools, because there is an understanding of the importance of mother-tongue education.
“If you look at our best performing schools then you will see they are the Afrikaans private schools. Mother– tongue is the centre here. But many of our people think that if you speak English you are educated, that is a fallacy,” he said. Meanwhile, the education director in the //Karas Region, /Awebahe //Hoeseb says it is his experience that one of the reasons why Khoekhoegowab instruction is backsliding is because teachers feel it is an inferior language and thus do not want to be associated with the language. He also noted that some of the teachers lack the competence to teach children in their mother-tongue, as well as the fact that people often refer to those that speak in Khoekhoegowab as ‘intellectually challenged’.
“There is no lack of materials for KhoeKhoegowab and it is sad that this should come at a time that our cross-border agreement with South Africa on the Nama language is coming to fruition,” //Hoeseb said.
By Jemima Beukes