Home Language Education, Possibility or Fantasy?

Home Language Education, Possibility or Fantasy?

My previous article focused on our 11 official languages and the different, and often unknown, dialects. A quick recap in order to set the basis for this article is that if we take all these dialects and variations as well as other non-official languages into consideration we end up with way more than 11 languages. This will have a direct influence on the plausibility and possibility of making home language education as contained in the constitution a reality.

For this article we will only consider the 11 official languages as eligible languages for home language education. This is not due to a disregard for other languages or dialects but simply for the sake of clarity and understanding. This article is written based on my own personal experience with regards to home language education and the impact it has had on my schooling career.

I was raised in an Afrikaans household and I was granted the choice to choose the language in which I would like to receive my education in. I opted for English as home language and therefore had all my subjects in English. The first year was a bit of a struggle as I had to relearn all the terms which I knew in Afrikaans. But by the time I got to matric I was fully acquainted with English and this made my decision to study in English a no-brainer.

During my studies I realised the advantage I had over the other Afrikaans speaking students who did not receive their schooling in English. They had to basically relearn all the terms they knew in Afrikaans in English. All of our assignments, exams and textbooks were in English. My English schooling prepared me for this scenario and thus gave me an advantage over the other students.

Yes, recent studies has shown that home language education will greatly improve the marks achieved by learners but it does not mention the possible difficulties they can encounter when they cannot use their home language on tertiary level. They will then also have to relearn everything they know in English so that they can be on par with the rest of the students.

Just think about this for a moment. In order for South African children to enjoy home language education a drastic change in the schooling system has to be brought about. All curriculums and subjects along with all of its textbooks, workbooks and lesson tools have to be translated into all 11 official languages. Educators will have to be retrained so as to present biology in isiZulu or physical sciences in SiSwati.

Then there is the issue of schools. It would be practical to present all 11 languages at one school. There would simply not be enough space to accommodate 11 classes of each subject, for all 7 grades in primary school and for all 5 grades in high school. We will have to have a school in each area for each language. This will bring about a segregation based on language, something will not promote social cohesion.

Home language education is a noble idea, something which will greatly benefit our children. Is South Africa ready for such an approach? Has the costs implicated to make this a reality been calculated? Is our tertiary institutions geared to train educators in all 11 official languages? Is home language education possible or purely a fantasy? My best guess is that it is possible but not in the near future and not without creating a number of headaches and challenges.