Mother Tongue-based Bilingual Education – educating an African fit for the 21st Century

The DBE’s Reading Literacy Strategy for 2023 – 2030 states that that the Reading Policy (enabling literacy policy environment) must be age-appropriate and culturally-relevant with agile teachers and with parental and community involvement. This new Reading Strategy acknowledges that the cog missing in the previous plans was basing reading literacy on Western logic for reading; and expecting that it can be multiplied in a blanket approach to all languages in the country. Initial implementation requires a seismic shift as the only way to improve learner literacy outcomes, teacher efficiency and transform the entire system. Language and literacy includes reading, listening, writing and speaking.

Dr Naledi Mbude-Mehana, DDG for Transformation Programmes, indicated that the Minister will announce the rollout of Mother Tongue-based Bilingual Education (MTbBE) to all schools in 2025 on International Mother Language Day, 21 February 2024. The announcement will be taking place in the Eastern Cape Province where the MTbBE pilot has been used as a reliable prototype for the implementation of isiXhosa.

“When we focus solely on just reading, a sub-component of languag-ing, the totality of language development in children, we will be unable to yield the return on investment that we expect. We must attend to language issues holistically to make progress in reading outcomes; hence we move to a focus on language and literacy. Language and literacy development refers to children’s emerging abilities to understand and use language. Intentional language skilling must focus on receptive skills, the ability to listen to and understand language and expressive skills ability to use language to communicate ideas, thoughts, and feelings (whether it is reading or writing) in the home language of the child. The CAPS will be strengthened to be language specific for reading methodologies in African languages. Provincial Language and Literacy plans must also indicate a teaching methodology based on the language that reading and writing is targeting. Early Learning National Assessment (ELNA) data points to a need for balanced plans when addressing the literacy challenge. Initial implementation requires a seismic shift as this is the only way to improve learner literacy outcomes and teacher effectiveness while transforming the whole system,” she said.

Phonological awareness is especially important in the early stages of literacy acquisition, when the regularity of phoneme-to-grapheme correspondence helps the reader recognise or decode new words. English is an analytic language with an opaque orthography, whereas the African languages are agglutinating with transparent orthographies. Linguistic differences and similarities between English and the African languages which influence aspects of reading are seldom dealt with in teacher training programmes.

MTbBE is the extension of the use of the Home Language of learners for all learners in the system beyond Grade 3. English and Afrikaans learners have MTbBE from cradle to Grade 12; whilst the rest have up to Grade 3. MTbBE will extend the use of Language of Learning and Teaching (LoLT) to 8 years (Grades R – 7) in the first Phase for MST subjects. The implementation of MTbBE will mainly target Home Language (HL) schools across all the provinces that change LoLT in Grade 4 and will cover the nine official African languages in the country. Phased implementation focusing on implementation in Mathematics, Science and Technology will be starting in Grade 4 – 7 each year. The strategy focusses on teaching MST in African Languages in Grade 4; and strengthening the teaching of the languages of teaching, learning and assessment. During 2023, the focus was on advocacy, the development of LTSM and teacher development to ensure system readiness, after which year on year implementation will commence, starting with Grade 4 in 2025.  

The African Union has designated 2024 as the Year of Education in Africa, under the theme, “Educate an African fit for the 21st Century: Building resilient education systems for increased access to inclusive, lifelong, quality and relevant learning in Africa”. This is an opportunity to transform education on the continent. If we say that education is a fundamental right for all children, then it is our obligation to ensure that no child is left behind.

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