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Promoting African languages in schools

Written by Noluthando Mkhize
In the near future children who attend government schools will be able to learn at least one African language.

Preparations are underway for the implementation of the Incremental Introduction of African Languages (IIAL) programme in more than 3 558 schools across all provinces that don’t offer an African language.

The IIAL programme is a Department of Basic Education (DBE) initiative that was introduced in 10 schools per district, and  is currently being implemented incrementally from Grade 1, continuing until 2026 with implementation in Grade 12.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has said promoting African languages could address some aspects of social cohesion. 

“As a country, we will better communicate and understand each other if we understand those cultural and language [characteristics] that at times isolate us in our own land. The sector is committed to strengthening all African languages,” said the Minister.

The IIAL policy aims to promote and develop previously marginalised languages and increase access to languages beyond English and Afrikaans.

Currently, the National Curriculum Statement requires that two languages be offered, one as a language of learning and teaching and the other as an additional language. One of the two languages should be offered at Home Language level, and the other at either Home Language or First Additional Language (FAL) level.

Schools, together with their school governing bodies, decide on the two languages to be offered at FAL level, one of which must be an African language. The choice of the three languages is largely going to be determined by the demographics of the school population.

The rollout of the programme began with the IIAL programme being piloted at Grade 1 level in 231 schools across eight provinces last year.

The pilot targeted the introduction of previously marginalised African languages in schools where an African language is not offered.

According to DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga the pilot is still underway.

“The 2015 pilot is continuing in Grade 2 in schools that have piloted in 2014. In addition, 33 schools with Grade 1 classes in the Free State joined the pilot, bringing the total number of schools involved in the pilot to 264.”

He added that all previously marginalised languages and Afrikaans are being piloted in line with the identified needs of the schools.

The department has also trained all the teachers involved in piloting the IIAL.

Mhlanga also said learners who took part in the pilot programme last year did not undergo any formal examination but were assessed in accordance with the FAL programme of assessment .

“Schools, teachers and learners involved in the pilot responded positively to the inclusion of a previously marginalised African language in the school curriculum, as this promoted social cohesion and more effective communication amongst learners.”

“During the monitoring of IIAL implementation by an independent service-provider it was reported that parents were also learning to speak African languages from their children,” said Mhlanga.

To ensure the IIAL programme rollout runs smoothly the department has identified three key deliverables: the provision of teachers, learner/teacher support materials and the finalisation of policy.

The IIAL’s success depends on teacher availability. An audit by the department revealed that provinces are at different levels of teacher provision.

According to the DBE, the Free State, Limpopo, Northern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal provided African language teachers in all former Model C schools.

Mpumalanga and Gauteng had teachers in some schools, while the Eastern Cape and North West were putting plans in place to provide teachers for African languages. In the Western Cape schools share an African language teacher.