New African Languages Curriculum: Sepedi, Setswana, and Isizulu Teachers for Foundation Phase Teaching
Professor Azwihangwisi Muthivhi believes that the Department of Early Childhood Education (ECE) is ushering in a new crop of teachers for post-apartheid South African schooling, potentially to change, once and for all, classroom teaching and learning in South Africa’s primary school classrooms.
It is no secret that reading and numeracy skills have been identified as two of the most critical areas for development within the schooling system. To achieve this goal, the provision of relevant teacher education programmes equipping young teachers with relevant knowledge and skills, especially in the foundation phase level of schooling, becomes a critical imperative.
One of the fundamental questions that therefore needs to be addressed is how to solve the complex language development problem for the reception year, Grade R, and the Grade One to Three foundational level of schooling in South Africa. One crucial way to contribute towards the solution to the language problem in South African schooling is undoubtedly in the provision of good quality teachers who are well trained to teach in the languages that their learners speak.
Language and learning/knowledge are two aspects of the same unitary process, as recognized by Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. He cited the words of a famous poet of his time: ‘I forgot the word that I wanted to say. And my thought, unembodied, returns to the realm of shadows’. The inextricable relationship implicated in this line clearly suggests the critical importance of language for thinking and concept acquisition and development. Therefore, the critical importance of learners’ home languages for their learning success and concept development during school learning cannot be overstated.
As a result, and as a contribution to redressing generations of marginalization of South African indigenous languages, the Department of Early Childhood Education at UP has introduced the teaching of Sepedi, Setswana, Isizulu as First Additional Languages(FAL), from 2021, under the Literacy Studies modules within the BEd (Foundation Phase Teaching) programme.
To complete this important curriculum development initiative, the department is further introducing Sepedi, Setswana, and Isizulu as home languages with effect from 2023. This will complete the African language curriculum development initiative and launch a new era in South African schooling where appropriately qualified, African-language foundation-phase teachers will begin to teach in schools. Armed with relevant knowledge and skills for conversing with young children in their home languages, while simultaneously leading them through meaningful learning and concept understanding, these teachers will certainly possess the necessary tools for transforming the schooling system for good.
The initiative therefore represents a significant milestone, not only for the ECE department, but for the University. The coordinator of the Literacy Practices modules in the department stated:’ This is the first time in the history of the University of Pretoria’s ECE department that students received education and were able to submit a formal assessment task in a language other than English and Afrikaans’. This is a significant transformation.
Meanwhile, this initiative will contribute to changing wrong attitudes and perceptions about African languages’ curriculum practices. There are widespread, unwarranted assumptions that African languages cannot be used as media of instruction. Another associated misconception that will be dispelled is that studying in African languages would, in itself, impede English language proficiency and limit employment opportunities in the future.
The Department of Early Childhood Education is committed to contributing to the development of learning resources in African languages and the necessary pedagogic skills for student teachers who will in the future teach in the resource-scarce African languages classroom contexts.
In pursuing these transformative African language curriculum goals, the Department of Early Childhood Education is in no way oblivious to the enormous challenges that lie ahead, including attitudinal and resource-related ones. To this end, the department will undoubtedly require appropriate funding, without which the full implementation of a transformative African language curriculum that is geared towards building a firm foundation for future learning success for South Africa’s children will, unfortunately, remain a pipedream.
Again, all my best wishes.
Prof. Azwihangwisi Edward Muthivhi
Head of Department
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