FYI, this item from the Cape Times (South Africa) was posted on MultiEd-L
last Oct. (No URL reference given, but it is posted also at
Mother tongue teaching 'proved crucial to success'
By A'eysha Kassiem
Mother tongue education is crucial to a learner's success, especially in
subjects such as maths and science, says a Human Sciences Research Council
The report, compiled by chief research specialist in the assessment,
technology and education evaluation research programme, Kathleen Heugh, is
based on a draft report on bilingual education and the use of local
It was compiled by organisations such as the Unesco (United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) Institute for Education.
In the Western Cape, mother tongue education takes place in the foundation
phase - from Grade 1 to 3 - but Heugh says this is not nearly enough.
"It is almost impossible for pupils to learn enough of the second language
in three years to switch to a second-language medium of instruction by Grade
"In countries where there are well-trained teachers and sufficient
classrooms and school books, children usually need between six and eight
years to learn a second language before they can use it as a medium.
"This means under optimal conditions, they should not switch language medium
before Grade 7," says Heugh.
She added that switching mediums earlier would result in "educational
failure" as pupils would not be able to grasp subject content.
"When children are tracked over a long period from Grade 4 onwards,
significant gaps begin to appear between children who continue mother tongue
education and those who have switched to a second-language medium.
"We can now predict that most pupils who switch from a mother-tongue
education to another language by Grade 4 are likely to achieve only between
30% and 40% in their second language by Grade 12, even though they seem to
have had longer exposure to this language.
"In contrast, students who have learned in a mother tongue medium for at
least six years are likely to reach 50% or more in the second language.
"Those who have mother tongue education throughout Grades 1 to 12 plus the
second language taught as a subject by a teacher who is proficient in the
language, are likely to achieve 60%.
"So, despite popular wisdom, the longer pupils have mother tongue education
plus well-resourced second language as a subject, the better they will
perform in this language and are more likely to achieve in maths, science
and their own home language," said Heugh.
She added that nowhere had it been demonstrated that a mainstream education
system could be successful if based on a second language - particularly if
it may be the pupil's third, fourth or even fifth language.
"The most economical scenario is to equip a corps of teachers with what is
known as 'native or near-native like proficiency' in English to teach it as
subject language specialists.
"The return on investment ... promises far greater rewards both economically
and in terms of educational outcomes for pupils."
Published on the web by Cape Times on October 5, 2005.
© Cape Times 2005. All rights reserved.