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"Mother tongue teaching 'proved crucial to success'"

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  • Don Osborn
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 2, 2006
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      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.
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