Reply by Minister of Basic Education A Motshekga on questions posed in National Assembly for written reply, 9 October 2009


Question 1543

Dr J C Kloppers-Lourens (DA) to ask the Minister of Basic Education: Whether schools are giving the required guidance to parents that learners should preferably be taught in their mother tongue up to at least Grade 6; if not, why not; if so, (a) what does such guidance entail and (b)(i) how and (ii) when is this done?


(a) Section 29(2) of the SA Constitution makes provision for everyone “to receive education in the official language or languages of their choice in public educational institutions where that education is reasonably practicable.”

It is on this premise that the Language in Education Policy (LiEP) provides for schools (depending on their needs) to adopt either one language as a medium for learning (home language) or use two languages, a home language in the early grades and a second one later as language of learning. According to the LiEP, “Whichever route is followed, the underlying principle is to maintain home language(s) while providing access to and the effective acquisition of additional language(s). The National Curriculum Statement further recommends that “the learner’s home language should be used for learning and teaching wherever possible. This is particularly important in the Foundation Phase where children learn to read and write.”

However, since LiEP’s promulgation in 1997, many schools have continued to use primarily English and Afrikaans as languages of learning and teaching. Where African languages are used as languages of learning and teaching, they are used only in the Foundation Phase in schools serving predominantly ‘African’ learners, after which English takes over as the medium of instruction. The transition to English as the language of learning and teaching in these schools often happens too abruptly and often before learners have fully developed the necessary cognitive skills in their home languages.

It is against this background that the Language Colloquium, which was hosted by the then Minister of Education in 2006, recommended the use of mother tongue instruction up to grade six. In response to this recommendation, two provinces have initiated pilot projects to implement mother tongue instruction from grade one to six, namely, the Western Cape (sixteen (16) schools) and the Eastern Cape (one (1)

At these pilot schools various methods or forms were used to give guidance to relevant stakeholders, including parents. Workshops, advocacy campaigns and meetings were conducted wherein parents from the participating school communities were informed about the objectives of the pilot project before it commenced. Regular parents’ session are held to update them on progress made. Parents were also informed about the grade six WCED systemic evaluation tests (through the medium of IsiXhosa), that demonstrated that learners from the pilot project schools have improved their literacy scores immensely. The Department of Basic Education has now decided to make this matter one of the critical priorities and look at specifically at the implementation of the LiEP in a manner that ensures that all children can learn from their first day at school.

Issued by: Department of Basic Education
9 October 2009
Source: Department of Basic Education (

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