Learning in Mother-tongue languages

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Adult basic education and training or “ABET” set to play a greater role preparing matriculants for entry-level jobs

Government is implementing plans to teach important technical subjects in mother-tongue languages, as opposed to English. English has been the formal language of learning for many years. However, government believes that this is one of the many reasons that learners are performing poorly in maths and other technical subjects. Because learners are not fluent in English, they struggle to grasp technical content that is conveyed to them.

The next phase of this strategy will involve also assessing students’ abilities in maths, technology and science in their home languages, as opposed to English. While a laudable initiative, this may mean that more individuals will join the workforce with poor English skills. This is considering that the language will not receive due attention at our schools, despite English being the preferred means of communicating in business and commerce. It will simply be impossible to communicate in all 11 official languages in diverse workplaces that continue to transform.

Communicating in one official language, such as English, in the workplace helps to avoid misunderstandings, while ensuring that the entire team, comprising many people of different cultures and backgrounds, is aligned to a company’s core values and mission statement. Many individuals are already joining the workplace without a sound grasp of English. Functionally illiterate, they struggle to deploy their English literacy skills to do their respective jobs properly and in other aspects of their daily lives. This is just one of the reasons that so many companies continue to invest in quality adult basic education and training or “ABET” from an accredited training provider.

Triple E Training’s adult basic education and training or “ABET” equips employees with basic English skills quickly and efficiently. It is a given that this type of adult literacy training will become even more important if English is replaced as the official language of learning. This is because adult literacy training will be able to prepare employees in entry-level positions to communicate efficiently in the one official language for business and commerce. In this way, adult basic education and training or “ABET” bridges the divide between a matric and English literacy needs of the modern workplace.

Adult basic education and training or “ABET” set to play a greater role preparing matriculants for entry-level jobs

ADULT EDUCATION AND TRAINING OR “AET” FOR THE WORKPLACE

Mother-tongue languages to replace English as the official language of learning

The decision to introduce mother-tongue languages at South African schools is praiseworthy. This is considering that it will help students who do not speak English as a first language to improve their comprehension skills and perform better in technical subjects, such as maths and science, which are so essential for fully functioning societies.  Any initiative by state geared at improving access to quality education to its citizens, especially to the most vulnerable members of our society, should be praised. However, a major concern is that this will lead to a greater decline in the functional English literacy levels of individuals entering the workplace after they have matriculated. This is considering that learners will no longer be required to practice English to the same extent that they did before – even though this, admittedly, is not necessarily realising the required result. Bear in mind that many young South African adults are already entering the workforce without the necessary English literacy skills despite them being in possession of a National Senior Certificate.

They are considered functionally illiterate because they cannot deploy their English skills to perform their jobs properly or in other facets of life. This is, in turn, negatively impacting productivity, efficiency, accuracy and safety in the workplace. At the same time, there are numerous employees who have not completed their basic education but perform essential routine work. They, therefore, do not have a sound grasp of basic English literacy, impeding their ability and real potential in the workplace. It is for this reason that so many companies operating across a broad spectrum of industries continue to invest heavily into adult basic education and training or “ABET” from an accredited training provider. Adult basic education and training or “ABET” is a way of equipping low skilled employees with English literacy proficiencies quickly and efficiently. Over the years, adult literacy training and adult numeracy training have become an important skills development intervention for human resource managers, and it is clear that adult basic education and training or “ABET” will play a much larger role moving forward. This is if government is serious about “de-colonialising” learning at our schools and improving access to a quality education to all citizens.

ENGLISH IS THE MOST SPOKEN LANGUAGE IN 2021 BY SPEAKERS IN MILLIONS

LanguageNative language speakers in millions
English1 348
Chinese or Mandarin1 120
Hindi600
Spanish543
Standard Arabic274
Bengali268
French267
Russian258
Portuguese258
Urdu230
Indonesian199
Standard German135
Japanese126
Marathi99
Telugu96
[Source:] Statista

THE AGE AT WHICH CHILDREN LEARN ENGLISH WORLDWIDE

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The following non-English dominant countries have made English lessons mandatory for all citizens from the age of four:

  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Armenia
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Brunei
  • Dominica
  • Ecuador
  • Ghana
  • Grenada
  • Guyana
  • Jamaica
  • Malta
  • Marshall Islands
  • Mauritania
  • Mexico
  • Monaco
  • Netherlands
  • Panama
  • Singapore
  • Spain
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago

The following countries start teaching English as a mandatory subject from the ages 12 and above:

  • Benin (12)
  • Burkina Faso (12)
  • Cambodia (12)
  • Central African Republic (12)
  • Congo, Democratic Republic of the (12)
  • Congo, Republic of the (12)
  • Cote d’Ivoire (12)
  • Timor-Leste (12)
  • El Salvador (12)
  • Gabon (12)
  • Haiti (12)
  • Indonesia (12)
  • Mali (12)
  • Mozambique (12)
  • Nicaragua (12)
  • Niger (12)
  • Switzerland (12)
  • Togo (12)
  • Venezuela (12)
  • Yemen (12)
  • Luxembourg (14)
  • Costa Rica (15)
  • Iceland (15)

The following countries only provide English as an optional subject which can be taken by children over the age of 12: 

  • Angola
  • Cape Verde
  • Chad 
  • Guinea

Senegal

ADULT BASIC EDUCATION AND TRAINING OR “ABET” BRIDGES DIVIDE BETWEEN SCHOOL AND WORKPLACES

English to be replaced as the official language of learning in South African schools

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According to the Department of Basic Education, government has already tested its strategy to introduce mother-tongue languages to teach specific subjects at many schools in the Eastern Cape. Maths and science were among the subjects that were taught in IsiXhosa and Sesotho in this province as part of the trial. Over time, the department will be extending this programme to better inform its plan moving forward. It has; however, acknowledged that it would be impossible to implement a pure class in these languages in Gauteng. People speak many different languages in Gauteng, which also happens to be the main economic hub of the country and where many people, therefore, migrate to secure employment.The next phase will also entail introducing assessments in these languages considering that they are currently being undertaken in English. This is said to also be a major disadvantage for learners who do not speak English as a first language. The department argues that learners are currently mainly being assessed in their language proficiency as opposed to their understanding of a particular subject.

Retaining English as the formal language of learning in the country has been debated for many years now, especially among university students who want to “decolonise” South Africa’s education system. This is considering South Africa’s poor performance in important school subjects, such as maths and science. According to the 2019 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study or “TIMSS”, the country’s average scores are below the minimum benchmark level of 400 for both maths and science. TIMSS mainly focuses on Grade 4 and Grade 8 learners. South Africa and its evaluation systems assessed fifth and ninth-grade learners. This was to better match their curricula and to “maintain trend measurement”. While South Africans were generally older than the other group of participants, they consistently scored in the bottom three countries for a range of tests. Learners who achieve 400 points on the TIMMS scale are said to have acquired the basic maths or science knowledge for their grade.

XHOSA AND SESOTHO TO REPLACE ENGLISH AS A LANGUAGE OF LEARNING

Xhosa is part of the Nguni group of languages, namely Zulu, Swati and Ndebele. It is the main language that is spoken in the Eastern and Western Cape, although it is also used as a means of communicating in other parts of the country. About 8-million South Africans speak Xhosa as their primary language, while 10-million citizens of the country understand it. Xhosa and Zulu are the most widely spoken languages in the country.

Sesotho, or Southern Sotho, is a Bantu language that originated in the Bantu-Nguni era. Its dialects originated from Sotho, Pedi and Tswana, although they are all separate languages. Sesotho is spoken by about 5-million people in Lesotho, Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zambia. Notably, Sesotho was one of the first African languages to be reduced to writing. Thomas Arbousset, Eugene Casalis and Constant Gosselin, French missionaries of the Paris Evangelical Mission, were among the first to devise a written form of Southern Sotho. Meanwhile, the first Sesotho grammar textbook, Etudes sur la Langue Sechuana, which was authored by Casalis, was published in 1841.Sesotho is a complex languages it has nine vowels, which are collapsed into five letters each. Sesotho also consists of 35 consonants, which include two semi-vowels for non-homogenous doubled eloquent and a tri-click.

THE NUMBER OF GRADE 12 STUDENTS ENROLLED IN MATHEMATICS AND MATHEMATICAL LITERACY BY PROVINCE

Province20102011201220142015201620172018
Eastern Cape68 46368 81369 45669 303 (69 306)  89 684 (89 740)  92 754 (92 755)  83 026 (82 257)  80 273 (81 842)  
Free State28 22826 3943 18026 756 (26 756)35 209 (35 209)28 901 (28 901)27 723 (27 723)28 034 (29 209)
Gauteng94 38587 32812 971101 210 (101 212)112 061 (112 064)112 160 (112 164)108 517 (108 552)104 568 (107 166)
KwaZulu-Natal133 161128 52724 412147 346 (147 355)169 757 (169 769)168 983 (169 023)153 123 (153 125)149 557 (151 166)
Limpopo95 89674 67478 21573 543 (73 543)102 616 (102 618)110 640 (110 639)100 036 (100 041)95 819 (96 840)
Mpumalanga54 65149 60749 10045 900 (45 900)55 943 (55 945)60 790 (60 794)59 498 (59 500)57 086 (57 867)
Northern Cape10 41610 4859 2418 950 (8 950)12 172 (12 173)11 821 (11 821)10 519 (10 519)11 825 (12 157)
North West29 60825 93027 58126 382 (26 382)33 844 (33 845)35 403 (35 403)35 729 (35 733)33 460 (34 718)
Western Cape47 06241 2197 37848 811 (48 835)56 532 (56 562)53 117 (53 152)51 704 (51 735)52 870 (53 768)

GRADE 12 ENROLMENT IN MATHS

  2010  2014  2018 
 Number enrolee% of group% of grade 12sNumber enrolled% of group% of grade 12sNumber enrolled% of group% of grade 12s
Demographic         
Female   125 86642.123.0153 28044.824.5
Male   104 01941.719.0117 23641.618.8
Black African   194 04342.635.4238 29144.538.1
Coloured   9 90424.41.89 72221.51.6
Indian/Asian   7 96055.31.56 73759.11.1
White   17 83547.83.315 62547.72.5
School Quintile         
Quintile 156 68249.610.148 16243.98.867 43148.110.8
Quintile 258 94550.510.548 59441.58.962 07144.09.9
Quintile 356 26149.810.050 46839.69.259 24840.49.5
Quintile 423 47147.44.228 33739.65.228 50137.34.6
Quintile 527 82045.85.043 51944.77.942 33743.76.8
Quintile unknown48 99245.58.710 42843.61.910 92846.81.7
School sector         
Public222 69549.139.6217 57241.839.7258 83243.141.4
Independent9 47655.61.711 68645.82.111 43048.21.8
Sector unknown39 73043.97.162834.60.125444.30.0
Total272 17248.448.4229 88641.941.9270 51643.343.3

GRADE 12 ENROLMENT IN MATHS LITERACY

  2010  2014  2018 
 Number enrolee% of group% of grade 12sNumber enrolled% of group% of grade 12sNumber enrolled% of group% of grade 12s
Demographic         
Female   173 15957.931.6186 07954.329.8
Male   145 15658.326.5156 89755.625.1
Black African   261 51957.447.7288 15253.946.1
Coloured   30 74675.65.634 46176.35.5
Indian/Asian   6 43744.71.24 55740.00.7
White   19 49652.23.615 68347.92.5
School Quintile         
Quintile 154 83550.410.361 63056.111.271 34550.911.4
Quintile 259 37849.510.368 60958.512.576 97154.512.3
Quintile 361 24350.210.177 12660.514.184 69757.713.6
Quintile 433 28452.74.643 25660.47.945 48559.57.3
Quintile 544 28854.25.953 76455.39.851 92653.68.3
Quintile unknown58 57254.410.413 93056.22.512 55253.21.9
School sector         
Public231 04950.941.1303 29458.255.3330 37755.052.9
Independent7 79444.41.413 83354.22.512 27951.82.0
Sector unknown50 85556.19.11 18865.40.232055.80.1
Total289 69851.651.6318 31558.158.1342 97654.954.9

ENGLISH LITERACY TRAINING ON THE AGENDA

Replacing English as a language of learning not without its challenges

The results of South Africa’s poor performance in maths and other technical subjects manifests in the dismal performance of the economy, which relies on a strong pipeline of technical skills. Maths, for example, enables people to think logically and critically, as well as problem-solve. According to the South African Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators Report, the country’s ongoing poor performance in maths and other technical subjects is impeding its ability to innovate, which hinders economic growth and development. Innovation enables a country to compete effectively at a global level, while also boosting productivity and efficiency. Worryingly, the pass rate in 2020 declined for all science, technology, engineering and maths-related subjects, barring mathematical literacy. This is due to there being a slight increase in the percentage of pupils passing with 30% or more from 80,6% in 2019 to 88% in 2020.

However, many experts agree that it will be a challenging task implementing this strategy nationally and in a sustainable manner. The biggest hurdle will be ensuring that there are enough skilled and experienced educators who are proficient in all learners’ home languages within each school or jurisdiction. Moreover, they will need to be trained in specialised subjects, such as maths. Additional infrastructure will also be required to hold these classes and financial resources to pay for more educators. Bear in mind that experts claim that there is a looming critical shortage of educators, although government has widely refuted this. It asserts that the country has produced too many teachers, many of whom are unemployed. Add to this the current dire state of many public schools in the country. Crumbling infrastructure and inadequate learning environments have contributed to the very high dropout rate in the country. This, alone, places a big question mark over government’s ability to develop the infrastructure it needs to support this strategy.

FUNTIONAL LITERACY – THE WHITE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

Many South Africans cannot read for meaning in all official languages, including English

Another factor that also needs to be taken into consideration is high levels of functional illiteracy of school learners across all of the official languages. According to the International Reading Literacy Study or “PIRLS”, 80% of Grade 4 learners are unable to read for meaning in all South African languages. This includes English. The Reading Panel’s Background Report believes that if this trend continues without effective intervention, this group of students will only be able to read for meaning by 2098.

This trend implies that students are not being taught how to read to understand and that merely introducing mother-tongue languages at schools may not have the intended impact. Experts have noted that South Africa has to adopt a completely different approach to teaching learners how to read for meaning to adequately address this problem.

NUMBER OF SCHOOLS PERFORMING ABOVE EXPECTATIONS ON REGRESSION ANALYSIS OF AVERAGE SCHOOL PERFORMANCE IN MATHS AND MATHEMATICAL LITERACY IN 2018, BY SCHOOL QUINTILE

MathematicsQ1Q2Q3Q4Q5All
Schools with average Maths % above expected924 (54.0%)826 (50.7%)695 (51.6%)354 (61.2%)448 (63.7%)3 570 (55.4%)
Schools with average Maths % more than ½ s.d. above expected561 (32.8%)460 (28.2%)406 (30.1%)226 (39.1%)231 (32.9%)2 125 (33.0%)
Schools with average Maths % more than 1 s.d. above expected224 (13.1%)181 (11.1%)157 (11.7%)116 (20.0%)50 (7.1%)870 (13.5%)
Maths literacy      
Schools with average Maths Literacy % above expected1 002 (67.1%)867 (57.9%)744 (58.1%)318 (55.8%)432 (62.2%)3 682 (61.1%)
Schools with average Maths Literacy % more than ½ s.d. above expected447 (29.9%)379 (25.3%)288 (22.5%)183 (32.1%)211 (30.4%)1 740 (28.9%)
Schools with average Maths Literacy % more than 1 s.d. above expected356 (23.8%)248 (16.6%)172 (13.4%)116 (20.4%)75 (10.8%)1 096 (18.2%)

ACCREDITED TRAINING PROVIDER

Cutting-edge adult basic education and training or “AET”

Accredited training provider, Triple E Training has been helping many companies across a broad spectrum of industries equip their low-skilled employees with basic English literacy and numeracy skills for more than 30 years. Moreover, enterprising companies are using the accredited training provider’s cutting-edge adult education and training or “AET” to bridge the divide that currently exists between a matric and the functional literacy and numeracy skills that are required by companies. Bear in mind that English literacy and numeracy skills requirements are evolving at a rapid rate, considering the economy’s increasing reliance on sophisticated technology. This adult literacy training and adult numeracy training is mainly geared at entry-level positions where only a matric is a requirement. The company’s placement assessments continue to show that many employees are not functionally literate, despite them being in possession of a matric certificate.

A placement assessment is the first fundamental step that is undertaken in all adult education and training or “AET”. It identifies the extent of English literacy and numeracy skills in the company and the exact interventions that are required to address them. Bear in mind that there are four levels of adult education and training or “AET”. It is critical that employees are placed at the correct level to ensure that they are able to cope with the adult literacy training and adult numeracy training. This is achieved by assessing the English literacy and numeracy skills of employees and taking their previous learning experience into consideration before they are placed at a specific adult literacy training and adult numeracy training level. In this way, the accredited training provider also ensures that employees do not regress in their training so that they are actually honing their English literacy and numeracy skills that are needed to perform their jobs at optimal levels.

Learn more about Triple E Training and our unique approach to adult literacy training and adult numeracy training. www.eee.co.za.

THE VARIOUS LEVELS OF ADULT LITERACY TRAINING AND ADULT NUMERACY TRAINING

There is an adult education and training or “AET” level that covers basic schooling up to grade 9. Adult education and training or “AET” levels and their school equivalents are as follows:

  • Adult education and training or “AET” Level 1: Grade 3
  • Adult education and training or “AET” Level 2: Grade 5
  • Adult education and training or “AET” Level 3: Grade 7
  • Adult education and training or “AET” Level 4: Grade 9 (or NQF level 1)
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