Language and how to fix the state of education in our schools are still bones of contention, a debate on education concluded on Wednesday.
This was stated during a panel discussion consisting of Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, former ANC MP Makhosi Khoza, former education MEC Mary Metcalfe and CEO of the Federation of Associations of Governing Bodies of South African Schools Paul Colditz, which was chaired by News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson.
The panel failed to unanimously reach consensus on language and its role in addressing education in South Africa.
“The debate should be about the quality of education. Language is not the debate but part of that system,” Lesufi said.
Colditz, however, was not convinced by Lesufi’s assertion that the debate surrounding education in South Africa “is not about language”.
“His attacks on Afrikaans schools and people is on record. He says it is not about language but that is not the image the public gets,” he said.
Lesufi has been accused by lobby groups of targeting Afrikaans in schools across the province, which seek to protect the language.
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He, however, reiterated that he had not taken issue with the language but remained committed to building a “truly non-racial education system”, and that began in the classroom.
“I am not targeting any language. Until you change the education system, we are not going to win the fight to build a truly non-racial education system,” Lesufi explained.
Khoza, who is passionate about the implementation of African languages, told Lesufi that it appeared he was neglecting African languages while only focusing on English and Afrikaans.
“We must include African languages in the debate about mediums of [instruction in] education. MEC with due respect, if we are going to understate the critical importance of the language in the classroom, we will not be able to achieve the results we want.
“Empirical studies agree with me, language is the single most important barrier to education in South Africa,” she argued.
Metcalfe, who agreed, raised the fact that from Grade 3 level, authorised textbooks for pupils were not available in African languages.
“The department has to actively take steps to make sure textbooks in African languages are there,” she added.
Lesufi agreed, stating the same investment that was being poured into English and Afrikaans should also be afforded to all African languages.
“Township schools are teaching in over four mediums [of instruction] and they are poor but rich schools that are only teaching in one medium say they cannot afford to accommodate another language.
“Their school governing bodies would rather hire a polo coach for two learners,” he said to applause.
Lesufi added the department had created a R600m budget to offer the necessary support and funding to schools so that the dream of a non-racial education system could be realised.
“If we cannot get education right, we cannot get South Africa right. It starts in the classrooms,” he concluded.