South African students will be able to learn in their first language during early school years under a new government plan — a move that has received a universal welcome in the country.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced the change Tuesday. She said pupils will have the option of learning in their mother language in their first three years of schooling. Children are currently taught either in English or Afrikaans, both languages inherited from the eras of colonialism and apartheid.
Education experts have been calling for the change for years, as South Africa has nine other official languages. The experts and opposition groups say many studies favor first language learning as a major contributor to higher passing rates in many countries.
Under the changes outlined Tuesday, teachers also will be relieved of many paperwork responsibilities to concentrate more on teaching.
"We have and will continue to make changes on an ongoing basis where they can be made with minimal disruption. We expect better outcomes from the system," Motshekga said.
Motshekga said the current outcomes based education system, known as OBE and introduced in 1998 by the democratic government to replace the apartheid education, is blamed for the high school failure rate, and has been scrapped.
Experts had warned about the faults of the system, which emphasized that teachers should develop their own tools and materials and overload children with projects.
The government appointed a committee early this year to review the current curriculum. The committee recommended, among others, the reduction of the number of projects for pupils and emphasized that teachers must focus on teaching and assessments.
School pass rates had dropped over the last decade from a 60 percent average to about 40 percent at rural areas and black township schools, mainly due to poor learning resources and teaching by under qualified educators.
The legacy of apartheid has left a deep divide in South Africa's education system.
Quality schooling is still largely reserved for whites or rich black people while pupils at the hundreds of schools in poor areas suffer under badly trained teachers with little equipment.
The majority of black schools have no libraries, laboratories, computer centers and have a historic shortage of classrooms and teachers for mathematics and science.
However, the properly resourced former white schools, classified as Model C, have been doing very well with many of them achieving the pass rates of 100 percent.
The opposition Democratic Alliance says it hopes the changes will be the beginning of a long-needed process to overhaul an education system that was failing pupils.
"Of course, this acknowledgment today comes too late for the thousands of students who suffered as a result of the implementation of the OBE, as well as for those teachers who had unnecessary and unfair pressure placed on them by the system," said Junita Kloppers-Lourens, an opposition minister of basic education.
The majority South African Democratic Teachers' Union has also welcomed the new changes. The union says it is happy with the recommendations to emphasize literacy, math, greater use of workbooks and assessments.
"We believe the implementation of the recommendations will benefit both the learners and teachers and improve the quality of teaching and learning," the union said in a statement Tuesday, adding that they were, however, concerned about teacher training.
Source: The Associated Press.