A case for mother tongue education?
Desai, Zubeida Khatoom
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The question as to which language should be used as a medium of instruction in schools in multilingual societies is a controversial one. In South Africa, the question is often posed in binary terms: Should the medium of instruction be a familiar local language such as Xhosa or a language of wider communication like English? This study is an attempt to answer the above question. The study profiled the writing abilities of Grade 4 and Grade 7 pupils at Themba Primary, a school located in Khayelitsha in the Western Cape, in both their mother tongue, Xhosa, and in English, their official medium of instruction at school since Grade 4. Three written tasks, which consisted of a narrative piece of writing, a reading comprehension exercise, and an expository piece of writing, were administered to the pupils in English and Xhosa. The purpose of the exercise was to examine some of the implications for educational language policy of the differences in performance in the two languages. All the tasks were authentic, in that they were based on aspects of the pupils' curriculum and written in the formal academic language pupils were expected to be exposed to in their respective grades. All the tasks were graded systematically under controlled conditions.