Most schools hail isiXhosa for Grade 1s as a good thing

Zandile Mbabela

TWENTY Nelson Mandela Bay schools will introduce isiXhosa as a second language to their Grade 1 pupils from next week.

This will see all pupils learning an indigenous language at school.

It also means pupils will go through a slightly longer school day.

Unlike conversational Xhosa, which had been taught at many former Model C schools and focuses only on the basics, this initiative will see pupils learning to read, write and speak Xhosa at first additional language level.

The pilot project is aimed at testing how schools might cope when it is fully implemented next year.

It forms part of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s plan to gradually introduce an African language as a compulsory subject at schools from next year to 2026, introducing a grade each year.

In the Eastern Cape, 100 schools were chosen to try this out at 14 districts across the province from February 1.

Those in Nelson Mandela Bay include Adolph Schauder, Cedarberg, Diaz, Greenwood, Herbert Hurd, Machiu, Malabar, Redhouse, Settlers Park and Sydenham primary schools.

While some schools were excited about the new addition to the curriculum, others were apprehensive given the teacher shortages that continue to plague the provincial education department.

According to the principals, the department was to provide the necessary teachers to teach the language or, if the school had available teachers, train existing ones. But some teachers have not received the necessary training despite the pilot project being set to officially kick off on Monday.

Sydenham Primary School principal Nomsa Mzinzi said she was excited that the plan was finally coming to fruition.

“I had been advocating for this for so long that when it was finally happening, I planned well in advance and started it in January,” she said. “We got our teacher, who was in excess at another school, to start here with us this year and we have been in full swing since schools reopened.

‘The feedback has been amazing and pupils of all races are enjoying the story times and are already greeting the teacher in Xhosa.”

Mzinzi said her school, of which 96% of pupils were black, was introducing Xhosa as a second language up to Grade 6, although they were still devising a way to fill the teacher shortage in Grade 4 to Grade 6.

Cedarberg Primary School principal Cedric Blignaut was confident it “will be fine”.

“I think it’s a very good thing and I’m excited about it as the majority of our pupils come from the townships, with Xhosa being their home language,” he said. “We are comforted by the fact that the department will send us the Xhosa teachers, but we are still faced with the challenge of a shortage of Afrikaans teachers.”

But Greenwood principal Gary Pike said he was apprehensive as none of the teachers earmarked to teach the subject had been trained yet. One of his concerns was the extra workload it would create for Grade 1s, “who are new to schooling”.

Erica Girls’ Primary school principal Keith McCrindle said he had declined to take on the subject unless the department “got us a paid teacher”.

“We have conversational Xhosa that we offer to pupils up to Grade 7, that’s it,” he said.