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Use mother tongue: Hays

by Senior Writer Jemima Beukes


A Researcher from the European Research Council, Dr Jennifer Hays has challenged Government to afford indigenous people a fair chance to use their vernacular languages.
She said this in reference to the continued marginalisation of the San people who have not been accorded the chance to learn their language at school.
“We know that children learn best in their own language where the system is built on foundations of skills which they know. When a child lacks what they have at home and that is made out as illegitimate they feel inferior,” she argued.
Hays has been doing extensive research on indigenous people such as the San for the past few years and believes that the education system should be relevant to the upbringing of indigenous children.
“They need an education that matches their culture and is relevant to their upbringing. The current education system is an academic one. The San, however, need a system which would largely meets the need of a large percentage and provide a greater access to skills to preserve their livelihood,” said Hays noting that the current system which results in a 50% unemployment is not ideal for the nomads.  
According to her, alternative teaching programmes can include craft production which is familiar to the San and may erase the feeling of inferiority they often encounter.
Meanwhile, Karl Pfeiffer, an associate expert at the International Labour Organisation for Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa said that an inclusive approach could never work if it is discussed in the absence of all other social services.
He noted that if there are no sufficient housing and health services, amongst other things, learners will never be retained by the system.
In the meantime, education officer of African languages at the National Institute of Educational Development ( NIED), Laurentius Davids argues that language issues, especially  the mother-tongue education, should not be taken lightly.
“Language should not be dealt with superficially, however, the quality of education given to the indigenous people should be of such nature that the transfer to the dominant language is without much trouble,” Davids said, adding that children need a language in which to construct their thoughts in order to understand the foreign one easier.
“Had Namibia implemented the mother-tongue policy before, there would not have been a problem now,” Davids stressed.
Meanwhile, Nathalie Goagoses, regional educational director of the Omaheke Region said that 50 % of indigenous children have no birth registration cards, thus getting them to be part of the system is a process. “Half of the 3 600 enrolled indigenous children (at schools in the Omaheke Region) have no birth registrations, so to get them, we do the guess work; we put them in classes by ‘raai raai’ and in the meantime, we liaise with the Ministry of Home Affairs to get them registered,” Goagoses said.