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Mother-tongue policy far-fetched: NIED

Mon, 1 June 2015 14:18
by Jona Musheko

The National Institute for Educational Development (NIED) said government was being overly ambitious with the proposal to introduce mother tongues as a medium of instruction from Grades 1 to 5, aimed for 2016, under the revised language policy.
When The Villager spoke to NIED Director Dr Heltha Pomuti, she said government is lacking in many aspects, with the major challenge being the lack of equipped human capital as most of the teachers have the ability to conduct lessons in Namibian languages.
She added that a national language institute should be established under the trusteeship of the national language board to carry out language research as well as documentation and development.
“The development of African languages is not the only challenge, but there are other challenges such as the availability of teachers who can teach in African languages and the availability of materials in African languages,” she noted. These challenges have been known before the proposed mother-tongue extension plans to grade 5.
Dr Pomuti added that tertiary teaching programmes are supposed to offer a Namibian language (home language) as one of the major language areas of learning before its full inclusion in the revised Language Policy for Schools.
The introduction of the revised language policy into schools has also been delayed due to the fact that there are no subject terminologies, as this has to be done regularly in order to support the development of quality learning support materials in the lower grades.
 “The revised Language Policy for Schools was discussed by the Ministerial Policy Coordinating Committee, and recommended that the Minister of Education, Arts and Culture table it in Cabinet,” she explained.
 Furthermore, language development is a complex process which involves developing orthographies (the part of language study concerned with letters and spelling), coining (creating) terms; coining words and phrases. She said there is still a lot to be done for local languages to be able to be used as mediums of instruction up to the fifth grade, such as compiling dictionaries and grammar, translating books as well as borrowing terms/words from advanced languages.
The director said language development also involves standardization, the acceptability of words and their harmonization as “the issue is that we do not have sufficient technical terms in African languages which can be used in subjects such as the Sciences and Mathematics.”
Dr Pomuti explained that it is one reason that the revision of the Language Policy for Schools has been linked to the establishment of a Language Centre, which will be responsible for the development of lexicography (lexicography focuses on design and compilation) in the use and evaluation of general dictionaries in different fields such as linguistics, science, health, economics/commerce, justice, politics and in general, the development of monolingual and bilingual/multilingual dictionaries.
It also includes the translation of materials from one language to another, and the editing of materials from various languages. African language development has been ongoing for many years, and still continues, which is why there are written and spoken African languages.
“African languages are also vehicles for producing knowledge--for creating, encoding, sustaining and ultimately transmitting indigenous knowledge, the cultural knowledge as well as patterns of behaviour of society,” she stated.
She added that due to the little use of African languages in the educational domain, a wealth of indigenous knowledge is being locked away in these languages and is gradually lost as the custodians of this knowledge pass on.
The director added that the policy (with the aspect of the extension of mother-tongue instruction to grade 5) could have only been implemented if the necessary planning was done, with syllabuses in place, learning support materials developed,  subject terminology for the different school subjects developed and teacher training carried out.
The policy could also have been implemented through a phased-in approach, for example starting with one or two subjects in grade 4.
“It is not easy to have enough teachers for African languages because these languages have been neglected for quite a long time,” she continued.
She revealed that there are many learners from a young age (seven years) who could not start reading and writing in their own mother-tongue in grade 1, despite the fact that the language which they start to learn to read and write is not spoken at home.
Nelson Mlambo, an English expert at the Polytechnic of Namibia, said languages foreign to Africa are dominating the global language village. However, Namibian languages need to give Namibians a national ethos, which would enable Namibians to be international citizens and not disadvantage them.
 “Our local languages give us character, identity and instill our culture, whilst at the same time we do not need to downplay the value of international languages because the world is becoming one village,” he stated.
The extension of mother-tongue tuition to the 5th grade should be done only if the responsible body and stakeholders have done extensive consultations to avoid making a mistake which would put the nation to shame.