Mmegi Online :: Issues In Education
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Friday 23 June 2017, 09:49 am.
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Issues In Education

Mother tongue education is the right of every child
Botswana has signed and ratified the Conventions on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Yet in practice fails to implement what it has endorsed. A fundamental right is the right to a name.
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Mmegi Online :: Issues In Education








Yet for minority children, entering Standard One, school authorities may change their birth names to a Setswana name the teachers know, can spell and pronounce. This is a denial of a fundamental human right. Botswana has endorsed other international agreements that support the rights of the child, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (1981) and The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of The Child (1995). Botswana's Education Act needs to support these rights. Another right is for children to be free of "cruel and unusual punishment", yet Botswana still supports corporal punishment in schools.  During the UN Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World" (2001 to 2010) it was hoped that the Education Act would be changed and corporal punishment abolished. The current two language policy supporting only the use of Setswana and English in schools can be seen as a violation of the rights of those children whose mother tongue is not Setswana nor English. There are at least two dozen other languages spoken in homes and communities in Botswana. The rights of these children are being denied when they are forced to commence learning in an unfamiliar language.

Recently four minority cultural organisations have articulated their hope that minority languages would be taught in schools (see Edward Mpoloka in The Monitor, 12 August 2013; and Indigenous Languages in Schools, Weekend Post, 27 July 2013).They point out that before independence this happened. A motion in Parliament, submitted by Gilson Saleshando MP, supporting mother-tongue teaching was recently rejected. This time even those MPs representing minority areas voted against it -in the past Parliament has actually passed such motions, but Government has not implemented them. This stalemate, in a lose-lose situation could easily be transformed into a win-win situation.

That compromise would be to allow mother tongue teaching (minority or indigenous languages) in preschools and support the development of preschools throughout the country. Issues has previously written about possible approaches to mother tongue teaching through preschools.  If children were in preschools, taught in an innovative way-compatible with the playgroup atmosphere of such schools-to learn to read and write

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in their mother tongue, including in Setswana speaking communities, this would benefit everyone.  It would also go a long way in addressing the critical problem of what has been labelled "falling standards". There is ample evidence from all continents where mother-tongue instruction in indigenous languages has been implemented, confirmed by a multitude of research studies, that children who learn to read and write in their mother tongue in preschools later transfer these skills to the learning of a second and third language when they enter primary school. Once literate in their mother tongue, even at an early age of five or six years old, it is easier for them to learn a national language or a lingua franca (be it English, French, Portuguese or some other language).This is in sharp contrast to the learning problems they face when they enter Standard One and must learn everything in what to them is a foreign language, initially for many unintelligible.

It has also been found that mother-tongue learning, particularly the skills of reading and writing, helps to address the problems found in primary schools of dropping out, repeating grades, and boredom and loss of interest in what happens in school, and the failure to continue to secondary school.UNESCO gives its full support to mother tongue education. In Botswana debates on the importance of learning in one's own language have been raised. In June 2007, when there was a wave of interest in mother tongue instruction in Botswana, the then Minister of Education, Hon. Mr J. D. Nkate attended a Regional Conference on Multilingualism in Southern African Education and afterwards said, "The language a child acquires from the family is crucial in the intellectual and mental development of a child". Nkate also reported, "Research has also shown that the use of the mother tongue as a medium of instruction in the early days of schooling contributes to improved learning achievement".Through preschools these objectives could be achieved instead of requesting a transformation of the education monolith that is ingrained in primary school education. Yet little has been done so far to fully support Early Childhood Care and Education in Botswana.

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