16/04/2018 15:32 SAST | Updated 16/04/2018 20:39 SAST

The Language Debate In Gauteng Schools Is Far From Over

The Gauteng education department has asked parents to apply at any nearby school, regardless of language medium – but has encountered immediate opposition.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Single-medium schools may have to revise their language policies if the Gauteng education department has its way. Steve Mabona, spokesperson for the department, says the online system for 2019 admissions allows parents to apply at any school, "regardless of the main language of instruction used at [that] school".

Speaking to HuffPost, Mabona said the demographic population of communities has changed. "We don't have an area where, for example, there are only Afrikaans people residing on their own.

"We have a diversified community; one that is welcome to stay anywhere they want – so there is no reason for them to travel to schools that are far, when there is a school within their radius they can access".

Mabona said parents applying to schools of their choice will allow the department to collect the statistics and demographics necessary to hold talks with relevant schools in the hopes of accommodating every pupil, without language being a barrier.

"We as a department can therefore go to the school and engage with them so that the SGB can accommodate them by changing their language policy to a parallel medium," he added.

MEC for Gauteng education Panyaza Lesufi launched the 2019 online learner admissions registrations for grades 1 and 8 on Monday at 8am.

"This year we have enhanced the system, especially at high-pressure schools [schools with high numbers], which means that that the system will inform those applying if a school already has high numbers of learners," Mabona said.

He added that protest events, such as the one at Hoërskool Overvaal earlier this year, were one of the reasons why applications opened earlier this year, in the hope that, "if there are glitches they can be attended to well in advance".

The department's move to say parents must apply for their children at any school without language being a barrier is not a positive move – Carien Bloem, AfriForum.

Mabona insists there is nothing wrong with the department wanting to interact with schools with regard to their language policies, and that they are not envisaging causing "any kind of stir".

"All we are saying is that we will interact with schools and say this is where we are at, what is your take as the school? If the SGB say they will need to introduce additional teachers so that they can accommodate other languages in the schools, or will need furniture and material, we will support them," he said.

Congress of South African Students (Cosas) national president John Macheke said the congress supports the decision the Gauteng department has made.

"As Cosas we are also saying parents must go and apply for at any school, because we know that soon enough we will champion multilingualism in schools, and it is for that reason that we are happy.

The congress also commended the change that the Gauteng MEC for education is bringing to Gauteng, referencing the the "one child, one tablet" project.

"It shows that Gauteng MEC Panyaza Lesufi is ready to take us to the fourth industrial revolution and to change Gauteng education," Macheke said.

However, AfriForum's Carien Bloem says the department is giving parents false hope, adding that any changes would not happen immediately, which will then affect children.

"The department's move to say parents must apply for their children at any school without language being a barrier is not a positive move ... schools will not instantly change their language policies.

"At least 50 percent of the school must speak a certain language before the language policies can be changed. It is not an easy process," Bloem said.

Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas) CEO Paul Colditz said the department's take on interacting with schools regarding their language policies has serious challenges, and would make the daily runnings of schools "extremely difficult", because changing the language policies of a single-medium school to parallel-medium is a process.

"There is no way that the department of education can provide things such as equipment or study material or add the classes necessary to accommodate all learners in those schools by the end of the year."

Getty Images

Colditz said there are also additional facilities for the school environment, such as sewerage and safety systems, that the department would have to consider.

"There are a number of issues with regard to the department's take on insisting on interacting with schools regarding language.

"Let's take a primary school for example. If you have to admit learners in an Afrikaans school (and it works in all other schools too), then it means you have to establish a separate classroom for English learners. Eventually, over a period of seven years, you will have to have seven different classes. That can be a serious problem with regards to the capacity of the school.

"Another problem would be financing and teacher supply. Schools are funded on the basis that all schools are single-medium schools, so if you are an English- or an Afrikaans-only school, you get sufficient funding from the department based on that. The moment you have more than one language, teaching becomes more expensive, because of additional materials, classes and teachers. That is not an overnight process," he said.

Mabona has given the assurance that the system had not seen any glitches yet, and that nearly 50,000 applications had been received in the first hour.

"In the first minute we were at 10,000 clicks per second, so we encourage all parents to apply as soon as possible," Mabona said.

Parents can apply here.