The right to mother tongue education: a multidisciplinary, normative perspective

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In the Preamble to the Language in Education Policy (1997), in terms of Section 3(4) of the National Education Policy Act (1996), the Department of Education recognises the benefits to be derived from mother-tongue education and commits itself to an additive approach to bilingualism within the education system. It explicitly expresses the intention ‘to maintain home language(s) while providing access to and effective acquisition of additional languages.' (IV. A. 5). Yet ten yearsinto the new dispensation nothing significant has been done to alter a situation in which the majority of children are obliged to receive their basic education largely through the medium of a second or even a third language. Language-in-education practices certainly constitute one of the most detrimental factors contributing to our present educational predicament. High dropout and failure rates and the inability to maintain quality are certainly traceable, at least in part, to inappropriate choices of medium of instruction at primary school levels. This article presents a normative view of the language-in-education question. In particular, it attempts to establish the parameters of governmental obligation, not only in terms of national policy and legislation, but within the framework of international human rights law. The legal arguments that can be marshalled in support of mother tongue education appear, in fact, to be far more substantial than hitherto supposed.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2007, 25(1): 27–43

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9461
print ISSN: 1607-3614