Simphiwe Dana's Education Reform Plea Gets Nods From MPs

I was very proud when I heard on the radio that Musician Simphiwe Dana's plea on English being the medium of instruction in our education system reform was getting some support from members of parliament. 

Let me be honest. I have had some issues with Simphiwe Dana meddling in politics because in my view it evident that she is quick to point our issues when they are not directed at the ANC. 

Just recently when the Western Cape received the highest percentage of Matric pass rate I expected her to congratulate the province and its leadership but she did not. 

This expectation was prompted by the fact that she has been very vocal in criticizing the DA run province. Often insunuating that the province is racist. 

When suddenly there was something good to say about the province I personally felt she missed an opportunity to show that she is unbaised in her suppport for equality among all South Africans, of all races. 

Her impassioned plea for the introduction of mother-tongue education, pointing out that it was grossly unfair for children to have to learn in a “foreign language” has raised some important debate and may see a change in policy. 

South African youth has no leaders. At this point in our country no-one has actually stood up and pledged their allegiance to the fight to better our kids' future without worrying about lining his own pockets.

Our so called youth leaders have become nothing but mouth pieces for the bling culture and nothing more. Leadership is no longer a noble and selfless calling to serve our people but rather a way to amass wealth and the flaunt opulence in our faces.

It is in this harrowing moment in our lifetime that a voice like Simphiwe's can shine the light of hope. Someone needs to speak out for those who do not have a voice or platform to speak from. 

On a nationwide her “education tour”, she said she had seen how well children expressed themselves in their home languages, only to become “stupid” when they were expected to speak in another language.

She told MPs; 
“I think we are doing our children – and our country – a huge disservice by continuing to uphold English as the main language of instruction in schools,” 
She suggested that Swahili be adopted as the “unifying language” – “because we are too divided to choose Zulu or whatever other language is most commonly spoken” – however that gained less traction.

Her views on mother-tongue education were shared by many participants, including AfriForum with its Deputy Chief Executive reiterating that;.

“Millions in state and private funds have been wasted in courts during the past decade, where the rights of learners to be taught in their mother language had to be defended against the national and provincial departments of education,”

Bailey also suggested that the language policy, under which English had become the de facto and default language of commerce and government, had failed non-English speakers in many ways, including in education and the courts, and robbing many of their sense of identity.

Simphiwe saw a problem and instead of sitting around and moaning about it, she decided to be pro-active and do something. Now her action may change our entire education system and how we view languages in this country. 

I do have my reservations about her plea. Personally I don't think abandoning English would be a good idea as it will put our school kids in further disadvantage when they reach tertiary. 

I also believe that being able to speak the language does give one some opportunities that not being able to speak the language would not. It is no coincidence that South Africa has fared well economically compared to other African countries.

The English proficiency of our work force has enabled doing business in Mzansi a bit more attractive. Undertaking to change that might not be a sound business endeavour for the country. 

People come to SA to do business because they do not have to worry about hiring translators. Hollywood movies are shot here partly because of the same reason. 

In essence there are just as many reasons to keep English as a medium of instruction. I think we as a nation need to be very careful about putting more emphasis on issues motivated by sentiments rather than practicality. 

Already our graduates are sitting at home with degrees because they are unemployable, now do we really wanna add the issue of language to that as well. 

Let us be real - the language of business is English. So when these kids leave school without being able to communicate in the language, who will hire them?

On the other hand, Simphiwe's point of learning in English being an added burden on kids who do not use the language at home also has some merit. 

As I stated, the debate continues. 

In the meantime I applaud Ms Dana for taking the initiative to bring about change. Now if only she could stop attacking Hellen Zille on Twitter at every chance she gets while keeping mum about the shenanigans that ANC leaders get up to. 


kabelo leotlela said...

phil the debate is neccesary if we need to see a change in the SA education,simphiwe does point out valid reasons and its true that most kids that are at a disadvantage are kids especially in rural areas and township school. i think simphiwe is not saying that we should abandon the english language per se,rather be innovative in our approach to the issues of for her stance on the western Cape,i'll sit out on that 1.

PhilMphela said...


Yes I do concur that she raises some valid point. However we have 11 official languages in a country of just 50 million.

Imagine is every province or district used its own language to educate their kids, how will those kids cope when they have to integrate with others once they leave their respective home places?

Using one language as a medium of instruction eliminates such problems. No country in the world has more than 3 languages as a medium of instruction in its education system. It is impractical and would hurt the economy.

Now Simphiwe suggest that we adopt Swahili, wouldn't that be the same as kids learning English as a second language. No South African has Swahili as his/her home language.

Anonymous said...

Hi Phil,

Have been silent blogging your articles since TVSA days. This topic is close to my heart, I have a challenge with the language issue, How does Afrikaners do it mara? their medium of instruction is Afrikaans in most cases, and they comunicate in Afrikaans when they are not in school still, but they still excell in school and careers?

Kana Afrikaans is just like Sepedi and Zulu, its only in Mzantsi.

Will it be difficult for the kids in Limpopo to learn ka Sepedi?

I am not economically educated, do countries like France le bo Italy who speak broken english not doing well economically?

I dont know, I always debate this issue alone.

Is it an issue that we will not speak English like white South Africans?

Anonymous said...

I personal think that the Home language is the best thing that can set our children free, introducing English as a subject was doing wonders in the bantu education ( 1950s,60s). The word, phonic, syllable approach is the best. I do not care who says what!!!
Helping our kids to learn in isiXhosa and bring English later on in the 1st Grade and teaching in isiXhosa (or any African language) works. Mastering your mother tongue makes it easy to learn any other language. The mean problem that makes Grade 12 to fail is reading with understanding, and WHY IS THAT???? Poor foundation!!
All I’m saying let English be a subject for a African children.

PhilMphela said...

Hi Guys,

Though I have my reservations to a certain extend, I do understand the importance of learning in your mother toungue. However, we have 11 official languges and a messed up education system.

How are we then going to ensure that all those languages in their respective schools are catered for? How do we then make sure that those languages are used in our economy?

The other issue I keep emphasising is that it is not about the schools not wanting African languages. It is more about practicality. When you have black parents removing their kids from so called "black school" to the private ones simply because they want their kids to be proficient in English, how do you expect those private school to have African Language classes that even black kids will not take?

Teachers in those schools will need to be paid. If the class only has 3 kids, how do you justify pumping resources into them that could be better utilised to serve 99% of the school. The culture of having pride in one's mother tongue out to start at home with the parents.

Afrikaans is getting some cred in the debate among these school officials because Afrikaner pupils do take the subject. Black students will happily drop IsiZulu or Setswana for English in a heartbeat.

Anonymous said...

Hi Phil,
If teachers and principals can making policies that make English as a medium of instruction we can make African language teaching work.
Spending time in the classroom everyday and loving what you do can a will make a difference in our schools.
We need passionate teacher who teaching enjoy it, there are projects let Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy and others who make teaching home language easy and effective.
These unions should stop fighting for their rights only and appreciate the fact that they have jobs. Siyafa isizwe, they should make sure that we are getting empowered teachers who work hard for their salaries.
Curriculum changes should most not be done every five years. It is not easy to change and its slowing down the level of production.
This freedom is killing us!!!

'melo said...

My opinion. As much as i find it unfair that Afrikaners are still taught in their lang and get question papers in their language, I dont think it will work. Am I seriously going to be taught e.g Life orintation in Setswana? As much as i dont master English, I am not fluent in my mother tongue, and I am certain i am not the only one. And how to I cope when I get to varsity and a whole lot more. Why dont we all be taught in English including Afrikaners.

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