The Solidarity Teacher Network says it will not tolerate the government’s “intimidation of teachers” regarding language policy and admission.
The warning follows statements by the deputy minister of basic education, dr. Reginah Mhaule, in which she argues that Afrikaans teachers must also teach in English when there are English-speaking learners in their classes.
Mhaule said during a question session in the National Council of Provinces this week that if the majority of learners in a school are Afrikaans-speaking, an English-speaking learner cannot be turned away. She also argued that some people want to protect schools as if they were their own.
The deputy minister’s statements come as a result of discussions surrounding the amendment bill on Basic Education Acts (Bela), which is currently underway.
Among other things, the legislation intends to transfer decision-making about schools’ language and admissions policy from governing bodies to the state.
However, Johan Botha, head of Solidarity’s teacher network, believes that the true purpose of the statements is to “cultivate hostility towards Afrikaans in society, and to remove Afrikaans as a language of instruction from the education system”. He says the government is making Afrikaans a scapegoat to cover up its own failures in education and to try to recruit potential voters by hijacking schools.
“The deputy minister’s statements are extremely irresponsible. She creates the expectation among learners that they can only turn up at Afrikaans schools and then expect their teaching to be in English.
“This is a blatant undermining of mother tongue education and of the right that school governing bodies have to accept and maintain a single medium language policy for schools,” says Botha.
He believes the deputy minister is trying to intimidate teachers in Afrikaans schools from a position of power with the statements.
“Insisting on teaching in English while the school is an Afrikaans school is unreasonable and indicative of a government that wants to bully teachers into realizing its ideologies. The deputy minister is deliberately whipping up the education landscape against Afrikaans.
“Mhaule unnecessarily puts Afrikaans teachers in the crossfire. She could much rather focus on providing teachers with more resources and greater capacity,” says Botha.
Solidarity says the education department actually wants to use language to exclude people and Mhaule’s statements that the government does value mother tongue education are, according to Botha, just lip service.
“The government’s sights are much more focused on wiping out Afrikaans as a language of instruction in public schools,” he says.
Johnell van Vollenhoven, education researcher attached to the Solidarity Research Institute (SNI), says the deputy minister was spot on with her observation that there are groups that want to protect schools.
“The truth is that public schools belong to school communities. It is every community’s right, and in this case even a duty, to defend their school against a government obsessed with power.
“The government does not build schools and it does not pay attention to mother tongue education. Instead of striving for quality education, they try to hijack schools and sow division by means of blame in order to act in the best interests of no one other than the ANC,” says Van Vollenhoven.