Letters to the editor: November 1 to 7 2013

When it comes to learning, it is the quality of teaching that is important — not the language. (Delwyn Verasamy)

When it comes to learning, it is the quality of teaching that is important — not the language. (Delwyn Verasamy)

Teach properly in any tongue

Stephen Taylor and Marisa Coetzee, in their cautious response to Professor Jonathan Jansen's call for the use of English as the language of instruction from grade one ("Mother-tongue classrooms give a better boost to English studies later", October 18 to 25), ascribe more value to empirical evidence than "utopian" versions of "reality".

There is nothing wrong with empirical evidence, but when a country gains its independence and is faced with the national imperative to educate its citizenry, the notion of empirical research is a luxury that it can ill afford.

When countries such as Ghana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and several others in Africa became independent, they did not have the luxury of waiting for the results of empirical research. They simply took the practical decision to continue with the colonial model of education that had existed before independence. In short, they imposed the colonial language at the expense of the local languages.

In every dorp and village of South Africa there are basically three languages spoken: the local mother tongue, a modicum of English and a modicum of Afrikaans.
Instead of focusing on these three languages, our politicians and academics – especially the ones with vested interests – have been rehashing the same old ideological debates about developing the mother tongues and teaching in these tongues up to university level.

As examples of success stories, they cite monolingual countries such as Japan, China, Germany and others. They conveniently ignore multilingual countries like India, where two languages are imposed as official languages on the entire subcontinent of myriad languages.

Jansen's blunt message has the merit of common sense. When we speak of a language of instruction in grade one or two, let us be clear about what we mean by the word "instruction".

I am in the fortunate position of having begun my professional life teaching a combined class of grades one and two in a rural school on the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal. Many of the children in my class could barely speak English because of their impoverished background. Few wore shoes to school.

My task, as is the task of every grade one teacher, was to teach the three Rs: reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic.

Any teacher with a basic command of English, Afrikaans or a local language should be able to teach the rudiments of reading, writing and maths in the language of choice, provided the teacher is present in the classroom and he or she has the basic tools of teaching: a reading primer, a chalkboard, writing materials and desks – yes, desks!

Many years later, when I was a college lecturer in Durban, I saw one of my former grade one pupils in my lecture room. He had remembered me, and he told me about some of his classmates who had proceeded to university and, in one case, to medical school.

The crucial issue is not whether we teach in a colonial tongue or the mother tongue, but how we teach, what we teach or whether we teach at all – a point conceded by Taylor and Coetzee.

As for the language of choice in the early grades, if we are convinced that English is the bread-and-butter language of the wider world, as it is in the Parliament of South Africa, then Jansen needs to be taken seriously. – Professor Harry Sewlall, North-West University, Mahikeng

Give Morsi back his presidency

The article "In Egypt, life is about liking a box of army chocolates" by Patrick Kingsley and Marwa Awad (October 25 to 31), refers.

A mosaic is never understood nor seen in its entirety by viewing the individual elements of the piece but rather by stepping back and looking at the collective of the artwork.

Similarly, the processes at work in Egypt are a vast collection of forces that have created an atmosphere and façade that mask the many voices opposed to the way the military conducts itself.

Kingsley and Awad speak of a vast majority of Egyptians in support of a presidential campaign and election of General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi. To the inexperienced eye, this may seem formidable, especially when many reports speak of the immense number of Egyptian people that called for the ousting of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

In its first revolution, Egypt showed its hunger for freedom and democracy. A region that has been plagued by despotism, repression, foreign domination and corruption voted, with clear conviction, the Morsi administration into power.

A year later, many who voted for Morsi became the proponents of a coup d'état and ousted Morsi because they believed he did not provide the changes they wanted. There was active scheming and subversive action by myriad players, led by the fulool (remnant) counter-revolutionaries, or Hosni Mubarak loyalists and corrupt oligarchs, as well as the "deep state" – a decades-old web of corruption and special interests entrenched in state institutions. Change under these circumstances becomes close to impossible.

Al-Sissi, who led the ousting, was part of that scheming. That was clearly marked by his aggressive response to the peaceful protests by Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

Supporters of al-Sissi make up the elite and civil servants who enjoyed privileges under Mubarak at the expense of the masses and who now wish to not give them up. Al-Sissi will maintain that standard of living for them.

Al-Sissi the man is a total contrast to Morsi the man, who demonstrated a full belief in the Egyptian people's will to democracy.

The support given to al-Sissi by international forces to enjoin a military coup is astounding. It contradicts the foundations of Western democracy, as preached to underdeveloped countries by the West.

The international community, as well as the Egyptian people, have moral, humanitarian and legal responsibilities for events in Egypt and should support the return of the legitimate president, Morsi, to his position, without delay.

They should also demand the prosecution of all those responsible for the aforementioned crimes, in a fair trial, before the Egyptian judiciary.

Peace in Egypt lies in the hands of all and not some of its people, together with the international community. I doubt people of conscience would call on a leader who caters only to the elitist few and not the greater Egyptian society. – Nabila Ismail, Media Review Network 

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