The status of the Language of Learning and Teaching in South African Public Schools


Language is commonly described as the means by which a person learns to organise experiences and thoughts. It stands at the centre of the many interdependent cognitive, affective and social factors that shape learning (Thomas and Collier, 2001). Consequently, it is crucial to study how language is being used for teaching and learning purposes in the schooling system. Questions surrounding the use of the language of learning and teaching (LOLT) in schools become particularly important in multilingual societies – especially for parents, educators and policy-makers.

Research on the association between mother-tongue education and scholastic achievement points to a good correlation between the two (Myburgh, Poggenpoel and Van Rensburg, 2004; Burkett, Clegg, Landon, Reilly and Verster, 2001; Kaphesi, 2000; Howie, Venter and Van Staden, undated). It has been found that bilingual children perform better in school when the school effectively teaches the children’s home language and, where appropriate, develops literacy in that language (Cummins, 2001). By contrast, when children are encouraged to reject their home language, the development of that language stagnates and their personal and conceptual foundation for learning is undermined.

According to Myburgh et al. (2004), where learners do not speak the language of instruction, authentic teaching and learning cannot take place. It can be purported that such a situation largely accounts for the school ineffectiveness and low academic achievement experienced by students in Africa. It therefore becomes important to encourage the use of home language as the LOLT, especially in the earlier years of schooling. The use of learners’ first language as the LOLT would be in line with the Education for All goals. Learning in one’s own language holds various advantages for the learner, including increased access, improved learning
outcomes, reduced chances of repetition and drop-out rates, and socio-cultural benefits (World Bank, 2005).


Evaluation Number:
Report Approval:
Wednesday, 15 December 2010
Thursday, 07 February 2013
Initiated By:
Department of Basic Education
Undertaken By:
Education Policy Unit, University of the Witwatersrand
Evaluation Period:
Evaluation Area:
National Outcome:
National Outcome 1: Improved quality of basic education.
Commissioned By:
Evaluation Type:
Evaluation Subject:
Geographic Scope:

Evaluation Documents

File Name
135 EQAT 20130319 sr_mb.pdf
Language of learning and teaching in SA public chools.pdf 135.pdf

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