News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Wednesday June 26th 2019

WCED mulls over problem of refugee learners’ language barrier

Peter Luhanga

The Western Cape Education Department is looking to develop a language policy framework to address the teaching of thousands of foreign children who are battling to learn in schools across the province.

WCED spokesperson Bronagh Casey said with the increase of foreign learners in public schools over the last “few years”, language instruction particularly, particularly for refugee children from Francophone Africa, was a major challenge.

Casey said there were 5,130 foreign learners in Western Cape schools, with 1,836 of them coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Other learners who spoke languages other than English, came from Angola, Tanzania, Germany, Korea and China, she said.

She said special teachers were needed to help foreign learners in their home language but this was very costly.

“It’s a big resource issue,” she said, and the department did not have the money to cater for special teachers.

“We don’t even have enough money to build schools.”

In the meantime school principals had to make their own ways to teach the foreign learners.

“The department is investigating how best to address the problem.”

However, she could not say what the WCED’s policy might include, or how it might address the problem.

Principal of Voorspoed Primary School in Hanover park, Rodney Theys, whose school taught refugee children from the Bonne Esperance safe house for refugee women and children in Phillipi, said it was a “a battle” to teach the foreign learners as they didn’t utter a single word in English or any other local language.

Theys said he had to use other foreign learners at the school who understood English to translate lessons to their fellow pupils.

The solution was far from perfect though, he said sometimes a grade three refugee child who understood English would be translating lessons to a grade five refugee learner.

He said there was also xenophobia from the South African learners to deal with, which, while incidents were occasional, remained a concern.

“We try to address it by developing an understanding that we have different cultures in our country. We have a lot of diversity training. Learners are now accepting that we have foreign learners at our institution,” he said.

Maitland High school principal Riedwaan Kenny said there was a large number of refugee children at his school and language was “a big problem”.

Kenny said the Cape Town Refugee Centre was paying for one French teacher at the school but this was not enough.

Additionally, he said new refugee children enrolled at the school thoughout the year, which added further strain as the Outcomes Based Education system (OBE) did not make allowance for learners to join in part way through the syllabus.

Cape Town Refugee Centre director Christina Henda said there was a dire need for volunteer teachers who could help learners from Francophone or Portugese speaking countries.

Henda said they had only one teacher on their books. — West Cape News

Tags: wced french

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