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A Gqeberha educator is hoping to find solutions for student teachers faced with the difficulty of teaching a tough subject to young pupils in isiXhosa.

Zintle Bangiso-Fihla, a foundation phase teacher in Zwide township, is exploring the topic as part of her master’s in education degree at Nelson Mandela University.

Bangiso-Fihla, who has been teaching for four years, says that in her first year, she struggled to teach mathematics in isiXhosa – and sometimes still does.

The reason, she says, is that university mathematics is taught in English, but in South Africa, foundation phase learners are taught everything in their home language, apart from English, where applicable.

It was her own experience teaching the language in isiXhosa, and an incident that happened in her grade 3 creative class lesson, two years ago, that propelled her towards her master’s degree, titled ‘Student teachers’ experiences of teaching Mathematics using isiXhosa in Foundation phase classrooms during teaching practice’.

In the lesson, learners were asked to write in isiXhosa anything that they knew about Heritage Day.

“This little girl, her first sentence was ‘E Mzantsi Afrika sinolwimi (in South Africa we are a country full of gossip) full stop’”, says Bangiso-Fihla.

“I called her to ask what she was trying to say, and she told me she wanted to write that ‘Sinelwimi ezinintsi ezahlukeneye (we have different languages)’.”

The incident highlighted the importance of language in the classroom, and she began thinking about the obstacles faced by foundation student teachers trying to explain mathematical concepts in isiXhosa, after being taught the university module in English.

“I remember, as a student, that all the other modules were taught in English, and isiXhosa was the only module that was taught in isiXhosa. But I am expected to go into a classroom where the home language is an African language and to teach those kids in an African language,” she says.

Seeking solutions

Bangiso-Fihla says there is an expectation from universities that once teachers get into the classroom, they will automatically know how to translate their institutional knowledge, taught in English, into an African language.

“I focused on student teachers’ experiences because I want to look at their experiences of teaching mathematics in isiXhosa.  I want to get to know what their challenges are – (can they) use isiXhosa academically to help learners develop the skills needed in that grade?

“I'm hoping that the results from the study will contribute to potentially assisting Nelson Mandela University to identify the resources that are needed to support the students, because they are the ones (the institution is) going to be sending to classrooms after they qualify.”

First love, teaching

The 29-year-old from Queenstown says her interest in wanting to find solutions in the education space stems from her passion for the profession.

“I love teaching, I love children,” she says. Her grandmother was a teacher and that is where her love for teaching developed.

Initially, Bangiso-Fihla studied psychology, and then went on to enrol for a teaching qualification.

There were expectations from her family to take over as breadwinner as her grandmother had died.

“I told (my mother) that I wanted to do what I loved, and I did not want to fall into the trap of just working for the sake of working,” she says.

Bangiso-Fihla went on to complete an honours degree in education and then headed for the classroom.

Bangiso-Fihla argues that it makes no sense for universities in the Eastern Cape, where isiXhosa is the most spoken language, to not offer teaching in isiXhosa; and yet student teachers go out to teach isiXhosa-speaking children.

She hopes that the research will contribute to the promotion of the use of African languages for teaching and learning in higher education.

Written by: Bongekile Macupe

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Mrs Debbie Derry
Deputy Director: Communication
Tel: 041 504 3057