RESULT: Increased breadth and depth of the guidance and support given to the preschool teachers, both professionally, with skills and knowledge related to running an excellent preschool, as well as personally, through personal growth and knowledge.
Luyanda* is one of the teachers at the Zithulele Montessori Preschool. She has a calm presence, shows great respect to those she works with and the children enjoy working with her. Luyanda’s mother tongue language is Xhosa and she speaks this fluently and with confidence. She also speaks Sepedi. English is therefore Luyanda’s third language and she struggles with fluency and finding the right words as she has a limited vocabulary.
Luyanda is passionate about teaching the children at the preschool and would like to prepare them in the best way she can for their lives. She understands the importance of laying a solid foundation for a child’s life by focusing on early childhood development. During a staff meeting, while discussing the vision of the preschool, Luyanda said, ‘We are holding the future in our hands.’ She would like to teach the children to speak English as well as Xhosa, as she sees English as a gateway language for accessing opportunities and resources.
The Zithulele Montessori Preschool is a member of the Wild Coast Montessori Network, which includes four other Montessori schools in the surrounding areas and is a space for teachers to connect, share ideas and challenges and gain new understanding and knowledge through workshops. One of the workshops that Luyanda attended was about the importance of teaching children in Xhosa, their mother tongue language, and giving them the correct Xhosa vocabulary, even for more complex subjects like mathematics. Luyanda was surprised and amazed at the how much vocabulary there is in Xhosa for teaching mathematics.
At the staff meeting, following this workshop, the Education Programme Manager shared stories and research** with the teachers about the importance of children learning in their mother tongue language, from a parent or teacher who is fluent in this language as well. A lively discussion followed in which this topic was explored further and reflected on. Following this discussion, the basic elements of good story telling were looked at and each teacher was then given an opportunity to tell a story in Xhosa. There was much laughter and learning.
Slowly Luyanda and the other teachers have begun to see the value of teaching proper Xhosa vocabulary to the children at the preschool and not watering it down with poor quality English. This shift in understanding is significant and will have ripple effects in how teaching is done and therefore how the children in the classroom will learn and develop. Luyanda is now more confident and motivated to use the proper Xhosa vocabulary for the presentations she does with the children, especially with mathematics. She also now often tells a story in Xhosa at the end of the day during quiet time, and the children are engrossed and amazed. They keep asking for more stories.
**Nishanti, R. 2020. Understanding the importance of mother tongue learning; Awopetu, A. 2016. Impact of mother tongue on children’s learning abilities in the early childhood classroom.