Social Innovator: Margie Owen-Smith

Manager: Home Language Project

Why is Margie a Social Innovator?

Have you ever thought about the role that home languages play in the growth and development of your children? Trying to get to grips with maths formulae is complicated enough; imagine trying to understand them through a second language.

This is exactly what is happening to the majority of school children in South Africa. With English seen as the language of business, English has become the medium of instruction for most schools.

Enter Margie Owen-Smith, a concerned parent who noticed that her children’s black friends were not faring as well as they should. The reason, she discovered, was that they didn’t understand the language they were learning in (English) well enough to grasp the complex ideas put forward.

After much research and even more persuasion, Margie and her group of parents started the Home Language Project – a programme which tries to make it possible in an English medium school for children to use their own languages as tools for learning alongside English.

They do this by pairing children as “language buddies” so that they can work through the problems in the classroom in their own language. This way they can then use the text together, in their own language, and help each other to make the transition into English.

And it’s not complicated for the teachers, either. The teachers still use English as the common denominator language in the fully lingual classroom, but each child has his own language to back up English in the work they are doing.

In her own words .

“What keeps us going in the rough times is the look on children’s faces when they first start reading in their home language and realising that their language is not inferior.”

Fast Facts

  • The project was started in 2001 by the school governing bodies of six English-medium state schools.
  • HLP operates in five schools: Saxonwold Primary School, Roseneath Primary School, Parkview Junior School, Greenside High School and Parktown Boys High School. All indigenous languages are treated equally.
  • The project has been providing direct assistance to around 600 learners per year.
  • The HLP now has an ongoing collaboration with Literacy For All.

How can I help?

To find out more, visit Home Language Project.

Story published on SAinfo on 10 September 2008.
Source: Brand South Africa