Intermediate Phase Mathematics teachers’ linguistic proficiency in the Language of Learning and Teaching: The Eastern Cape Province

  • Michael Lucien Le Cordeur Stellenbosch University
  • Lindiwe Tshuma
Keywords: Mathematics, reading, mother tongue education, Eastern Cape.


The South African Language in Education Policy (LiEP) stipulates the use of English or Afrikaans as a language of instruction in the upper primary school, after mother-tongue instruction in the lower primary school. Educational research confirms that English is used as the official Language of Learning and Teaching (LoLT) by 90% of the learners in public schools in the country. These learners are multilingual, thus, they are also English Language Learners (ELLs). The aim of the article is to analyse the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDoE) Intermediate Phase (IP) mathematics teachers’ language proficiency in English, the prescribed LoLT. This article is generally informed by Cummins’s work and particularly informed by the socio-–psycho-linguistics theory. A standardised teacher English language proficiency assessment piloted in five South African universities was administered on 55 Intermediate Phase (IP) mathematics teachers purposefully selected from 16 education districts in the ECDoE. Data were quantitatively and qualitatively analysed. Results show that teachers’ language ability in English, is very low and the IP teachers who are not proficient in the language of instruction are likely to compromise the quality of mathematics instruction.  Since study participants are qualified practicing teachers, this article concludes that the onus is on teacher education institutions to linguistically prepare IP mathematics teachers adequately.

Author Biographies

Michael Lucien Le Cordeur, Stellenbosch University
Prof Michael le Cordeur is professor and chair of Curriculum Studies in the Education Faculty at Stellenbosch University. A language teacher by trade, he is a former high school principal and Circuit Manager of Education in Stellenbosch. A regular columnist for various media & houses he is one of the first recipients of Stellenbosch’s Media Award of Excellence (2018), and also recipient of various other awards, such as from the South African Academy and Stellenbosch University’s Chancellors Award (2014).
Lindiwe Tshuma
Dr Lindiwe Tshuma is currently a Teaching and Learning Advisor at University of the Witwatersrand and a Research Fellow at University of Stellenbosch. Previously she was an IP mathematics lecturer, a Curriculum Development Specialist and also taught Mathematics and English in various under-resourced public schools for several years.