Margaret Owen-Smith

Ashoka Fellow
South Africa
Fellow Since 2007


This profile was prepared when Margaret Owen-Smith was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2007.
The New Idea
The 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa guarantees certain rights to all South Africans, including students’ rights to be taught in their mother tongue. Margaret is creating an opportunity for children to learn in their native African language; increasing their proficiency and the quality of language skills in English schools. Since the Department of Education has not developed a system to implement these rights effectively, Margaret developed a program that makes teaching African languages, in addition to English, simple and effective.
Using a model that teaches African languages along with English to read and problem-solve helps level the playing field in school and enables students to retain an important part of their vibrant culture and relevant part of their identity. The impact is significant. When language is associated with education and progress, it is perceived as more valuable beyond the home and family. There is also documented research that indicates that learning at least two languages during the early years of childhood improves academic performance across all disciplines.
Margaret mobilized and lobbied stakeholders until she successfully piloted a dual medium learning program in five schools in the province of Gauteng. An independent study has shown that her intervention is having an impact on student performance and confidence. Margaret is also lobbying teacher training departments and curriculum designers to better place the model within the education system from the top down.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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