Gelyke Kanse charges Stellenbosch University’s language policy with sidelining speakers of the language.
By Naledi Mashishi
The University of Pretoria has scrapped Afrikaans in favour of using English only in official communications and as a medium of instruction.
As of January, 2019, the University of Pretoria (UP) will be using English as the only language of instruction and communication instead of offering Afrikaans alongside English. This was announced by the new vice-chancellor, Prof Tawana Kupe, on Monday, January 21.
The decision resulted from recommendations made by the university’s transformation committee, student representatives, and various other stakeholdersin early 2016. According to UP spokesperson Rikus Deport, the move was made as an effort to transform the university. It was also made in response to the decline in the number of Afrikaans home language students at the university which dropped from 85% in 1992 to 30% in 2015. Only 18% of students wished to use the language as a medium of instruction in 2016.
Deport further stated that the new language policy would only affect students who are enrolling in programmes offered by the university for the first time in 2019.
“Students who registered for the first time prior to 2019 will continue to receive lectures, tutorials, study guides and assessment material (question papers, assignments and the like) in Afrikaans for those programmes which were offered in Afrikaans at the time of enrolment, provided that the class size remains practically feasible and it is academically justifiable.
“Where assessment and question papers are set in Afrikaans, currently enrolled students will also be allowed to answer in Afrikaans,” Deport told Wits Vuvuzela.
After the university’s Senate approved the new language policy in June 2016, civil liberty groups Afriforum and Solidarity appealed the decision in court.
“This amounts to a gross violation of the language rights of Afrikaans students at UP,” said Afriforum in a statement.
The appeal was turned down by the Gauteng High Court in December 2016 after finding that it was no longer practical to offer classes in both English and Afrikaans, given the changing demographics of the university.
Judge Peter Mabuse, wrote in the judgement, “The language policy choice made by the University of Pretoria is not only consistent and in accord with the provisions of the Constitution, it also signals a deep and sincere commitment to place the university at the forefront of being an agent in advancing social cohesion.”
In a May 2017 statement, Afriforum expressed their disappointment with the ruling. “As access to education in Afrikaans remains a priority for AfriForum and Solidarity, they will continue to have discussions with international forums and experts in order to wage the battle on the protection of this right in the international arena as well.”
The university began phasing out Afrikaans in 2017 and in 2018, informed students that the university would switch to an English medium institution in the new year.
Lecturers who formerly gave lectures in Afrikaans will now be expected to teach only in English.
However, some such as Siseko Kumalo, a UP philosophy masters student and editor of the Journal of Decolonising Disciplines, argue
that the new English-only policy is still exclusionary towards black students as it privileges students whose mother tongue is English.
“A lot of scholarship around language policy is indicating that universities should look at where they are situated and offer those languages as multilingualism achieves better results. Students perform better when they are able to learn in their mother tongues,” he told Wits Vuvuzela.
“There’s a lot of excitement about monolingualism now but in five years’ time I foresee us revisiting the question of why African languages are not being used and what knowledge we can produce when we use indigenous languages,” he said.
FEATURED IMAGE: The historically Afrikaans institution, the University of Pretoria, will now use English as its primary means of instruction and communication. Photo: File.
Wits will make African languages mandatory for incoming students in the Humanities and Engineering departments.
The University of Free stated has been granted leave to appeal a court ruling against their new English language policy by the Bloemfontein High Court.
After 13 years of drafting the first policy, Wits will finally implement Sesotho, IsiZulu and South African Sign Language on campus.
Lectures were suspended today amid clashes over the language policy at the University of Pretoria. (more…)
Wits University is tabling a multilingual policy that will incorporate Sesotho and isiZulu as co-languages, along with English as an official part of campus life, in and outside the classroom.
The policy also proposes that SA Sign Language be included. The new policy proposal comes as a recommendation from the Strategic Planning Division which conducted a surveyed study of Wits students, academic staff, professional and support services staff and employees in outsourced services.
The study indicates that the number of Sesotho and IsiZulu speaking members of the Wits community are more or less equal.
“This has prompted the shift from a bilingual to a multilingual policy, the languages don’t compete, they are just used by speakers differently,” said Milani.
“We need broader visibility in the public space of our local languages in places like logos for instance.”
The previous language policy was adopted in 2003 where the university commited to developing Sesotho as a medium of instruction together with English. This meant researching and developing teaching resources along with developing the linguistic abilities of staff and students alike.
The translation of key documents such as application forms and rules, translation services in disciplinary hearings as well as multilingual and multicultural practices at ceremonies like graduations were some of the measures planned under the policy.
However, despite the plans the Sesotho language policy was never implemented by Wits.
“The need was identified but on the whole, no real concerted efforts were made,” said Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academics Prof Andrew Crouch.
Associate Professor of Linguistics Tommaso Milani said the previous policy was a ‘symbolic policy’, and no real progress was made on the ground to develop and implement Sesotho on campus. He said the policy was a document that indicated the university’s “good intentions” in relation to multilingualism but was never translated into real actions.
According to Milani, to avoid the pitfalls that struck the previous language policy, the university would have to make sure financial resources were allocated for the implementation of the new language policy. Any policy would remain “symbolic” if no or too little money is set aside for its implementation, said Milani.
Crouch agreed the project to make Wits multilingual would have to be budgeted for if it was to be successful.
“You don’t have to lose culture in the sea of economics,” Crouch said.
Talks on this multilingual language policy will continue until August and students and staff are encouraged to voice their opinion. Milani said that he hopes the policy will “espouse equality in a truly genuine way.”
Multilingualism is already part of the curriculum for Wits Medical School were students have to complete a local language course for them to graduate.
According to Karabo Ramugondo, MA African languages and Linguistics, said the new policy would “ensure a multilingual institution where more than one language can be used for conceptualisation, thought and knowledge production.”
“We live in a multilingual and multicultural environment and this shift in policy allows for the development of the African languages beyond them being used as languages of communication at home,” said Ramugondo.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has signed off on plans to introduce Mandarin as a second additional language in the South African education curriculum.
The South African Department of Basic Education (DBE) announced this week that Mandarin will be introduced into the South African curriculum.
Scholars in Grades 4 to 12 will have the option of taking Mandarin as a second language option as from January next year.
Plans to introduce the language started last year when Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga signed an implementation plan to strenthen educational ties between the Ministry of Education in China and the DBE at an institutional and policy level.
Over the years South Africa and China have joined together and signed several strategic agreements that aim to strengthen bilateral relations, trade co-operation and create sustainable investment. China is also one of South Africa’s top tading partners.
Not a replacement for existing languages
Motshekga’s spokesperson, Troy Martens told Wits Vuvuzela that the introduction of mandarin is part of a language and cultural exchange between the two countries.
Although the DBE says that the implementation plans were still being finalised, Mandarin will be available to scholars in a select number of schools around South Africa from 2016.
Mandarin will join the likes German, Serbian, Latin, Portuguese, Spanish, Tamil, Telegu and Urdu, as alternative language options for students.
“It must be emphasised that this is not a replacement for any of the existing languges offered. It is a second additional language option,” Martens said
Trish Cooper, course coordinator at the Wits Language School (WLS), said “[Mandarin] is an exceptionally difficult language to learn. It takes about 600 to 800 hours to learn a European language whereas it takes more than 2000 hours for Mandarin.”
“My concern is that kids are already coming out of school with little mother tongue competence. Which makes it difficult to transfer the necessary skills into a second language,” said Cooper.
Although acknowledging the importance of Mandarin for business reasons, Cooper adds that she believes that African languages and culture need to be promoted more and should come first.
More than a decade after Wits agreed to adopt Sesotho as a second language, the university is no closer to implementing this commitment.
In 2003 Wits University drew up a language policy that said the university would use an African language, Sesotho, as a medium for teaching and learning.
“The resources of the university need to be mobilised to enhance the language competencies of staff and students and, in partnership with the government, play a role in the development of one of South Africa’s African languages,” reads the policy.
However, while the policy has remained in effect its implementation has been hampered by a lack of resources.
“Unfortunately, I do not have a good story to tell … I think we must take some responsibility, we say one thing and we do another,” said Vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib.
Habib said the current language policy was “all for show” and the university needs to be realistic about its ability to implement an African language for teaching. “We love the policy but where are we going to find the millions of rands? It’s all for show and not for the reality of where we are. It’s a symbolic statement we make [more] than a real statement,” he said.
The 2003 policy outlined the implementation of Sesotho in four phases however, a decade later, not a single phase of implementation has taken place. Phase one, offering Sesotho classes for staff members, was supposed to have been implemented in 2010.
The policy was adopted by Wits because government made it a requirement for all higher educational institutions to further transform. The university signed the policy but took little action to implement it.
“The university said ‘let’s go into compliance and let’s tick the boxes’ and we kept quiet and nobody asked,” Habib said.
The university began to look at revising and implementing its policy last year after government said it would conduct a survey of indigenous languages at higher education institutions.
Prof Libby Meintjes, head of the School of Language and Literature Studies, said the first draft of a new language policy would be released in October.
“We are moving back to mother tongue teaching and if we cannot manage it in lectures we will have it in tutorials,” Meintjes said.
According to Meintjes, last year the university sent an email survey asking what was the preferred African language as a medium of learning and teaching. The results showed that isiZulu was in demand more than Sesotho.
“Staff and students put isiZulu ahead of Sesotho because of the language competence and the number of people that speak it but we don’t feel that because isiZulu has replaced Sesotho we will only go for isiZulu,” Meintjes said.
Habib said Wits needed to be honest about what it can do in terms of using African languages with current resources.
“We cannot spend so much time lying to ourselves. I think we should come into terms with it, if we don’t have the resources, the will, and we don’t have the courage, let’s not pretend that we do,” he said.
However, he concluded that Wits can achieve some kind of transformation, but it would be skewed by South Africa’s history.