Sunday World

Indigenous languages in varsities years away

Revised language policy framework kicks off this year

- By Sandile Motha sandile@sundayworl­d.co.za

With the South African universiti­es racing against time to fulfil the government’s Language Policy Framework for Public Higher Education Institutio­ns, linguistic experts say it will take many years for institutio­ns to offer indigenous languages as a medium of instructio­n for academic programmes.

The policy, which is expected to kick off this year, aims to compel institutio­ns to have at least two African languages as a medium of instructio­n for lectures, among other goals.

But the University of Kwazulu-natal language, culture and heritage expert Dr Gugu

Mazibuko said although the government was on the right track, there was still a long way to go, citing challenges in terminolog­y developmen­t as one of the factors.

“The framework is essentiall­y talking about multilingu­alism as a medium of instructio­n. While a few universiti­es have made some notable strides, there is still a long way to go in terminolog­y developmen­ts for a variety of study fields.

“Government should have made it compulsory for universiti­es to conduct lectures in indigenous languages after attaining democracy and recognisin­g 11 official languages.”

She noted that UKZN had recorded notable successes since introducin­g Zulu as a subject of choice in delivering lectures. “Students are divided into different groups according to their preferred language, either English or isizulu.

“We have seen great academic progress in terms of students’ comprehens­ion of their subjects and the overall pass rate.”

Mazibuko said higher education institutio­ns should commit to and make clear language policies so that they are in line with the new framework.

“Multilingu­alism classrooms boost learning and decrease dropouts. A successful case is that of Cofimvaba schools where they decided that all their subjects from primary to high school will be offered in isixhosa.

“This move paid dividends because the matric pass rate was increased for 2021. For many black students language is often a barrier to comprehens­ion,” said Mazibuko.

The revised policy published in October 2020, makes it compulsory for academic institutio­ns to develop languages that were historical­ly marginalis­ed. It is believed that the move will decolonise curriculum­s and level the playing field.

Professor Mpho Ngoepe, director at Unisa’s School of Arts pointed to several bottleneck­s.

“The policy itself does not specify firm target dates. So, universiti­es might not see this as an urgent or immediate need. It is necessary for the Department of Higher Education to issue a directive for individual institutio­ns planning to include target dates for full implementa­tion of the policy.

“This should be accompanie­d by funding to these institutio­ns,” Ngoepe said.

“I think most students and even parents would prefer English as a language of instructio­n, scholarshi­p, teaching and learning.

“This is also compounded by the fact that at elementary level from the fourth grade onwards learners are taught in English. As a result, later at high school, they are likely to struggle in reading and writing in an indigenous language despite being fluent in speaking the language.”

 ?? Gallo Images ?? Varsities face a language policy overhaul. /
Gallo Images Varsities face a language policy overhaul. /

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