Language changes to be made in South African universities, as English no longer to receive preferential treatment

University, Newcastillian, Department of Higher Education
"In the pursuit of equality, the Government now aims to see various languages used to teach in universities throughout the country."

Obtaining a tertiary education empowers a person with far greater possibilities in life. But for some, studying in a language outside of their home language can prove to be problematic at times. In the pursuit of equality, the Government now aims to see various languages used to teach in universities throughout the country.

This follows Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande publishing a new language policy framework for public higher education institutions in South Africa.

In an explanatory summary of the policy framework, Nzimande explains the purpose of the policy is to provide a framework for the development and strengthening of indigenous languages as languages of scholarship, teaching and learning and communication at South African public higher education institutions especially when it comes to universities.

He elaborates, “The policy provides guidelines for the development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of institutional language policies and contributes to transformation in higher education with specific reference to universities through enhancing the status and roles of previously marginalised South African languages.”

This is apparently to foster institutional inclusivity, as well as social cohesion.

According to the framework, language continues to be the barrier to access and success for many students at South African higher education institutions. Therefore, the Department of Higher Education states, if places of public higher education are to meet the diverse linguistic needs of their student population, the persistent underdevelopment and undervaluing of indigenous languages should not be allowed.

With an array of changes on the cards for the education sector, what changes can students expect once the policy is finalised?
  • All official internal institutional communication must be conveyed in at least two official languages other than English. This will be used as a way of cultivating a culture of multilingualism. The Department of High Education adds, “Institutions must consider all possible options to accentuate the use of indigenous African languages in official communication and ceremonies.”
  • Recognising the de facto status of English as the language of learning and teaching across South African higher education institutions, the policy now calls upon universities to adopt a flexible approach in the implementation of English as the language of learning and teaching. Necessary support must also be provided to students whose first language is not English.
  • Higher education institutions must demonstrate in their plans, the investment they have made or will make in the development of official languages into languages of teaching and learning, as well as scholarship and research. The plans must also reflect on ways and mechanisms to strengthen African Language Departments.

The department will work in partnership with relevant Government departments, especially the Department of Basic Education. This is to gather support for meaningful multilingual education, which embraces all indigenous African languages starting from school level.

The department highlights, “Multilingual education should focus on proper vocational preparation of teachers for a multilingual environment, with emphasis on teaching in African languages.”

What are your thoughts? Share your views with us in the comment section below.

Author: Quinton Boucher

Edited: Calvin Swemmer

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