S Africa seeks to end university dominance of English

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Sun Jul 3 13:58:56 UTC 2005

>>From http://www.deepikaglobal.com/latestnews.asp?ncode=29194

S Africa seeks to end university dominance of English

JOHANNESBURG, July 3 (Reuters) South Africa has embarked on a shake-up of
its educational system to enable students to be educated in any of the
country's 11 official languages ranging from Afrikaans and English to
Xhosa and Zulu. Officials describe the policy as an important step toward
developing indigenous African languages which were ignored or suppressed
under decades of white apartheid rule.

''It is our legal obligation to develop a policy that incorporates all
South African languages. Through this policy, all languages will now be
equally available in line with our constitution,'' said Duncan Hindle,
director general of the national Department of Education. But some
academics are concerned that the new policy may undercut South Africa's
English-language skills -- a strong suit as it competes with other
emerging economies for international investment.

''The policy is a political gesture, one which is necessary for the time
to affirm the place of indigenous languages. But English is a benchmark
and the new policy should not be at the expense of English,'' said David
Attwell, head of the English department at Johannesburg's University of
the Witwatersrand. Academic experts and students have highlighted the lack
of necessary resources to develop teachers and textbooks to ensure
efficient instruction in indigenous languages.

''The policy is unrealistic and idealistic, highly unlikely to produce the
desired results because of the lack of relevant teaching tools,'' said
Floyd Shivambu, a student representative member from the University of the
Witwatersrand. Under apartheid, English and Afrikaans -- the Dutch-derived
language of the country's original white settlers -- were the only
required languages for South African students and the best universities
reserved primarily for whites.

Even historically black universities such as Fort Hare, the alma mater of
generations of African liberation leaders including Nelson Mandela and
Oliver Tambo, offered instruction only in English.

THE POWER OF LANGUAGE Since the country's first democratic elections in
1994, the black-led government has sought to bring balance to the
educational system, combining traditionally black universities with their
white counterparts in an effort to even out access to resources. But
language remains a hot topic, with some black South Africans arguing that
African languages remain marginalised, neglected and underdeveloped
despite the new political order.

''I fully support the new policy because English has taken over in our
schools. Students learning in indigenous languages are diminishing, in
some instances, there are more lecturers than students,'' said Danisile
Ntuli, a Zulu lecturer at the University of South Africa.

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