South Africa: Schools Language Policy Comes Under the Spotlight

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Aug 1 13:36:00 UTC 2006

Schools Language Policy Comes Under the Spotlight

BuaNews (Tshwane)
Posted to the web July 31, 2006

By Clive Ndou
Cape Town

Education Minister Naledi Pandor has expressed concern over the declining
use of Indigenous languages in schools, saying they were increasingly
being relegated to the periphery of "our education system". Quoting from a
recently published Human Science Research Council (HSRC)  survey on South
African social attitudes, Ms Pandor said English was being accorded a far
more superior status compared to African languages. "English is the
language of perceived potential upward education mobility among almost all
black Africans, and African languages, even at the lowest levels in the
system, are considered as having a subsidiary role that diminishes yet
further as the black child climbs through the system," she said.

Speaking during the opening of a forum to discuss the implementation of
the department of education's language policy here today, Ms Pandor called
on language experts as well as academics to come up with guidelines on how
best neglected languages could be promoted. "The benefits that language
diversity confers on any society far outstrip any advantages that
mono-lingualism may offer. "We need to probe what our educational policy
makers can do to prevent the neglect of African languages in the education
system," she said.

Despite having been adopted nine years ago, the language policy is yet to
be fully implemented. Ms Pandor cited lack of resources and fears by some
parents as some of the stumbling blocks. "Resources have not been made
available in amounts that would give effect to the policy. "There has also
been poor responsiveness to fears that parents have about perceived
imposition of old style apartheid education." She said it was not true
that the implementation of the policy would result in children having a
bad command of the English language.

"It is important to repeat that the policy does not, as some have claimed,
deny children the opportunity to acquire English or any other second
language. "Rather it is empowering through the assertion that
language-learning opportunities must be made available in all the official
languages of South Africa," she said.

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