South Africa: "Language issues and challenges"

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Oct 30 14:26:51 UTC 2007

Speaking notes, Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor MP,
at the Language Policy Implementation in Higher Education Institutions
(HEIs) Conference,
University of South Africa, Pretoria
5 October 2006

"Language issues and challenges"

Professor Neo Mathabe
Professor Chris Swanepoel
Professor Finlayson
Members of UNISA Council
Conference participants

Universities are leading agents of social enquiry and usually leaders
in the creation of new ideas and solutions. I hope that this
conference will assist in the development of a reasoned and balanced
deliberation on the role and place all languages should have in
education, and in the social progress of South Africa.

Our constitution asserts that all our languages have equal status. But
in recognition of the marginalisation of indigenous languages in our
past, "the state must take practical and positive measures to elevate
the status and advance the use of these languages."

Regarding language in education, the Constitution states that,
"everyone has the right to receive education in the official language
or languages of their choice in public educational institutions where
that education is reasonably practicable" (Section 29(2) of the
Constitution). Further, it indicates that the exercise of language
choices in education should not be in conflict with considerations of
equity and redress within the context of our shared values and
aspirations as a nation. The Department of Education has published
policy to give effect to these provisions of the Constitution. The
Language in Education Policy (1997) and the Language Policy for Higher
Education (2002) were designed to promote multilingualism in the
education sector. Their aim is to ensure that all South African
languages are "developed to their full capacity while at the same time
ensuring that the existing languages of instruction (English and
Afrikaans) do not serve as a barrier to access and success."

The published policy encourages the development of indigenous African
languages as mediums of instruction in the higher education system,
alongside English and Afrikaans. In 2003, the Ministry appointed a
Ministerial Committee, chaired by Professor Njabulo Ndebele, to
provide advice for the development and use of African indigenous
languages as mediums of instructions in higher education. The
committee report made a startling but not surprising finding that the
future of African languages as mediums of instruction is bleak if
nothing is done immediately. It recommended development of a "well
co-ordinated, long-range national plan that would work at national,
provincial and local levels to provide adequate resources and support
for indigenous African languages."

Certainly, the success of such a plan would require systemic
under-girding by the entire schooling system and the enhanced public
and social use of indigenous African languages in the daily lives of
South Africans. The committee also recommended that each tertiary
institution in South Africa should identify an indigenous African
language of choice for initial development as medium of instruction.
Where the language of choice is a particular regionally dominant
language, Higher Education Institutions in that region should utilise
a regional approach.

I am pleased that a number of universities have responded positively
to the language policy for higher education and some of the
recommendations made by the Ministerial Committee and have developed
and revised their institutional language policies to align them with
the national policy. I continue to engage with stakeholders and
role-players on language issues, so as to seek ways of finding a
better and more effective implementation of our language policy.

On 31 July this year the Department of Education hosted a language
colloquium in Cape Town. At the colloquium concern was expressed over
the slow implementation of language policy and over a variety of
barriers to its implementation. There was consensus that the current
school language policy (1997) should be retained and that measures
should be taken to ensure its implementation. Two messages, which came
out loud and clear from the various inputs, were the following:

* that the Department of Education needs to encourage mother-tongue
education for at least six-years
* that higher education needs to play an active role in developing and
promoting the learning and teaching of indigenous languages.

As a result of the colloquium, the department undertook to develop a
plan to implement the language policy. The plan will focus on the
following areas of intervention:

(a) A national six-year mother tongue education programme aimed at
using learners' home languages as mediums of instruction in the
foundation and intermediate phase. In this regard, the programme will
make a distinction between schools serving uni-lingual and
multi-lingual learner populations.

(b) A national general and further education second language programme.

(c) A national indigenous language learning programme that will focus
on the compulsory achievement of communicative competence in an
indigenous language by all learners. This will also incorporate the
role of provinces in developing and promoting the learning of
languages that are official in those provinces.

(d) A national programme to make available to learners all external
assessment tools in the national Senior Certificate and later in grade
9 and systemic evaluation at grades 3 and 6 in indigenous languages.

The aim of this component of the implementation plan is to assist
learners who are currently learning in a second language to understand
the assessment instruments better.

(e) A national programme to revitalise the teaching and learning of
indigenous languages in higher education institutions. This will focus
on supporting the learning of the languages in all undergraduate
programmes and also in teacher-education programmes.

(f) Launching a vigorous information and advocacy aimed at assisting
parents and learners to make informed language decisions.

(g) The development of capacity at all levels of the system to
implement all aspects of the language in education policy. This
requires a focus on the development of the language support services
of school district teams and the provision of support for school
management teams and school governing bodies to implement the language
in education policy.

With respect to the higher education sector, the language policy for
higher education will guide activities in this area. A number of
initiatives have been taken and are being planned to realise the
objectives of the policy.

As part of our initiative to promote multilingualism in higher
education, the Department of Education supports a number of pilot
projects under the South African-Norway Tertiary Education Development
programme. The focus of the pilot project is promoting multilingual
proficiency for academic staff and students registered in service
disciplines such as social work, law, nursing, medicine and other
health sciences. Support is also provided for academic tutorials
conducted in indigenous languages.

We are aware that these interventions are not enough to address the
huge challenges that we face. However, we believe that they make a
valuable contribution that higher education institutions can build on
and consolidate to ensure that we create an environment where
multilingualism will become a reality, not in the residences alone but
in the lecture halls as well.

Indeed, the future of South African languages as areas of academic
study and research is a matter of pressing concern for all of us. The
role of language and access to language skills is critical to enabling
individuals to realise their full potential to participate in and
contribute to the social, cultural and intellectual life of the South
African society.

I hope that by the end of this conference you will be able to make
some suggestions as to how we can move faster towards creating and
consolidating a multilingual environment in our higher education

Thank you.

Issued by: Department of Education
5 October 2006

N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who
disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal. (H. Schiffman, Moderator)

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list