[lg policy] Namibia: Makgone Calls for More Sophisticated Language Policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jun 20 14:14:59 UTC 2013

Namibia: Makgone Calls for More Sophisticated Language Policy By Albertina
Nakale, 19 June 2013

The Deputy Minister of Education, Sylvia Ganaone Makgone says the
development of indigenous languages can no longer afford to receive meager
resources, while settler colonial languages such as Afrikaans and German
and to some extent English continue to enjoy inordinately greater support.

She said Namibia is a multi-lingual nation, but language development has
always been unequal, including the resources expended on that development.
Makgone made the remarks yesterday during a two-day language policy review
conference hosted by the National Institute for Educational Development
(NIED), a directorate in the Ministry of Education.

The conference is a follow-up initiative on the outcome of the 2011
National Education Conference. She said promoting one language at the
expense of others in a multi-lingual country is counterproductive and it is
not in the national interest. The theme of the conference is - Language for
Teaching and Education for Social Justice.

The language in education policy of Namibia is derived from the country's
constitution, which guarantees equal linguistic rights to all Namibian
citizens. The constitution states in Article 3 (1) and (2) that the
official language of Namibia shall be English and also that nothing shall
prohibit the use of any other language as a medium of instruction in
private schools or in schools financed or subsidized by the State. This is
subject to compliance with such requirements as may be imposed by law, to
ensure proficiency in the official language or for pedagogical reasons.

"Despite this consensus, there have been numerous political and educational
controversies regarding the implementation of these constitutional
provisions. As it appears, Article 3 did not help much to advance the
development and promotion of indigenous languages in Namibia. Both Article
3, Section (3) of the constitution, as well as the Education Act (Act No.16
of 2001) are vague on the status and use of indigenous African languages in
formal domains," she said.

According to her, before independence more resources were devoted to the
development of Afrikaans and German, and to some extent, English. "The
development of most, if not all indigenous African languages received
meager resources. Furthermore, the development of indigenous African
languages in Namibia was not done according to plan, but rather in a
piecemeal way," she pointed out.

Consequently, she said some indigenous languages became marginalised
through neglect, adding: "This state of affairs cannot be allowed to
continue in an independent Namibia." She noted that English, formerly
perceived as the language of a small, educated elite is now in demand from
every quarter as a means of progress and the key to a better life. She
further said it is interesting to note that the language, which was a "key
part of the mechanism of exclusion," because of its very unequal
distribution in society, is now seen "as a means of inclusion."

"It is also interesting to note that the English language in Namibia today
is both an admired and a hated phenomenon. There is also an increasing
demand for the language, which is associated with progress and development,
while on the other hand the language is perceived as a killer of native or
indigenous languages," she indicated. She said the formulation of a
sophisticated language policy is now considered a long-term solution.

Such a policy, Makgone added, would assign official functions to indigenous
African languages in the national government, as well as in the regional
and local authorities, which would in turn elevate the status of these
languages and expand their use. Studies have shown that learners in
bilingual schools in a number of African countries such as Mali, Zambia,
Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Nigeria fare better in mathematics,
sciences and languages, including French and English, compared to learners
in monolingual schools.

The purpose of the conference is to establish a balance sheet for language
policy formulation in mother tongue education, making use of experiences in
Africa and beyond so that relevant strategies for the development of a
useful language policy in the Namibian context may be pursued. "This
conference is thus aimed primarily at exploring language policy-making
processes in the African context; implementation issues, as well as the
place and role of ex-colonial languages in education," she said.


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