[lg policy] South Africa:

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Apr 30 15:10:28 UTC 2015



   The Journalist (Cape Town) <http://www.thejournalist.org.za>
29 April 2015
South Africa: Stretch Students Beyond Their Comfort Zones

   - Education <http://allafrica.com/education/>
   - South Africa <http://allafrica.com/southafrica/>
   - Southern Africa <http://allafrica.com/southernafrica/>
   - Sustainable Development <http://allafrica.com/sustainable/>



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By Prof Millie Rivera

*Mother tongue versus becoming a global citizen*

I assumed my duties as professor of communications at the University of
Free State on 1 April 2015. A few days later, I attended a forum where key
members of the university community publicly committed to a consultative
process of public lectures, discussions, student events, and marches that
sought to identify issues that need to be addressed in order to stamp out
racism, promote equality and ultimately transform the institution, its
policies and its practices.

Today, 28 April, the university held an assembly where members of the
community - students, staff and lecturers - submitted their proposals for
transformation. These ranged from changing language policies, to critical
revision of curricula and student residential practices, as well as the
placement of statues and other symbols across campus, among others.

One of the topics that garnered great interest and passionate discussion
was the dual language policy of the university - English and Afrikaans.
Arguments for and against the policy were presented with some proposals
calling for English only (especially in the classroom) and others calling
for creating a multi-language policy that would extend to isiZulu and

Some speakers argued that the dual language policy effectively segregated
the student community into blacks and whites. Others claimed that since the
majority of the students in the university were Africans, the language
policy of the university should be amended accordingly. It is not clear
which of these recommendations will replace the current dual language
policy, but it seems likely that there will be a change.

Before moving to South Africa, I spent 11 years teaching at the National
University of Singapore. As I listened to the various proposals, I thought
about the language policy in Singapore, which is a multi-cultural society
with four official languages: English, Mandarin for the Chinese, Tamil for
the Indians and Malay for the Malay Muslims.

The primary medium of instruction in Singapore is English and students must
take language courses in their mother tongue throughout their primary and
secondary education.

While I am not implying that this is an ideal policy, I wonder what would
happen if English became the only medium of instruction at the University
of Free State and all students were required to take courses that exposed
them to cultures and languages other than their own. Since South Africa is
a rainbow nation, it would make sense to stretch students beyond their
comfort zone and promote exploration of at least one local language.

I am a pragmatic and strategic person. When I left my home in Puerto Rico
to pursue post-graduate studies in the USA, I struggled with English. In
the classroom I understood only a few words and had to translate every word
of my weekly readings into Spanish. Then, when it came time to study for my
exams, I had to translate everything again to English so I could memorize
the material.

It was hard work, but after a semester, it became easier and eventually, I
was able to complete my doctoral studies with distinction and get my
academic work published in international journals. I am sharing this
because I believe that if students struggle with English at university
level, translating class material into his or their mother tongue will keep
them from growing. Instead, we should use those resources to develop
programmes that enhance their English competence. This way, when they
graduate, they can work or pursue post-graduate studies anywhere in the
country or the world.

I acknowledge that language policies invoke complex historical, political
and cultural issues. But after traveling and teaching around the world, I
strongly feel that university students should be educated to become active
members of a global community. Failure to do this shortchanges them and
takes away opportunities for personal and professional growth. I know I am
a foreigner and my views may be biased, but as a student in the audience
said: "I'm just saying... "
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*Read the original article
as published on The Journalist's website <http://www.thejournalist.org.za>,
including illustrations and video where applicable.*

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