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Submission: Commentary of the Taalsekretariaat[1] on the Department of Education’s ‘Language Policy for Higher Education’ of November 2002[2]

March 2003


Summary of proposals

The Taalsekretariaat suggests:

  1. that §3.2 of the policy be reformulated in line with §4 and §3.1.1, so as to read:

      ‘The Constitution delineates clearly the right of individuals to receive education in the language of their choice, indicating that the exercise of this right is part of a more comprehensive effort to achieve equity and redress … (etc.)’;

  2. that the policy should state clearly that the introduction of an additional language of instruction for particular courses in Afrikaans medium institutions may under no circumstances lead to the abandonment of Afrikaans as medium of instruction at a later stage;

  3. that institutions should be encouraged to introduce an African language, rather than English, as a second language of instruction;

  4. that the adoption of ‘parallel and dual language medium options’ should be linked to a reasonable time-frame, so as to enable higher education institutions to consider seriously the introduction of an African language as language of instruction and official communication;

  5. that the demand that an additional language be introduced on a parallel or dual medium basis so as to accommodate students who are not proficient in the official language of an institution, should not be limited to historically Afrikaans institutions, but should be extended to all tertiary institutions;

  6. that the development of other South African languages should be linked to a clear end-point and time-frame, and regulations should be put in place to compel tertiary institutions to consider seriously the adoption of an African language as second medium of instruction;

  7. that the following formulation be added to §11.11:

      ‘Furthermore, the Ministry regards it as a matter of grave concern that the majority of universities and technikons, and more particularly the English medium (historically liberal and historically black) institutions, have not followed the example of their aforementioned counterparts in adopting a more flexible language policy, thereby reflecting a real commitment to transformation.’

  8. that the directives of §15.4.3-15.4.5, relating to historically Afrikaans medium institutions and the use of Afrikaans as medium of instruction, be extended to all tertiary institutions and to the use of English or any other language as medium of instruction, i.e. it should be specified that

  • accommodating access for non-English speakers through ‘specialised courses for improving students’ proficiency in English’ constitutes ‘an unjust imposition and an additional burden’; i.e. ‘language of tuition problems’ should rather be solved through the introduction of an additional language of instruction in both English and Afrikaans medium institutions;

  • the notion of English universities ‘runs counter to the end goal of a transformed higher education system, which … is the creation of higher education institutions whose identity and cultural orientation are neither black nor white, English or Afrikaans-speaking, but unabashedly and unashamedly South African’;

  • the sustainability of English ‘as a medium of academic expression and communication could be ensured through … the adoption of parallel and dual language medium options … [and] the use of English as a primary but not a sole medium of instruction’;

  1. that §15.2 be reformulated as follows:
      ‘The Ministry agrees with the Council on Higher Education that urgent attention should be given to the development of other South African languages for use in instruction … (etc.)’;

  2. that, whereas §16.2 speaks of ‘amending the funding grids for teaching inputs and outputs for specifically selected languages’, such measures should also be extended to other (non-language) courses that are offered in more than one language of instruction, especially if that language is an African language;

  3. that proficiency in an African language should be made a requisite for obtaining any degree or diploma in a South African higher education institution, except in the case of foreign students;

  4. that ‘offering short courses in African languages as part of staff development strategies’ in higher education institutions (p.14) should be compulsory rather than optional, and newly appointed staff who are not proficient in an African language should be required to acquire the language within a reasonable time-frame of, say, two or three years;

  5. that the academic staff of any institution should be proficient in the language(s) of instruction of that institution. Newly appointed staff who do not meet this criterion should be required to acquire the language in question within a reasonable time-frame;

  6. that whereas §18.2 suggests that ‘institutions could consider the allocation of preferential weighting to applicants who have matriculation passes in indigenous languages’ (p.15), this should be made part of the policy, rather than being left to the ‘consideration’ of institutions;

  7. that the reference in the policy to ‘student support, mentorship and counselling’ (§18.2, p.15) should be filled in with more concrete guidelines. Specifically, higher education institutions who do not use an African language as medium of instruction should appoint tutors who are proficient in the African language(s) most prevalent in the institution, whose task it should be to assist students in mastering the contents of their courses;

  8. that the development of indigenous African languages for academic use be coupled with, and stimulated by means of, their gradual introduction as media of instruction at ever increasing levels of education;

  9. that the language policy for higher education be formulated as part of a comprehensive language policy to cover all levels of the education system;

  10. that (in the light of the above) a third official language be made a compulsory, examinable school subject, a pass in which should be a requisite for obtaining matric or university exemption;

  11. that the above third language be offered only at an elementary, practical level, with an ‘outcomes-based’ focus on speaking, listening, reading and writing skills, without complex grammar, literature studies etc. It should ideally be taught by a first language speaker of the language, and should be spread out over the full 12 years of primary and secondary schooling;

  12. that the language policy for (higher) education be closely co-ordinated with the national language policy and with PANSALB’s guidelines for language policy in public institutions, based on the principle of ‘functional multilingualism’. Cognisance should also be taken of the report on the implementation of ‘mother-tongue based bilingual education’ in the primary schools of the Western Cape recently prepared for the Western Cape MEC for Education by a task team appointed for that purpose;

  13. that every institution of learning in the country — from the primary to the tertiary level — be required by law to use at least two official languages (of its choice) for instruction and communication across the board (on either a parallel or a dual medium basis), and that this policy be introduced gradually on a year by year basis, starting with grade 1 in primary schools; this policy should be linked to the institution of a third official language as compulsory school subject, as mentioned above.

Abbreviations:

TS:
Taalsekretariaat
TS Submission:
Submission of the Taalsekretariaat on the Proposed National Language Policy for Education as Announced by the Minister of Education (October 2002)
LPF:
Language Policy Framework for South African Higher Education

***

1. Introduction

1.1 We welcome the announcement of the language policy for higher education. We wholeheartedly endorse the basic assumptions underlying the policy, including the goals that the Ministry of Education sets for itself therein, namely,

— “The development, in the medium to long-term, of South African languages as mediums of instruction in higher education, alongside English and Afrikaans;

— The development of strategies for promoting student proficiency in designated language(s) of tuition;

— The retention and strengthening of Afrikaans as a language of scholarship and science;

— The promotion of the study of South African languages and literature through planning and funding incentives;

— The promotion of the study of foreign languages; and

— The encouragement of multilingualism in institutional policies and practices” (§21, pp.15-16).

1.2 We believe, furthermore, that by introducing some minor amendments and adding a number of elements to the policy, it can be made into an effective tool of transformation in the domains of education and language. The suggested amendments and additions all relate to
— building a stronger emphasis on language as a tool of redress into the policy,

— including more concrete and specific measures in the policy so as to make it more effective as a framework, and

— enhancing the simplicity, uniformity and even-handedness of the policy with respect to the different languages and institutions.

These points will be addressed in sections 2-6 of this submission, where we put forward and defend our proposals with respect to specific parts of the policy.

1.3 In addition to our overall appreciation for the main thrust of the policy, we would like to express some critical reservations about the document and about the process of which it is the provisional result. These criticisms are offered as a constructive contribution to the finalisation of the policy, and to the further process of implementing and monitoring it.

1.3.1 Firstly, we are aware of the statutory framework within which the policy was conceived, and that the Council on Higher Education was duly consulted. However, in the spirit of transparency and public participation, we suggest that the Minister and/or the Council on Higher Education should also consult as widely as possible with stakeholders and the general public through publication in the press and an open invitation for comments and suggestions on the policy. A policy of such tremendous import needs to be open to public input right from the start. In the same spirit we would like to stress the importance of making the policy available not only in English, but also in a Nguni language, a Sotho language, Afrikaans, Thsivenda and Xitsonga, so that all South Africans will be able to study it.

1.3.2 Secondly, §3.2 of the policy refers to the Constitution, which ‘delineates clearly the limit to the right of individuals to receive education in the language of their choice’ (p.3), namely, ‘considerations of equity and redress in the context of the values that underpin our shared aspirations as a nation’ (p.3). This formulation may create the mistaken impression that language rights on the one hand, and rights of equity and redress on the other, are wholly distinct and even in competition with one another, so that the one should be ‘balanced’ or relativised by the other. That this is not the case is evident from §4, which states that ‘The role of language and access to language skills is critical to ensure the right of individuals to realise their full potential to participate in and contribute to the social, cultural, intellectual, economic and political life of South African society’ (p.4).

In other words, equity and redress are made possible through education in the mother tongue. The diversity of languages is a national asset, and access to this asset, from an educational perspective, can be ensured only through mother-tongue education.

Thus the statement that ‘The exercise of this right [the right to mother-tongue education — TS] cannot negate considerations of equity and redress’ (§3.2, pp.3-4), if rightly understood, constitutes a tautology. Language rights and rights of equity and redress overlap and are interdependent. The recognition and practical realisation of language equity is a necessary condition for redress in the political, social and economic domains. And the relationship of the latter to the former is not one of a ‘limit’, but rather that of a standard against which various possible means of achieving multilingualism can be interrogated as to their legitimacy: ‘Everyone has the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of their choice, but no one exercising these rights may do so in a manner inconsistent with any provision of the Bill of Rights‘ (Section 30 of the Constitution; §3.1.1 of the policy).

Therefore we suggest that §3.2 be reformulated in line with §4 and §3.1.1 so as to read:

    ‘The Constitution delineates clearly the right of individuals to receive education in the language of their choice, indicating that the exercise of this right is part of a more comprehensive effort to achieve equity and redress … (etc.)’

The implications, then, are

— that language equity is non-negotiable, and

— that it should be achieved in such a way that it contributes to, rather than obstructs, equity and redress

In the first section to follow, we evaluate the policy in the light of these considerations.

2. Improving access and diversity through language

2.1 As part of the ‘background information’ informing the policy, §11 provides ‘a breakdown of the home languages of students registered in public universities and technikons in 2000’ (p.6). These figures should indeed be taken into account if the policy is to be practicable (see §3.1.2, p.3). However, as the policy correctly states in §3.1.2 and §3.2 (in accordance with Section 29 (2) of the Constitution), practicability is not the only factor to be taken into account in recognising the right of South Africans ‘to receive education in the official language or languages of their choice’. Equity and ‘the need to redress the results of past racially discriminatory laws and practices‘ are at least equally important (p.3). To this should be added ‘the values that underpin our shared aspirations as a nation’ (p.4), including that of ‘all our languages “working together” to build a common sense of nationhood‘ (§3, p.3, see also §11.2, p.8), ‘multilingualism‘ (see e.g. §11.14, p.8-9; §13, p.9), and ‘diversity‘ (see e.g. §15.4.2, p.12).

2.2 A language policy that seeks not only to be practicable, but also to improve access (equity and redress) and diversity, cannot take its cue solely from the language abilities and preferences of students currently enrolled in public institutions of learning, since those figures will necessarily reflect the inequalities inherited from the past. A policy tailored to cater for the needs of the existing student population only will thus entrench rather than transform the social divide brought about by ‘past racially discriminatory laws and practices’.

Therefore the figures presented in §11 (pp.7-8) should be compared with the language demography of the South African population as a whole. Such a comparison would reveal that both English and Afrikaans serve as barriers to access to the vast majority of South Africans (as the policy indeed recognises in §5, pp.4-5):

— According to projections for 2001 based on the 1996 Census, English is the home language of 8,6% of South Africans. Projections for 2006 place this figure at 8,2%. By contrast, according to §11 of the policy, 32% of enrolments in public universities and technikons in 2000 report English as the home language (p.7). Thus English as a home language is vastly over-represented in our higher education system.

— According to a recent study by Markinor, only 22% of South Africans whose home language is an African language (and 40% of all South Africans), are functionally proficient in English. Yet, according to §11.1, ‘the majority of universities and technikons use English as the sole medium of instruction’, and English is the only additional language introduced by historically Afrikaans institutions on a parallel/dual medium basis (p.7).

— The projected census figures for 2001 for the African languages (with the projection for 2006 in brackets) are: Nguni 45,2% (45,6%) and Sotho 25,4% (25,6%). An additional 6,6% have one of the other African languages as a home language. This yields a figure of 77,2% for the African languages as a whole. By contrast, according to §11 of the policy, less than 50% of total student enrolments report an indigenous African language as the home language (p.7). Moreover, according to §4.1.2 of the LPF (‘Language Policy Framework for South African Higher Education’), by the end of April 2000, ‘not a single university was officially exploring the possibility of using African languages as language of tuition except in the relevant language and literature studies’ (p.4).

— §11.11 of the policy attributes the shift on the part of historically Afrikaans medium institutions to parallel language instruction to ‘the demographic changes in the student population over the past decade and, in particular, to the increasing numbers of students for whom Afrikaans is not a first or second language’ (pp.7-8). Yet no such trend is discernible in the language demography of the South African population as a whole. Afrikaans is still the third largest home language in the country (14,2%), and according to the most recent census Afrikaans and English are the second languages of roughly equal numbers of South Africans.

— The table in §11 shows that 16% of enrolments report Afrikaans as the home language. Presumably, the vast majority of these enrolments are by Afrikaans speaking South Africans classified as ‘white’ under apartheid. This section of the South African population shows a very high level of proficiency in English. However, the majority of Afrikaans first language speakers (51,2% in 2001, 52% projected for 2006) are ‘black’ or ‘coloured’, and show a much lower level of proficiency in English. Most significantly, the (mostly Afrikaans speaking) so-called ‘coloured’ population currently shows the lowest level of entry to higher education in the country.

From the above, it will be clear that the present language dispensation in South African higher education is tailored exclusively to the needs of the existing student population, and as such caters mainly for a relatively small cross-section of the population as a whole, namely those who are functionally proficient in English. While this benefits students from among the relatively privileged section of the population, it excludes the majority of South Africans, especially those from previously disadvantaged communities, from higher education opportunities. Those most hard hit by this situation are

— ‘black’ and ‘coloured’ Afrikaans speaking South Africans,

— ‘black’ South Africans with an African language as home language, and

— ‘black’ South Africans who have Afrikaans, but not English, as a second language.

We subscribe to the principle of equity and redress. Higher education is an all-important tool in addressing the inequities of the past. The best, if not the only method to achieve equity and redress is to introduce mother-tongue education as a matter of principle and according to a phased approach or on an expanding selective basis. If English is to be the only language of redress, it would undeniably give credence and impetus to the formation of a small, Anglicised elite group, and thus deny education to the majority of black South Africans who live, and would continue to live, in poverty. The key to unlocking future opportunities for the majority of black South Africans is to capitalise on their mother tongue as the only source of wealth they have.

The diversity of languages in South Africa is a national asset. The language policy for higher education should also be an instrument of affirmative action, affording previously deprived South Africans access to quality education through the avenue of mother-tongue education.

2.3 The role of English as a ‘barrier to access and success in higher education’ is easily overlooked, owing to three interrelated factors:

— Changes in the ‘racial’ composition of the student body are taken as sufficient evidence of transformation in higher education, without any attention being paid to representivity in terms of language, geographical origin, socio-economic status etc. within the designated ‘racial’ group(s), with the result that new forms of discrimination, and a new social divide, can emerge imperceptibly.

— Unlike Afrikaans, which restricts the institutional mobility of a section of the existing student body, English as a ‘barrier to access’ functions mainly at the pre-higher education level, where the vast majority of primary and secondary schools use it as the sole medium of instruction. The result is that learners with an inadequate mastery of English either do not complete their schooling, or fail to get matric exemption, i.e. those excluded from higher education opportunities by the ‘barrier’ of English do not join the student body in the first place, so that the exclusionary function of English does not register at that level.

The latter trend is strengthened by the fact that some higher education institutions tend to give bursaries and loans only to those ‘black’ students who were top academic performers in secondary school, i.e. students who coped well with English medium instruction at school, including, in many instances, ‘black’ learners who attended historically ‘white’, English medium schools, where they could benefit linguistically from ‘immersion’ in an environment where English as a first language is dominant. The majority of ‘black’ learners, however, attend historically ‘black’ schools where English is the second or third language of both teachers and learners. Consequently, they do not perform academically to the maximum of their ability in a context of English medium instruction. Most of these students cannot afford to pay tuition fees in tertiary institutions, nor are they considered for financial support by the institutions as their more privileged peers are. This leads to an artificial situation where ‘black’ students in tertiary institutions tend to prefer as medium of instruction a language not well understood by the majority of their peers. This preference, in turn, sets in motion a dynamic which further entrenches the elitist nature of higher education institutions, and the exclusion of most previously disadvantaged learners from higher education opportunities. The development of a modified form of ‘apartheid’ on a linguistic and class basis is a real danger in this connection.

Clearly, this situation cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. The goal of a language policy for higher education should be a student population whose language abilities and preferences reflect more accurately the language demography of the country as a whole.

2.4 We agree in principle with the policy statement in §15.1 that it ‘will be necessary to work within the confines of the status quo until such time as other South African languages have been developed to a level where they may be used in all higher education functions’ (p.10). The Taalsekretariaat advocates two distinct phases in educational language policy. Phase 1: a temporary acceptance of the status quo. Phase 2: a gradual progression of instruction at all levels of education in the first language of the learner, and an ability to communicate in at least two other official languages. Goals should be set in each phase, and the process should be linked to a time-frame and be clearly monitored. Given the policy’s commitment in principle to the improvement of access and diversity through language, the least that can be expected in the short term is that this provisional acceptance of the ‘status quo’ should include the retention of the present status of Afrikaans as a language of higher education ‘until such time as other South African languages have been developed’ to the required level. The alternative is the erosion of Afrikaans in favour of the increased dominance of English. Such a development would not be consistent with the policy’s provisional acceptance of the status quo with an eye to future progress. On the contrary, it would represent a regression to monolingualism, rather than a first step towards multilingualism.

We are of the firm opinion that the policy should provide, as a matter of principle, that both historically English and Afrikaans universities should introduce programmes for tuition in a second language. The gradual introduction of tuition in a second language at tertiary level should be linked to increased subsidies to educational institutions.

In this connection the policy suggests in §15.4.4 that ‘the sustainability of Afrikaans as a medium of academic expression and communication could be ensured through a range of strategies, including the adoption of parallel and dual language medium options’ (12). We agree that parallel and dual medium instruction is the key towards increased multilingualism in education. However:

— Sociolinguistic studies have shown that this option is not sustainable unless it is enshrined in legislation. In the absence of strict requirements insisting on the continued use of both languages as media of instruction, the more dominant language of public life (in this case English) tends, in the short to medium term, to displace the other language entirely. This process has already run its course in two historically Afrikaans universities, and present trends in the remaining institutions are in the same direction. Therefore the policy should state clearly that the introduction of an additional language of instruction for particular courses may under no circumstances lead to the abandonment of Afrikaans as medium of instruction at a later stage.

— Given the ultimate goal of developing the other South African languages as academic languages, and the consequent provisional acceptance of the status quo, it does not make sense to consider English the only option for introduction on a parallel or dual medium basis. Rather, institutions should be encouraged to introduce an African language, rather than English, as a second language of instruction, especially since, as our analysis has shown, the needs of first and second language users of English are already more than adequately met within the higher education system.

The fact that the introduction of an African language will take longer and require greater institutional effort, should not serve as a pretext for adopting the easier option of English. Rather, it should be kept in mind that the further introduction of English as medium of instruction at historically Afrikaans institutions would drastically decrease the chances of the other South African languages ever being adopted by those institutions. With cultural capital, as with other forms of capital, it is, in the words of President Thabo Mbeki, unwise to ‘spend now and pay later’. We should not allow a limited and superficial transformation in the short term to stand in the way of a deeper and more comprehensive transformation in the medium and long term. Therefore the adoption of ‘parallel and dual language medium options’ should be linked to a reasonable time-frame, so as to enable higher education institutions to consider seriously the introduction of an African language as language of instruction and official communication.

— The demand that an additional language be introduced on a parallel or dual medium basis so as to accommodate students who are not proficient in the official language of an institution should not be limited to historically Afrikaans institutions, but should be extended to all tertiary institutions. This would ensure that the higher education system not only continues to cater for those who already enjoy access to higher education, but also becomes more accessible to those who currently have limited or no access (see also Section 2 of this submission).

2.5 Finally, the acceptance of the ‘status quo until such time as other South African languages have been developed to a level where they may be used in all higher education functions’ should not serve as a pretext for postponing the use of those languages indefinitely. The development of other South African languages should be linked to a clear end-point and time-frame, and regulations should be put in place to compel tertiary institutions to consider seriously the adoption of an African language as second medium of instruction.

2.6 In the light of all the above considerations we would like to reaffirm the recommendation of §F of the ‘Taalsekretariaat Submission’, that ‘every institution of learning in the country — from the primary to the tertiary level — [be] required by law to use at least two official languages for instruction and communication across the board’ (p.12), and that this policy ‘be introduced gradually on a year by year basis, starting with grade 1 in primary schools’ (p.13).

3. Extending the principle of multilingualism to all institutions and languages

3.1 §11.11 refers to the ‘voluntary and self-funded’ decision by ‘historically Afrikaans medium institutions … to adopt a more flexible language policy’, thereby reflecting ‘a growing commitment to transformation’ (p.8). While the Ministry ‘gives due recognition to these changes’, it also notes that ‘implementation has been uneven’ and that it ‘has not … necessarily translated into … practice.’ However, no criticism is raised against those institutions that have failed to adopt a more flexible language policy and continue to cling to an English-only policy.[3] Thus those institutions that have implemented multilingualism to some extent (however imperfectly) are singled out for censure, while those that have failed to do so are implicitly allowed to continue on their present course. After all, English institutions of higher learning share a responsibility with Afrikaans institutions to cultivate multilingualism and promote previously deprived languages to a higher level of use as medium of instruction.

This one-sided evaluation of existing language practices in the various higher education institutions also finds expression in more concrete directives included in the policy document:

— According to §15.4.2 and §15.4.3, the suggestion that ‘access for non-Afrikaans speakers [in historically Afrikaans universities — TS] could be accommodated provided that they acquire proficiency in the Afrikaans language for academic purposes … no doubt constitutes an unjust imposition and an additional burden’ (p.12). Yet §15.3 encourages ‘all higher education institutions to develop strategies for promoting proficiency in the designated language(s) of tuition, including the provision of language … development programmes’ (pp.10-11). According to the LPF, ‘Most Higher Education institutions see the obvious solution to their language of tuition problems in a remedial perspective, i.e. what is necessary is that students should be afforded better access to English as a Second Language … All the Higher Education institutions have specialised courses for improving students’ proficiency in English with a view to promoting academic literacy’ (§4.3.1, p.5). The policy does not, however, regard this as ‘an unjust imposition and an additional burden’, as it does in the case of Afrikaans.

— §15.4.3 further states that ‘the notion of Afrikaans universities runs counter to the end goal of a transformed higher education system, which  is the creation of higher education institutions whose identity and cultural orientation is neither black nor white, English or Afrikaans-speaking, but unabashedly and unashamedly South African’ (p.12). However, the logical consequence, namely, that the notion of English universities also ‘runs counter to the end goal of a transformed higher education system’, is not spelt out, this despite the fact that all historically Afrikaans universities already use English as a second medium of instruction, while ‘the majority of universities and technikons use English as the sole medium of instruction’ (§11.1, p.7), and, according to the LPF, ‘In a few cases … there appears to be an aggressive attitude in favour of retaining an English-only approach’ (§4.3.1, p.5).

— In §15.4.4 the Ministry suggests that ‘the sustainability of Afrikaans as a medium of academic expression and communication could be ensured through … the adoption of parallel and dual language medium options … [and] the use of Afrikaans as a primary but not a sole medium of instruction’ (p.12). Yet no such suggestion is put forward with respect to the English medium universities.

— According to §15.4.5, ‘historically Afrikaans medium institutions would be required to submit plans for the period 2004-2006 indicating strategies and time frames they intend putting in place to ensure that language of instruction does not impede access, especially in high cost programmes with limited student places such as the health sciences and engineering’ (p.13). Yet no such requirement is set for historically English medium institutions. The latter need only ‘indicate in their three-year rolling plans the strategies they have put in place to promote multilingualism’ (§18.2, p.15), which, as is clear from the context (see §18-20), does not include the introduction of additional languages of instruction. This despite the fact that, in recent years, English medium institutions have been lagging behind their Afrikaans medium counterparts in the enrolment of students from previously disadvantaged communities.

These directives are not only inherently unbalanced and discriminatory, but also contradict the fundamental assumptions and goals of the policy document as a whole. After all, it is stated in the Introduction

— that both ‘English and Afrikaans’ were privileged ‘as the official languages of the apartheid state’ (§1, p.2);

— that ‘Language has been and continues to be a barrier to access and success in higher education … in so far as the majority of students entering higher education are not fully proficient in English and Afrikaans‘ (§5, pp.4-5); and

— that it should be ensured ‘that the existing languages of instruction [plural, i.e. English and Afrikaans — TS] do not serve as a barrier to access and success’ (§6, p.5).

Therefore we propose:

— that the following formulation be added to §11.11:

    ‘Furthermore, the Ministry regards it as a matter of grave concern that the majority of universities and technikons, and more particularly the English medium (historically liberal and historically black) institutions, have not followed the example of their aforementioned counterparts in adopting a more flexible language policy, thereby reflecting a real commitment to transformation.’

— and that the above-mentioned directives of §15.4.3-15.4.5, relating to historically Afrikaans medium institutions and the use of Afrikaans as medium of instruction, be extended to all tertiary institutions and to the use of English or any other language as medium of instruction; i.e. it should be specified that

  • accommodating access for non-English speakers through ‘specialised courses for improving students’ proficiency in English’ constitutes ‘an unjust imposition and an additional burden’, i.e. ‘language of tuition problems’ should rather be solved through the introduction of an additional language of instruction in both English and Afrikaans medium institutions.

  • the notion of English universities ‘runs counter to the end goal of a transformed higher education system, which … is the creation of higher education institutions whose identity and cultural orientation is neither black nor white, English or Afrikaans-speaking, but unabashedly and unashamedly South African’.

  • the sustainability of English ‘as a medium of academic expression and communication could be ensured through … the adoption of parallel and dual language medium options … [and] the use of English as a primary but not a sole medium of instruction’.

    We believe that such an extension of the principle of multilingual education to all institutions and languages is fair and in keeping with the spirit of our Constitution. It is an accepted educational principle which would contribute to the uniformity, simplicity and even-handedness of the policy, and render it more effective in achieving its stated goals of ‘The encouragement of multilingualism in institutional policies and practices’ (§21, p.16).

    3.2 Failure to extend the principle of multilingual tuition to English medium institutions would contribute to a consolidation (rather than a ‘provisional acceptance’) of present language trends, and more specifically the trend identified in the LPF, namely, that ‘English-medium tuition is steadily and often rapidly increasing alongside, and perhaps at the expense of, Afrikaans-medium tuition’ (§4.1, p.4), and that ‘the number of Higher Education institutions using Afrikaans was decreasing whilst those using English was increasing’ (§6.1, p.9).

    If this trend towards monolingualism continues, it will decrease the chances of the other official indigenous languages developing as languages of instruction, since, as the policy notes in §10, Afrikaans is at present ‘the only other South African language which is employed as a medium of instruction and official communication in institutions of higher learning’ (p.6).

    Therefore, in addition to the above proposals, we would like to request the Ministry once more to consider the recommendation put forward in §F of the ‘Taalsekretariaat Submission’, that ‘every institution of learning in the country … [be] required by law to use at least two official languages for instruction and communication across the board’ (p.12).

    4. Creating an effective framework for the development of marginalised languages

    4.1 According to §12 ‘a genuine attempt will be made to ensure that all of our official languages are accorded parity of esteem’ (p.9). Yet, in §15.2 the policy recognises only that ‘consideration should be given to the development of other South African languages for use in instruction’ (p.10). This hesitant formulation is not consistent with the summary in §21, where ‘the development … of South African languages … as mediums of instruction in higher education’ (p.15) is, rightly, included unconditionally as one of the aims of the policy. Therefore we propose that §15.2 be reformulated as follows:

      ‘The Ministry agrees with the Council on Higher Education that urgent attention should be given to the development of other South African languages for use in instruction … (etc.).’

    4.2 We believe, furthermore, that the policy should be more specific on issues of detail and is not sufficiently robust in the measures it proposes for the achievement of this praiseworthy objective. These measures are the following:

    — ‘the Ministry will give urgent attention to the establishment of a task team to advise on the development of an appropriate framework and implementation plan, including costing and time-frames’, and that ‘The specific recommendation of the Council on Higher Education with respect to the development of other South African languages will be considered as part of this investigation’ (§15.2, p.10).

    — ‘The Ministry will work in close collaboration with the Department of Arts and Culture’ in ‘the development of dictionaries and other teaching and learning materials’ (§15.2.1, p.10).

    — The Ministry commits itself to ‘the injection, over a period of time, of substantial financial resources … comparable to the investments that were made, in the past, to develop Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in higher education’ (§15.2.2, p.10).

    — ‘The Ministry will over the next five to ten years, through various planning and funding incentives, encourage the development of programmes in South African languages’ (§16.2, p.13).

    — ‘The Ministry encourages all institutions to consider ways of promoting multilingualism’ (§18.2, p.14).

    — ‘Higher education institutions are required to indicate in their three-year rolling plans the strategies they have put in place to promote multilingualism, including progress in this regard’ (§18.3, p.15).

    While all these steps are welcomed, we are concerned that they are not sufficiently concrete and specific. Moreover, the responsibility for developing the indigenous African languages as academic languages is placed squarely on the shoulders of the Ministry, without any definite requirements being set for the higher education institutions.

    4.3 The structural factors working against multilingualism in education, as in other domains, will not be affected by a language policy lacking any clear requirements, time-frames or end-points. As the LPF points out, ‘the danger that the African languages (other than Afrikaans) will never be developed for use as Language of Tuition at tertiary level is a real one’ (§4.6.1, p.7). Also in the area of language in education, it is necessary ‘to compel transformation’ (see §3.3, p.4).

    In other areas of our national life, government has implemented strict requirements in order to ensure that transformation takes place in practice, thereby recognising that ‘encouragements’, ‘incentives’ and investments in ‘development’ are not adequate for the immensity of the task at hand. The Employment Equity Act of 1998 is a case in point and should serve as a model for achieving transformation in the area of language in education. The Act not only sets specific quotas to be achieved in the employment of persons from previously disadvantaged communities, but also specifies tough sanctions for employers who do not meet these quotas within the required time-frame. Similarly, a language policy for higher education should set specific targets to be met within clear time-frames, and back them up with ‘sanctions’ in the form of the withholding of subsidies etc.

    4.4 §20 and §21 describe the policy as a ‘framework’ within which higher education institutions should implement their own language policies (p.15). As it stands, the policy cannot fulfil this function, since it sets no minimum requirements, particularly when it comes to the development of our indigenous African languages as languages of instruction and official communication. Even if these languages were developed to the required level within the foreseeable future, it remains to be seen whether any of the existing higher education institutions would adopt an African language as a language of instruction and official communication at their own initiative.

    4.5 It is doubtful, moreover, whether, in the absence of government pressure to use the African languages in higher education, the languages will be developed as intended. Languages develop as they are increasingly used in new domains, where terminological challenges continually arise, so that the language is enriched through its practical use by numerous people in various contexts. Outside of those contexts, the ‘development’ of the languages in question will in all likelihood remain the exclusive preserve of linguists, whose labours will have no relevance to the actual language community. Therefore the development of the indigenous African languages should go hand in hand with their increasing use in ever new and more complex domains of public life. In this way, language can become a vehicle to opportunities, and in post-apartheid South Africa, an instrument of equity and redress.

    4.6 In §15.2 the policy speaks of ‘the development of other South African languages for use in instruction, as part of a medium to long-term strategy to promote multilingualism’ (p.10). While this is certainly an apt characterisation of the time-frame involved ‘in such a historic undertaking’ (§15.2.2, p.10), we would like to stress that the time required for the development of indigenous African languages as academic languages should not be overestimated. These languages are already used in political speeches, news broadcasts and other areas where sophisticated concepts play a role. In fact, individual teachers and lecturers have already experimented, with much success, with the use of these languages as media of instruction, even at university level and in such subjects as physics and mathematics. Much work has already been done over the past decades to develop terminology in these languages. Moreover, where terminology has not yet been developed, technical terms can be borrowed from English or Afrikaans until such time as appropriate translations become available. Many academics have an African language as home language, and could easily switch to the use of that language as medium of instruction if allowed and encouraged to do so. Therefore the use of these languages in academic settings should be implemented immediately, even if gradually, alongside the development of terminology, dictionaries etc., rather than waiting for the ‘development’ work to be completed before implementation is considered. This would also contribute an additional incentive for institutions of higher learning to employ African language speakers, and to equip their existing staff in these languages.

    Therefore we propose the following amendments and additions to the policy:

    — §16.2 speaks of ‘amending the funding grids for teaching inputs and outputs for specifically selected languages’. Such measures should also be extended to other (non-language) courses that are offered in more than one language of instruction, especially if that language is an African language.

    — §18.2 speaks of ‘requiring proficiency in an African language as a requisite for a range of academic fields of study’ (p.14). If this can be done in some fields of study, it might as well be done in all. After all, proficiency in at least three official languages, of which one is an African language, is increasingly becoming a sine qua non of adequate functioning in any professional setting in South Africa, and even for participation in public life as such. Therefore it should be made a requisite for obtaining any degree or diploma in a South African higher education institution, except in the case of foreign students.

    — The same paragraph also mentions ‘offering short courses in African languages as part of staff development strategies’ (p.14). This should be compulsory rather than optional. After all, no teacher can provide good tuition to African language speakers, even if the medium of instruction is English or Afrikaans, unless s/he has some basic knowledge of the language in question. In this connection the LPF states that ‘the need for academic excellence precludes prescription in respect of language proficiency as a criterion for the selection of academic staff … but practice should give preference to suitably qualified multilingual staff at all levels and in all aspects of institutional life’ (§8.3.3, p.14). However, this proviso does not exclude the possibility that newly appointed staff who are not proficient in an African language could be required to acquire the language within a reasonable time-frame of, say, two or three years. We suggest that this requirement be included in the policy.

    Naturally, the academic staff of any institution should be proficient in the language(s) of instruction of that institution. Newly appointed staff who do not meet this criterion should be required to acquire the language in question within a reasonable time-frame. This is a universally accepted norm in higher education, and is standard practice in all English medium institutions in South Africa. However, in recent years this requirement has fallen by the wayside in Afrikaans medium institutions. The appointment of academic staff who cannot teach in the official language of the institution makes a mockery of any language policy designed to ensure ‘the sustainability of Afrikaans [or any language — TS] in higher education’ (§15.4.1, p.11).

    — It is further stated in §18.2 that ‘institutions could consider the allocation of preferential weighting to applicants who have matriculation passes in indigenous languages’ (p.15). This should be made part of the policy, rather than being left to the ‘consideration’ of institutions.

    — It is suggested in the same paragraph that ‘change in the diversity of … staff profiles’ is one way of ‘promoting a climate where all people feel affirmed and empowered to realise their full potential’ (p.15). Language proficiency requirements for staff would contribute significantly to a ‘change in the diversity of staff’.

    — The reference to ‘student support, mentorship and counselling’ (§18.2, p.15) should be filled in with more concrete guidelines. Specifically, higher education institutions that do not use an African language as medium of instruction should appoint tutors who are proficient in the African language(s) most prevalent in the institution, whose task it should be to assist students in mastering the contents of their courses.

    4.7 In addition to these amendments and additions, we would like to point once again to the advantages for the development of the indigenous African languages of introducing bilingual education in all higher education institutions, as we have already suggested in connection with other aspects of the policy. If dual and/or parallel medium instruction (in any two official languages) were implemented gradually, starting with grade 1 in primary school and extending it year by year up to the secondary level (after 7 years) and tertiary level (after 12 years), this would have several effects:

    — Most primary and secondary schools would adopt an African language as second medium of instruction because it is spoken and understood by the majority of students and teachers. This would eventually put pressure on higher education institutions to consider the introduction of one of these languages as language of instruction at tertiary level.

    — The fact that bilingual education would be implemented gradually would mean that the African languages could be progressively developed for academic use, as they would be used at ever more complex levels with each new year. This would ensure the necessary interaction between language users and language specialists in education, and encourage the writing/translation of textbooks in the indigenous African languages.

    — The gradual implementation would give higher education institutions sufficient time to prepare for the introduction of a second language as medium of instruction, by translating learning materials, developing terminology, appointing and equipping suitably qualified staff, etc.

    — By requiring the adoption of an additional language as language of instruction and official communication within a 12-year time-frame, institutions would be compelled to improve access and diversity through multilingualism. While many institutions may initially opt for English and Afrikaans as official languages (which would already dramatically improve access and diversity in all institutions), the geographical location and student and staff profiles of at least some institutions would make the introduction of an African language more attractive to those institutions. This would mean that African languages could be ensured a place as languages of instruction and official communication in our higher system within the foreseeable future, without overriding the autonomy of institutions of learning (since the choice of languages would be left to them).

    4.8 The LPF has this to say of the ‘few universities and technikons [that] have the development of African languages as an explicit policy objective’: ‘the tone and generalised style in which this commitment is usually couched indicate that this is in most cases no more than politically correct rhetoric, which is considered to be opportune in the present dispensation’ (§4.2.1, p.5). Unless concrete and specific requirements, such as the ones we suggest, are included in the policy, the Ministry’s commitment to the development of the indigenous African languages as academic languages will be interpreted by the general public, and by higher education institutions in particular, along similar lines.

    5. Co-ordinating language policy at all levels of education

    5.1 The LPF states, quite rightly, that ‘a language policy for Higher Education can only be successfully formulated as part of a comprehensive language policy to cover all levels of the education system. If a policy is proposed for one sector of the system only, it could have unintended consequences for the other sectors’ (§5.1, p.8).

    5.2 Of particular importance in this regard are the languages taught to learners in primary and secondary schools. In the new school curriculum only two official languages are required as compulsory subjects, while a third language (usually an African language) is available as an elective. We believe that this approach will not contribute to the ideal of ‘all our languages working together’ (§1, 2), and that it will obstruct ‘the development of a common sense of nationhood’ (§11.2, p.8). It is imperative that all South Africans should learn at least two other official languages in addition to their home language. While this is already the norm among ‘black’ South Africans, most ‘white’ South Africans are not proficient in an African language, but are at most bilingual (English and Afrikaans). This not only prevents social integration and the forging of a non-racial society, but also brings about an imbalance of power in everyday interactions: ‘black’ South Africans always have to accommodate their ‘white’ country(wo)men by using the latter’s languages, whereas the opposite hardly ever occurs. Very few ‘white’ learners choose an African language as one of their electives, and nearly all attend schools where English and Afrikaans are, understandably, the compulsory official languages.

    The only way to rectify this problem is to make a third official language a compulsory, examinable school subject, in which a pass should be a requisite for obtaining matric or university exemption. This would not be an additional burden in the case of ‘black’ learners, most of whom already have to deal with two languages other than their home language in school. In the case of ‘white’ learners, it may be argued that the additional burden (which they are surely just as capable of bearing as their ‘black’ peers are) is a necessity given the linguistic composition of our society, which requires multilingualism as a personal skill in a variety of contexts.

    Naturally, the third language should be offered only at an elementary, practical level, with an ‘outcomes-based’ focus on speaking, listening, reading and writing skills, without complex grammar, literature studies etc. It should ideally be taught by a first language speaker of the language, and should be spread out over the full 12 years of primary and secondary schooling. ‘In this connection, the use of language and speech technology for facilitating the acquisition and use of languages other than the home language … should be considered’ (LPF, §8.2.4, p.12). The fear that such a requirement would evoke widespread resistance among Afrikaans and English speaking South Africans is, we believe, unfounded. After all, these learners would still be allowed, and indeed encouraged, to learn both their home language and English/Afrikaans as a second language, so that there would be no question of an infringement of language rights.

    5.3 Such a policy at the level of primary and secondary schooling would also be supportive of multilingualism at the tertiary level (and in other areas of public life) by providing a larger pool of multilingual applicants for academic and administrative positions in higher education institutions, thereby facilitating the use of all our languages as languages of instruction and official communication within such institutions. Naturally, the same would apply to teaching and administrative staff in primary and secondary schools themselves. The importance of cultivating a multilingual populace is undeniable, especially in the light of the new national language policy of the Department of Arts and Culture recently approved by cabinet, the implementation of which will require a multilingual work force. It is imperative that a language policy for (higher) education be closely co-ordinated with the national language policy and with PANSALB’s guidelines for language policy in public institutions (available on the PANSALB website), based on the principle of ‘functional multilingualism’. Cognisance should also be taken of the report on the implementation of mother-tongue-based bilingual education in the Western Cape recently handed to the Western Cape MEC for Education by a task team appointed for that purpose.

    5.4 In addition to this, we would like to reiterate our suggestion that bilingual education (i.e. using two official languages as languages of instruction and official communication) should be required of all institutions of learning, starting with grade 1 in primary schools. This has the advantage of applying a single model to all levels of education. As such, it qualifies as ‘a comprehensive language policy to cover all levels of the education system’, and avoids the risk of ‘proposing one policy for one sector of the system only’, with ‘unintended consequences for the other sectors’.

    6. Advantages of the ‘Multilingualism Model’

    6.1 According to §11 of the policy ‘the South African student population in higher education is linguistically diverse and it is not uncommon to find a variety of home languages represented in the student body of a single institution’ (p.6). This relates to the fact, discussed in section 2 of this submission, that the South African population as a whole is even more linguistically diverse than the student population, and that it is not uncommon to find a variety of home languages represented in a single geographical area. Every university and technikon in South Africa serves an area characterised by linguistic diversity.

    6.2 Therefore no tertiary institution should be allowed to provide tuition in one language only. Since no single language is spoken and understood by the majority of South Africans, any language used as sole medium of instruction necessarily serves as an unacceptable ‘barrier to access and success’. As we have argued above, this applies to English as much as to Afrikaans or any other language. However, since no institution can possibly use all the official languages as languages of instruction and official communication, we have suggested that they be required to use at least two. This would immediately increase the accessibility and success rate (in terms of pass rates and quality education) of every tertiary institution in the country, and therefore of the higher education system as a whole, irrespective of which languages are chosen by the different institutions.

    6.3 The LPF refers to Section 29(2) of the Constitution, to the effect that, ‘if resources and numbers permit, more than one Formal Academic Language may be instituted’ (§8.2.7, p.12). We agree with the policy document that a multilingual approach is preferable to the option, also allowed by the Constitution, of single medium institutions, since the latter ‘could have the unintended consequence of concentrating Afrikaans-speaking [or English-speaking — TS] students in some institutions and in so doing setting back the transformation agendas of institutions’ (see §15.4.2, p.12).

    6.4 A policy of bilingual education would, furthermore, be in the spirit of the Constitutional directive that government should always use at least two official languages in communicating with the public, and with the PANSALB guidelines for institutional language policies, which recommend the use of at least two languages as working languages in public institutions. In this case, the requirement of bilingual communication with the public would be extended to public institutions of learning, thereby contributing to a Constitution-friendly culture of ‘all our languages working together’.

    6.5 Apart from being Constitutional, the multilingual (in practice bilingual) approach is also, we believe, feasible with respect to ‘numbers and resources’. We agree with the LPF that, ‘though tough choices and decisions have to be made on the merits and cost factors associated with the adoption of mother-tongue education … research evidence and current practice point strongly to the advantages [also economically — TS] of mother-tongue education’ (§3.4, p.3).

    6.6 The LPF refers to the ‘language policy and plan for South Africa’, which has been tabled by the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, and ‘that is currently being subject to a costing exercise’ (§5.1, p.8). The findings of this ‘costing exercise’, which has now been completed, may be instructive for anticipating the cost of a policy of bilingual education throughout our education system. However, studies on the cost of multilingual policies in large institutions have also been done in other contexts, and should also be considered. According to a research document compiled by Danie du Plessis and Gerard Schuring, entitled ‘Multilingualism in the Workplace: A Policy for Language Democracy’,[4] ‘a practically feasible policy of multilingualism is possible and affordable within any organisation’. This finding is based on an empirical study. The research document also points to several international examples to the effect that the implementation of multilingualism in large organisations actually saves costs due to greater efficiency, stronger motivation, increased productivity and better relationships among employees. We believe that the same applies to public institutions of higher education.

    6.7 Therefore, in the ‘TS Submission’ the ‘Multilingualism’ model was proposed as being preferable to the ‘Laissez Faire’, ‘Ad Hoc’, ‘Centralised Designation’, ‘Numerical Formula’ and ‘Incentive’ models for realising multilingualism in the education sector. Taking our cue from the ‘issues’ identified in §14 of the policy (see p.9), the ‘Multilingualism Model’ would include the following suggestions, some of which have been reiterated in the present submission:

    — As far as ‘languages of instruction’ are concerned, we proposed that all institutions of learning, from the primary to the tertiary level, should be required by law to use at least two official languages of their choice as languages of instruction for all subjects and courses.

    — As to ‘the future of South African languages as fields of academic study and research’ we suggested that: 1) three official languages should be compulsory, examinable school subjects in primary and secondary schools; 2) proficiency in at least three official languages should be a requisite for obtaining a degree or diploma from any South African institution of higher education (except for foreign students); 3) the gradual implementation of bilingual education on a year by year basis, starting from grade 1 in primary school, would stimulate study and research in the field of African languages by requiring the progressive development of terminology and the writing/translation of textbooks; 4) the constant exposure to another South African language in a context of bilingual education would motivate more learners to pursue studies in South African languages.

    — The ‘study of foreign languages’ can be stimulated in the ways suggested in the policy (see §17.1, p.14). We would like to stress the importance of African languages other than those officially recognised in South Africa, especially those languages that are cognate with our indigenous languages, thereby providing a bridgehead for communication with the rest of our continent. This is especially important in the light of the newly established African Union and the NEPAD initiative. In addition to German, Greek, Portuguese, French and Hindi, which are mentioned in the policy as ‘languages that are important for the promotion of the country’s cultural, trade and diplomatic relations’ (§17.1, p.14), we would like to point to the special significance of Dutch in this connection, due to its close relationship to Afrikaans, which makes it a highly accessible foreign language to all South Africans with any level of proficiency in Afrikaans.

    — As far as ‘the promotion of multilingualism in the institutional policies and practices of institutions of higher education’ is concerned, we believe that our proposal of bilingual education, if implemented, would create, within a relatively short space of time, a culture of multilingualism, not only in our institutions of learning, but in our society as a whole. It would also result in a more diverse and representative staff contingent and student body in our schools, technikons and universities.

    — We would re-emphasise that English institutions of higher learning should accept co-responsibility for promoting academic instruction in previously disadvantaged languages to a progressively higher level of instruction, and that neither English nor Afrikaans should serve as a barrier to unlocking the cultural, academic and social potential of each learner in South Africa.

    Notes:

    [1] The Taalsekretariaat is an independent, non-politically aligned organisation with its own administrative structure, staff and funding, whose mission is to promote the indigenous languages of South Africa as adequate means of communication for both mother-tongue and non-mother-tongue speakers within and beyond the borders of the Republic of South Africa. (See last page for contact details.)

    [2] This submission should be seen as supplementary to the ‘Submission of the Taalsekretariaat on the Proposed National Language Policy for Education as Announced by the Minister of Education’ (October 2002) (‘TS Submission’ in the remainder of this document), which can be viewed at www.mweb.co.za/litnet/taaldebat/education.asp.

    [3]3 See the LPF, pp.4-6. See alo §11.1 (p.7) of the policy.


    [4]4 This document is available on the Taalsekretariaat’s website at www.mweb.co.za/litnet/taaldebat/mwueng.asp


    * Signed on behalf of the Taalsekretariaat by: 1. Mr. Andre van der Walt
    2. Dr. Gerrit Brand
    3. Prof. JB du Toit

    (15 Herold Street, Stellenbosch 7600; Tel.: 021-8872713; Fax: 021-8872713; E-mail: taal@linguasek.co.za)

    boontoe


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