Submission of the Taalsekretariaat on the proposed national language policy for education as announced by the Minister of Education
The fact that Minister Kader Asmal is to announce a national language policy for education towards the end of October should be welcomed. Such a policy could put an end to the current conflict and uncertainty on this issue.
It is also high time that the language clauses in the Constitution was given legislative shape.
What are the options?
The rectors of the five bilingual (historically Afrikaans) universities recently requested the minister to leave decisions regarding language policy up to the educational institutions themselves. This laissez faire model has the advantage that it respects the autonomy of institutions of learning.
The disadvantage is that public institutions of learning are simply sacrificed to the destructive impact of market forces, with the inevitable consequence that the present tendency towards monolingualism continues unabated. No measures are taken to ensure that all South Africans enjoy equal access to mother-tongue education.
The approach currently followed by government, where unpredictable and one-sided language demands are imposed on particular institutions from time to time, is equally undesirable. It creates an atmosphere of uncertainty, thereby undermining proper planning and effective management. Moreover, experience has taught that such an ad hoc approach has a high conflict potential.
A proposal that enjoys wide support among activists for multilingualism is that of the Gerwel Committee, which was appointed by the minister to propose a policy on Afrikaans in higher education. The committee suggested that two universities be charged with the task of developing Afrikaans as a language of science and scholarship, while each of the African languages be assigned to at least one university for the same purpose.
This type of designation model is certainly preferable to the present situation. However, it could lead to a never-ending struggle among language groups over the number of institutions that each is entitled to.
In its more extreme form, the designation model demands that certain institutions be handed over to independent community councils representing the different language groups. This would only aggravate the problem of how the education cake is to be distributed. It would also obstruct the essential process of social integration.
The basic weakness of this proposal is that it seeks to regulate everything to the smallest detail. Consequently different rules are made for different institutions - a procedure that is always vulnerable to (often legitimate) charges of discrimination.
A single rule that applies to all institutions and languages would solve this problem.
One such rule is already contained in the present education act, which determines that an educational facility has to provide tuition in a specific language if at least 30 learners insist on it: the numerical formula model. Minister Asmal has appealed to this law in support of his insistence that Afrikaans-medium schools introduce English-medium classes. Yet many questions arise. Can Afrikaans learners also insist on mother-tongue education in English-medium schools? How can an institution offer tuition in isiXhosa or xiTsonga if teachers do not understand these languages? Can one institution accommodate three or four languages, and change its language policy annually? Who will pay for it? That this regulation has so far remained a dead letter confirms that it is impracticable.
Another possibility hinted at by the minister is that of larger subsidies for multilingual institutions. Institutions already under pressure to introduce English in addition to Afrikaans (the opposite has yet to happen) would welcome such a step, as it would relieve their current financial burden. It is doubtful, however, whether this would increase multilingualism. The larger subsidy would not be an incentive for multilingualism, but would merely finance it. In the absence of any other incentive to introduce more languages, English-medium institutions would have no motivation to accommodate other languages, especially African languages. Thus the subsidy model, or incentive model, would simply strengthen existing trends.
Perhaps the time has come for more comprehensive and long-term thinking on language in education - a simple and uniform policy, which would retain English and Afrikaans as academic languages, while also improving the chances of the other languages to acquire that status. What would such a policy look like?
Suppose all educational institutions, from the primary to the tertiary level, were obliged by law to offer tuition in two official languages of their choice (the multilingualism model). That this is not impossible is proven by UNISAs track record, and by the remarkable South African tradition of dual- and parallel-medium schools.
Such a policy would have to be announced in advance and implemented gradually. In the first year, it could be introduced only at grade 1 level, and thereafter in a further grade every year until, in the 12th year, the first matric group would be taught bilingually. Tertiary institutions would by then have had sufficient time to prepare for the introduction of a second language at that sophisticated level.
Learning materials should also be available in both languages, and it should be possible for learners to take any official language as a school subject at first-language level.
Probably most schools would adopt an African language as additional language, simply because it is the only language understood by most of their teachers and students. This would, in turn, put pressure on tertiary institutions to consider not only English and Afrikaans, but also African languages, as media of instruction. Yet the future of both English and Afrikaans would also be secured by such a policy, as long as the demand for instruction in those languages exists.
To prevent white youth from learning only English and Afrikaans, and neglecting the African languages, all learners could be expected to take three official languages as compulsory school subjects, one of them only at a practical, elementary level.
If there is one area in which the interests of all South Africans, black and white, coincide, it is in the area of language policy. A simple and uniform policy could make multilingualism in education a reality. It would secure the future of English and Afrikaans, while also making mother-tongue - ie better - education available to more South Africans.
Any national language policy for education in South Africa should comply with the following principles:
A. The policy should balance respect for the autonomy of institutions of learning with the obligation of the state to ensure that language policies do not infringe on the language, educational and other human rights of (prospective) learners.
B. The policy should be economically feasible and practical, and should not cause unnecessary disruption in the smooth running of institutions of learning.
C. The policy should not discriminate against any institution(s) or language(s): the same rights and duties should be accorded to all institutions of learning and all 11 official languages, ie the policy should be uniform and coherent.
D. While market forces should be taken into account, such forces should not be allowed to dictate the language policies and practices of institutions, especially in so far as these forces are destructive to multilingualism and blind to human rights.
E. The policy should result in more multilingualism in all institutions, and not only in some. Where full multilingualism is not yet achievable, present levels of multilingualism (eg bilingualism) should be retained. Under no circumstances should a policy lead to a regression to monolingualism.
F. The policy should comply with the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa in:
In the public debate about language in education, several possible models have been put forward. The purpose of this section is briefly to describe and evaluate some of the more prominent models, so as to assist the Department of Education in developing a model appropriate to the demands of the South African situation.
A. The Laissez Faire Model
According to this model, which is tacitly or openly supported by the governing bodies of most educational facilities in South Africa, and widely accepted by the countrys economic elite, language policy and practice should be left to the judgement of the institutions concerned.
The main arguments in favour of this model are:
To this it may be objected that
In South Africa, as elsewhere, the influence of market forces (including capitalist globalisation, eg the increased international mobility of - especially white - South African professionals) has led, in recent years, to the increased dominance of one language (English) at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, with the corresponding marginalisation of Afrikaans as a language of science and scholarship, and the continued and complete neglect of the other official languages.
For example, two formerly Afrikaans universities (UWK and UPE) have already been wholly anglicised for all intents and purposes, while the remaining five are showing a marked tendency in the same direction, with an increasing number of courses offered only in English. Contrast this with the 17 exclusively English-medium universities already in existence. A similar pattern is observable in technikons and among primary and secondary schools. Despite the elevation to official status of the indigenous African languages, not a single tertiary institution has so far offered courses through the medium of any of those languages. The number of schools that offer tuition through the medium of an African language, even at the most elementary level (eg for the first four years), is negligible. This has happened, and continues to happen, despite the fact that the majority of South Africans of all races and languages would prefer mother-tongue education.
By definition this development has not improved access to English-medium (ie the vast majority of) educational facilities, and in historically Afrikaans institutions, it has benefited only that section of the population that is functionally proficient in English, ie all English speakers (mostly white), the majority of white Afrikaans speakers, a smaller number of black (including so-called coloured) Afrikaans speakers, and a minority (about 22%) of black African language speakers. This small section of the population is already relatively privileged socially and economically, and is already more than adequately served, as far as language needs are concerned, by the large number of existing English-medium institutions.
The result has been that those sections of the population that are most in need of improved access to educational opportunities and the benefits of mother-tongue education, namely the previously disadvantaged black (including so-called coloured) community, have suffered, rather than benefited, from the spontaneous language shift that has been occurring. Given the language situation described above, it stands to reason that, to the extent that access has been improved for the 22% of black South Africans who are functionally proficient in English, such improvement must be due to factors other than language, eg the scrapping of apartheid laws, lowering of fees and other forms of financial assistance, bridging programmes, and the like. Most importantly, due to the increasing dominance of English in the field of education, these improvements have not benefited the majority of previously disadvantaged South Africans, as has already been pointed out.
Our conclusion is that the laissez faire model is inadequate for the demands of the South African situation. The state has a duty to ensure that institutions of learning, whether at primary, secondary or tertiary level, implement language policies that respect the constitutional rights of all South Africans, whether or not such policies are spontaneously favoured by market forces. By withholding legislative pressure and financial support in this area, schools, technikons and universities are left completely at the mercy of forces that are blind to the needs and rights of the vast majority of South Africans, and that would lead inevitably to a situation of complete monolingualism, with all the attendant educational, economic and other human costs.
In the absence of a clear and coherent language policy for education, this has become the default model adhered to in practice by the Department of Education. (The planned announcement of a national language policy for education suggests that the Department recognises the limitations of this approach.) In essence, it constitutes a variant of the laissez faire model, but with the proviso that the state may intervene in the language policies and practices of institutions of learning from time to time, so as to ensure that language is not used as a barrier to access.
Because this model recognises the duty of the state to ensure that language policies do not infringe on the constitutional rights of South Africans, it is in principle preferable to the laissez faire model in its most extreme form. However, the model has serious shortcomings:
We conclude that the ad hoc model, though in principle preferable to the laissez faire model, does not in practice make any difference to the unacceptable outcomes of the latter model. In addition, this model causes problems of its own. Therefore we welcome the decision to announce a national language policy for education, which, if well conceived, could bring clarity and calm to our education system.
In this model the state assigns particular languages to specific institutions so as to ensure an equitable language dispensation. The designated institutions are then charged with the task of developing the language in question as a language of science and scholarship. This may involve using that language as the (primary or exclusive) medium of instruction. Thus the educational cake is divided up among the official languages of the country. Such division may be done according to the language demography of the population as a whole, according to the language preferences of students (or parents), or on the basis of regional (eg provincial) language demographies.
This model is implicit in the recommendations of the Gerwel Advisory Committee, appointed by the minister to investigate the role of Afrikaans in higher education. It is also strongly supported by some cultural associations, like the Groep van 63, Aksie HoŽr Onderwys (AHO) and the Oorlegplatform. In its more extreme form this model can be developed in the direction of so-called cultural autonomy, where a cultural community demands that specific educational facilities be put under its control and reserved for use by its members. In this more extreme form the centralised designation model is strongly reminiscent of language policies under apartheid.
The main arguments in favour of this model are as follows:
However, the centralised designation model has distinct disadvantages:
In short, the centralised designation model exhibits weaknesses that are the exact opposite of those of the laissez faire model. It gives the state too strong a role in determining the language policy of educational facilities. Consequently, it has all the drawbacks associated with rigid proportionalism. It does not leave sufficient room for changes in language demography and language preference, and thus must either entrench existing patterns or be impracticable. It has a high conflict potential and could easily contribute to the linguistic, cultural and class fragmentation of South African society. It also rests on a problematic discourse of group rights, which is not easily reconciled with the principles underlying the South African Constitution, and which leads in practice to unequal treatment of languages and institutions.
According to this model, the language policy of any educational facility is determined by public demand. The difference between this and the laissez faire model is that it is linked to a numerical formula: if a certain number or percentage of students insist on being served in a particular language, the institution in question is obliged to offer that language as an option. The minister of education, in interviews and public pronouncements, has appealed to existing legislation in support of this principle.
The numerical formula model has some major advantages over the other models that have been mentioned so far:
However, the model also has significant weaknesses:
We conclude that the numerical formula model is in principle preferable to the laissez faire, ad hoc and centralised designation models. However, we recognise that this model may not provide strong enough incentives for choosing mother-tongue education, and that it may well be impracticable.
As far as the latter point is concerned, it should be noted that if this model is considered and the practical problems associated with it ironed out, a clear procedure should be created whereby students can notify institutions of their language preferences. Already when enrolling at an institution, they should have the opportunity to indicate their language(s) of preference, so that the institution in question can apply the numerical formula before the academic year commences.
Moreover, the government should finance the introduction of additional languages, including the costs associated with the recruitment and equipment of staff, the translation of learning materials etc. If the government refuses to do so, it would amount to discrimination against precisely those institutions that promote multilingualism in practice. This is part of the rationale behind the next model.
According to this model, which has also been raised as a possibility by the minister of education, institutions that use more than one language for instruction and communication should receive larger subsidies. These subsidies are intended to finance the use of an additional language and to encourage institutions to consider the multilingual option.
The arguments in favour of this model are as follows:
However, some criticisms also need to be taken into account:
We conclude that the incentive model, despite some serious shortcomings, is the best of all the models considered thus far. If the subsidies are sufficient to cover the true costs of introducing an additional language, and if the continued availability of such subsidies is secured through legislation, it is a model that should be seriously considered. However, since the model has significant shortcomings - especially the fact that it would probably not encourage multilingualism in presently monolingual institutions - the possibility of a more comprehensive and pro-active policy that retains the uniformity and simplicity of the incentive model should be seriously considered.
According to this model every institution of learning in the country - from the primary to the tertiary level - is required by law to use at least two official languages for instruction and communication across the board. The decision as to which two languages will be used is left to the governing body of each institution. As one of the languages, institutions (particularly at the tertiary level) should be allowed to choose a language block or family of languages, such as the Nguni languages, the Sotho languages or Afrikaans/Dutch as one of their languages.
It is required of all teachers/lecturers, as part of their employment contract, to be able to teach, answer questions, lead discussions and evaluate exams and projects in both languages. Existing staff who do not meet this requirement are given a fixed time-frame within which to acquire the language(s) that they do not understand. They are also assisted with language acquisition courses.
All learning materials (except textbooks at the tertiary level), administrative documents and official correspondence are made available in both languages. Classes are conducted in both languages on either parallel-medium (separate classes) or dual-medium (both languages in the same classroom) basis, depending on student numbers and financial viability.
The system is introduced gradually on a year by year basis, starting with grade 1 in primary schools. This would give the Department of Education, in co-operation with institutions of learning, the private sector and civil society, the opportunity to ensure the availability of textbooks and other learning materials and to develop academic terminology at an increasing level of sophistication as the programme is progressively implemented. Naturally, syllabi and policy documents affecting the operation of learning facilities should be made available in all 11 official languages. By announcing the commencement of the programme at least a year in advance, and implementing it on a year by year basis, institutions are enabled to plan ahead. In the case of tertiary institutions, this would give the institutions 12 years to prepare for the introduction of an additional language.
This model has several advantages:
We conclude that the multilingualism model is the most suitable model for putting multilingualism into practice in the education sector, given the various considerations arising from the South African context, the constitutional framework within which the policy is to be integrated, and the needs and best interests of all South Africans.
A. Language Learning
Apart from promoting diversity as far as the languages used for instruction and (internal and external) communication are concerned, the policy should ensure that South Africans increasingly learn one anothers languages. Therefore we propose that every learner in South Africa should have at least three official languages as compulsory school subjects. Once again, the choice of languages offered at a particular institution should be left to the judgement of the governing body of that institution.
Such a policy would require the following:
The Department of Education should consult with other departments and public bodies in order to explore ways in which language policies in different spheres of public life can be co-ordinated so as to strengthen one another. While multilingualism is promoted in education and training, science and scholarship, other public institutions should ensure that multilingualism is also increasingly expanded as a permanent feature of public life. The public broadcaster has a special responsibility in this regard. The Pan South African Language Board should be consulted in connection with this and any other language policy to be adopted in future.
We believe that the time has come for the Department of Education to take a significant stride forward in realising the vision of our Constitution as regards language in the sphere of education at all levels. This stride should be taken with an inspiring long-term vision in mind: the ideal of a truly multilingual society in which every citizen is respected, accommodated and treated fairly, regardless of the language that s/he speaks.
Language can no longer be allowed to bar access to full participation in public life to the majority of (especially poor) South Africans. Rather than expecting of the poor majority to learn the language of the wealthy elite, the latter should be obliged to use the languages of the former in order to improve access to opportunities for them.
Multilingualism should not mean forcing non-English institutions to use English, but rather requiring all public institutions to use as many languages as possible, thereby giving equal public recognition to all the official languages, as the Constitution wisely requires.
If the Department of Education were to follow this path, the seeds of conflict already sown by many participants in the public debate on language would wither and die, rather than sprout and smother our young democracy. The cultural riches of our people would contribute to our public life and our national identity. Our children would learn better. Our scholars and scientists would make more and better contributions to the common store of human knowledge. Our economy and technological infrastructure would develop more efficiently and be more in tune with the spirit of our people. Participatory democracy would be deepened and the opportunities of public life opened to everyone. We would be healed of our colonial and apartheid mindset, and come to experience in our day to day intercourse with one another that South Africa belongs to all who live in it.
Signed on behalf of the
Andre van der Walt
15 Herold Street
 See, eg, the proposals of the rectors of the bilingual (ie historically Afrikaans) universities recently made to the Minister of Education.
 This was the finding of a recent study by MarkData.
 These statistics concerning functional proficiency in English are taken from a study by Markinor.
 The Department of Education, in the persons of both the minister and deputy minister, has often declared in accordance with the incontrovertible findings of all studies in this area, that mother-tongue education is superior to second or third-language instruction, even as far as the acquisition of new languages (eg of English) is concerned. Since we agree wholeheartedly with this view, we shall not argue this point, but refer instead to the wealth of information made available by the Pan South African Language Board in this connection, some of which has been published on their website.
 The (mostly Afrikaans-speaking) coloured population presently shows the lowest level of entry to higher education, followed by blacks. Among the latter group it is especially among the poorest and most marginalised communities that proficiency in Afrikaans, rather than in English, is common. Of course, nearly all those belonging to this group have as their mother-tongue one of the indigenous African languages. The matric pass rate (in a context of nearly exclusive English-medium education) is also lowest among this group.
 The fact, often cited in support of the laissez faire approach, that students (and parents) from among this relatively privileged minority tend to prefer, and even insist on, English as the medium of instruction at the tertiary level, when contrasted with the language attitudes of South Africans generally (see footnote 4), merely confirms the extent to which English is functioning as a barrier to access to the majority of (black) South Africans, who struggle to pass matric, let alone enter higher education, and therefore never have the opportunity to have their demands heard. It is further confirmed by the fact that the state has found the medical schools of Spanish-medium universities in Cuba more accessible to previously disadvantaged South Africans than (both English and Afrikaans-medium) South African universities.
 The committee recommended that two institutions, one in the north and one in the south of the country, be charged with the development of Afrikaans as a language of science and scholarship, and that each indigenous African language be assigned to at least one university for the same purpose.
 See footnote 5.
 Eg Canada, where French-speaking parents in the French territory are prohibited by law from sending their children to English-medium schools.
 In this connection, the proposal currently being considered by the Education Department to reintroduce the requirement of a bilingualism certificate for teachers, but without limiting bilingualism to English and Afrikaans, deserves the support of all interested parties.
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