All higher learning institutions must develop strategies, policies and implementation plans for promoting multilingualism.
South Africa’s revised Language Policy Framework for Public Higher Education Institutions commits to the study and development of all official South African languages, especially those which were historically marginalised including the Khoi, Nama and San languages.
This was the message from Mr Mahlubi Mabizela (left), Chief Director: Higher Education Policy and Research Support at the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) when addressing attendees on the first day of the Colloquium on the New Language Policy Framework for Public Higher Education Institutions.
The online language colloquium was hosted by Stellenbosch University (SU) under the auspices of Universities South Africa (USAf) and is a joint project with USAf’s Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of African Languages (COPAL) and SU.
Mabizela emphasised that the DHET saw this as a “revised language policy framework” and not so much as “a new policy” as he took participants through government’s language policy transformation over the years.
In his presentation, Mabizela referenced the Ministerial Committee of Transformation and Social Cohesion and the Elimination of Discrimination in Public Higher Education Institutions 2008 (The Soudien Report); The Ministerial Advisory Panel on African Languages in Higher Education (MAPALHE) 2012 and its subsequent recommendations in 2015; the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) Transformation at Public Universities Report (2016) and The Revised Language Policy Framework (2017).
“The Soudien Report in 2008 found that students whose first language was not English continued to face challenges in many institutions. It also found that the implementation approach to the parallel medium language policies, that were in place in a number of historically Afrikaans medium institutions, discriminated against black students,” Mabizela explained.
“In 2012, the then minister established a ministerial advisory panel on the development of African languages in higher education. Among its responsibilities was to undertake a literature review on the development of African languages in South Africa, with particular focus on higher education institutions.
“It also had to review the existing language policy for higher education, and its implementation, particularly in relation to the development of African languages at South African universities and recommend how it could be improved,” he told delegates.
Recommendations of 2015’s MAPALHE report urged that processes be put in place to strengthen and enforce implementation. National and institutional plans should set, as part of their implantation plan, language policy goals which would articulate the development of indigenous African languages as mediums of instruction and support to learning.
He continued: “Structures within universities, according to MAPALHE, should be set up (for example, language units, equity and transformation offices) to monitor and evaluate language policy implementation and report on the progress of intervals set in the language plan for higher education. The DHET, in turn, should have a unit dedicated to the monitoring and evaluation of institutional compliance. Funding into the research and development of indigenous languages also had to be increased.”
He said that the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) Transformation at Public Universities Report (2016) revealed the lack of real commitment to multilingualism in the development of indigenous languages as academic and scientific languages that could be used as mediums of instruction and said that the report urged universities to review their language policies to determine appropriateness, practicality and impact on university culture.
He gave outlines for the way forward:
- Institutions must develop or revise their language policies and plans to accord greater importance to indigenous African languages. These policies must indicate strategies that the universities will adopt to promote multilingualism. Such plans must include at least two official languages other than the medium of instruction or language of teaching and learning, for development of scholarly discourse as well as official communications.
- Institutions must be encouraged to collaborate with one another and not “work as silos”. This doesn’t only apply to universities but to all relevant governmental departments.
- Cooperation with other universities and language bodies is vital. This will assist in the sharing of information and data relating to language and terminology development for various disciplines.
- It is imperative for the creation of a receptive institutional culture which embraces linguistic diversity and the promotion of a climate where people feel affirmed and empowered to realise their full potential.
- Institutions must establish or strengthen (if existing) centres for language development to undertake relevant research required in each of the official languages.
Mabizela urged all higher education institutions to develop their own strategies and plans for the implementation of the New Language Policy Framework policy. He reiterated that while the DHET would be working together with institutions, there was no reason that institutions would or should be waiting for the department.
“In order to enable its implementation, the policy makes several suggestions or intentions to the sector. It says institutions must develop or revise their language policies and plans to upward greater importance. The policies and plans must indicate strategies that the universities will adopt to promote multilingualism and they are to report annually to the department on progress made in implementing their language policies and language development.”
He acknowledged that the old policy was not as successful as anticipated.
“This revised policy looks at institutions monitoring themselves while the department does this at a sector or national level. Institutions will report annually to the department on progress made in implementing their language policies and language development plans.
“We want the creation of a receptive institutional culture which embraces linguistic diversity and the promotion of a climate where people feel affirmed and empowered to realise their full potential.”
He referred to legal challenges that have been made in the past and said that the department has followed and monitored these. Funding too remains an ongoing challenge.
“What we want to implement cannot be done without funding. The policy requires institutions to invest in the development of African languages but the department is also doing its bit.
“The creation of a receptive institutional culture which embraces linguistic diversity and promotion of a climate where people feel affirmed and empowered to realise their full potential must be supported,” he concluded.
Janine Greenleaf Walker is a contract writer for Universities South Africa