Multilingual learning and teaching practices at the University of Cape Town

01-10-21 USAf 0 comment

Multilingual pedagogies received dedicated attention again on Day Two of Universities South Africa’s Colloquium on the New Language Policy for Higher Education last week when the University of Cape Town took the digital stage to showcase how faculty members in Humanities and Health Sciences had re-imagined their curricula by promoting the use of African languages in teaching and learning, assessments, and research.

During a breakaway session on Teaching and Learning Strategy, Associate Professor Abongwe Bangeni from UCT’s Centre for Higher Education Development, who was speaking in her capacity as Acting Chair of the institution’s Senate Language Policy Committee, addressed the topic Introducing multilingual pedagogies to improve student success.

Language Policy supports multilingual pedagogies

Once again, UCT’s policy stands fully behind the institutional language practices. While affirming English as the primary medium of instruction and assessment except in language and literature departments which provide for use of other languages, UCT values indigenous African languages, specifically isiXhosa as a regional language, and Afrikaans.

Professor Bangeni shared video accounts of how UCT:

  • Has introduced African Languages in tutorials in Health Sciences
  • Has incorporated African Languages in assessment practices in the Humanities
  • Is drawing on African Languages for research and
  • Is communicating cross-culturally in the African Languages department

On-going practices include the integration of African languages in teacher education at the School of Education; tutorials for Health Speech and Occupational Health studies and the development of a language for African research in historical studies. Provision has been made for students in the Faculty of Humanities to submit essays and assignments in a regional language of their choice (English, isiXhosa or Afrikaans) or in a mixture of languages. Online resources draw on multilingual texts and lesson plans are also translated into isiXhosa and Afrikaans where appropriate.

It also emerged that some of the multilingual pedagogies at UCT’s foundation phase Teacher Education course include the use of students’ personal linguistic repertoires, focusing on the similarities between languages, including locality and origins of words. This assists in building the teacher’s repertoire of the different multilingual resources for teaching and learning in classrooms.

A professor featured in the Humanities video did admit that teaching and learning in the online mode following the emergence of Covid-19 had had a negative impact on multilingual learning. They were seeing less translanguaging (switching between languages) in essays as English had dominated the online mode. Loss of classroom space had also negatively impacted multilingual practices. However, the faculty was attempting to translate assignment instructions into isiXhosa as an attempt to encourage more multilingualism in submissions.

Be that as it may, UCT’s multilingual practices are facilitating access to disciplinary concepts, legitimising African Languages in teaching and learning, exploring possibilities for assessment and harnessing the affordances of African Languages for research.

Professor Bangeni said the revised Language Policy Framework now creates opportunities for UCT to continue the ongoing work. She said faculties will now revisit or develop their language plans to also incorporate monitoring and evaluation initiatives.

Dr Sizwe Mabizela, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Rhodes University and Chairperson of the USAf Teaching and Learning Strategy Group, had chaired this breakaway session. In the subsequent report-back plenary, he said he was astounded by content coming out UCT’s practices in facilitating multilingual pedagogies.

He elaborated: “One academic started off by asking students what languages they could read, write and understand – a very critical exercise recognising that the 18-to-20-year-olds bring lived experiences to our campuses — and linking to their prior knowledge to make sense of the new curriculum. This was an interesting set of clips indicating, not just understanding of the students’ language background but also enabling academics to break down concepts in the indigenous languages. The rich and diverse linguistic repertoires that students bring to the classrooms enable them to draw learnings from new teachings in relation to their prior knowledge and lived experiences.

“All of these linked excellently to the overview provided yesterday by UCT’s Vice-Chancellor. It was heartening to see that all of this is happening within disciplines, not outside.”

This colloquium audience comprised vice-chancellors, their deputies and language experts of most of South Africa’s 26 public universities. Also in attendance were higher education policymakers and other government stakeholders.

According to Professor Ahmed Bawa, Chief Executive Officer of Universities South Africa, this e Colloquium succeeded in enabling understanding in the executive leadership of universities, of the philosophical, constitutional and legislative base of the Language Policy Framework and the broader systemic issues informing the foregrounding of multilingualism, transformation, and decolonisation in the higher education agenda.

The Colloquium was the first in a series of events to be hosted by universities on the revised Language Policy for Higher Education It paved the way for individual institutions to engage further on the matter, and for universities to craft or strengthen their own implementation strategies while contemplating the resources required to successfully implement multilingualism – within the context of broader transformation and decolonisation of South Africa’s higher education.

Buhle Ndweni is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.