Friday Politics Seminar Review - 6 May 2022

by Katarien Loubser

On 6 May 2022 the Department of Political and International Studies presented a seminar regarding the concern of multilingual policies implemented by previously white-English tertiary institutions. This study was presented by Professor Dion Nkomo, Dr Siphokazi Magadla, and Ms Zikho Dana and focused primarily on analysing the policy framework regarding their multilingual procedures and the implementation of it.

The Politics Department at Rhodes University is interested in learning about the different understandings, written and said, regarding human beings in social and political relationships. The department is continually uncovering an understanding of some influential questions such as: What is justice? What do we mean by ‘democracy’ and what are the conditions under which it flourishes and declines? The lunchtime seminars happen every Friday from 13:00 - 14:00 and give the department an opportunity to give the public an understanding of day-to-day influential topics.

The USKAR Politics and International Studies Department building on Prince Alfred Street. Photo from the Rhodes University Political and International Studies Facebook Page

The assessment reflects a 5-year project, which took place between the years of 2017 and 2022. A number of academic sources were used for analysis, focusing on the essays and tutorials of students who write in their mother tongues, isiXhosa and isiZulu, as well as analysing the policy frameworks of the institution. The conclusions of this study were that although the university’s language policy is fully committed to the development of isiXhosa as an academic language, English is still maintained as the default language of teaching and learning. The university’s language policy also ensures that these conditions remain prevalent as there is no formal support by the institution for the use of different home languages in tutorials. Lastly, the language question remains vaguely answered and thus no constructive policies were implemented.

In the case of the study of tutorials and essays written in both isiXhosa and isiZulu, the presenters found that when given the opportunity, students are able to best explain their understanding in their own home language rather than focusing on the concern of whether they are able to write in good English. The fact remains that an evident casualty of colonisation was the displacement of home language, meaning that English became the medium of teaching, and all other African languages were completely displaced. An interesting question raised by an USKAR student included why the use of African languages is accommodated for in high schools but not university.

The conclusion of this study is that multilingual policies in higher education remain conservative and continue to be accommodative to white languages such as English and Afrikaans. It is safe to say that just by implementing a transformative policy would not be enough, but rather practicing transformation for all students to experience.

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