By Kelebogile Mpshe & Kyle Robinson
Education Minister, Naledi Pandor recently visited Rhodes University on August 21, to give a talk on the importance of African languages in the education system. Vice-Chancellor, Dr Saleem Badat said Rhodes was proud to host the Minister, who has “so deeply grasped the challenge of education”.
Pandor began her address in isiXhosa and Setswana in order to emphasise the point that African languages deserve a more prominent position in our society. She stated that students can be severely disadvantaged by being taught in English if it is not their home language.
“We have become so fixated with English that we are denying children the opportunity to learn,” she said.
Universities are crucial to providing a platform from which African languages can begin playing a greater role in society, across all demographics. Pandor stated that, in the 2002 Working Group Report, universities were encouraged to use one of the nine neglected languages of South Africa as a teaching language. However, she said that only the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal has fully implemented the policy thus far. She explained that there is often “stiff resistance” to the incorporation of African languages into university policy.
“The key function of universities is to train professionals who are able to interact with clients in their language,” said Pandor. She feels that everyone should be able to hold a basic conversation in an African language and know about the customs of that culture. Pandor recommends that universities alter their curricula “so that every person does at least a semester in learning how to hold a conversation in an African language”.