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Varsity students must take isiZulu

Date Released: Fri, 17 May 2013 11:59 +0200

Kwazulu-natal language move sparks controversy in the halls of higher learning.

‘I think I would like to learn it, but not in this way’

FIRST-YEAR students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal will from next year have to enrol for a compulsory isiZulu course — and pass — to graduate.

The move, a first for a South African university, has sparked controversy among students and academics but has been hailed by education bodies.

The Council on Higher Education, an independent statutory body responsible for advising Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande, said the university’s plan was ‘‘a step in the right direction”.

The Inter-institutional Centre for Language Development and Assessment, a partnership of four multilingual universities — Pretoria, Stellenbosch, North West and Free State — said the move would not set a precedent for other varsities.

‘‘Universities are autonomous. But I think one positive aspect of this plan is that it highlights the need for multilingualism in all universities,’’ said the centre’s chief executive, Professor Albert Weideman.

Announcing the decision, the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s senate said it had approved a rule that forced all students registering for undergraduate degrees from next year, unless exempted, to pass or obtain a credit for a prescribed isiZulu module before they graduated.

‘‘UKZN is communicating widely, including with prospective students and our feeder schools, to ensure that there is clarity about this requirement,’’ the university’s deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Renuka Vithal, told The Times.

‘‘It may well be the case that, in a particular degree programme, the requirement may be stipulated with an exemption, which sets out that students who have passed isiZulu home language with 50% or more in their matric may be exempted,’’ she said.

‘‘Or it may be … that students are exempted if they pass an isiZulu proficiency test.’’

In the first phase of the programme, students and staff would develop ‘‘communicative competence’’ in isiZulu and English sufficient for academic interaction.

Phase 2 — from 2019 to 2029 — would encourage and facilitate all academic disciplines to assist students and staff to develop writing skills in isiZulu.

‘‘Each programme will determine the appropriate level and type of proficiency. This is in line with the university’s language policy and plan, and our transformation charter, which seeks to develop African languages as academic languages,’’ Vithal said.

She said the university had an obligation to ensure that linguistic choices resulted in effective learning solutions because 60% of the students were isiZulu speakers.

‘‘We do not expect this to [affect] pass rates and we know this from degree programmes, in which it already is a requirement for students who have not taken isiZulu in school, such as health sciences degrees, who then take modules in isiZulu appropriate to their practice as health professionals.”

But many current and prospective students criticised the university’s plan.

Honours student Azanda Ngobese said isiZulu should be optional.

“It should not be forced on any student. I agree that students should know the language but why should isiZulu-speaking students be taught something they already know and might have to pay for it,’’ she said.

Khetha Ngubane, who is studying public governance, said students living in a democracy should not be forced to study other languages.

Matric pupil Jeanette Colby said she was concerned that her lack of knowledge of the language might result in her failing the course. “I’m not doing isiZulu in school. I am already scared of it now that it is being made compulsory. I think I would like to learn isiZulu but not this way,” she said.

The SA Students Congress’s KwaZulu-Natal secretary, Mfalafuthi Ngcobo, welcomed the move, saying non-isiZulu speakers could catch up ‘‘the way isiZulu-speakers caught up with English’’.

Constitutional law scholar Professor Pierre de Vos said academic freedom allowed the university to create its own curriculum.

‘‘The university can make decisions based on what [its] students need to learn and what is in their interests. If the university were only teaching in isiZulu, then that would have been a problem,” he said.

The Inter-Institutional Language Centre’s Weideman said: ‘‘With the demise of apartheid, even Afrikaans universities took a stand and introduced more languages because most of our population speak more than two languages.’’

Stellenbosch University promotes Afrikaans and Xhosa to allow its students to interact more efficiently with communities in their chosen fields.

The Council on Higher Education’s CEO, Ahmed Essop, said: ‘‘The first phase, which focuses on language competency, is important given the multicultural and multilingual nature of South Africa.

‘‘Similarly, the development of conceptual terminology and glossaries is to be welcomed, as it would enable first-language isiZulu speakers to better engage with academic and intellectual discourse.’’

In 2011, Higher Education and Training Minister Nzimande said all university students would be required to learn an African language as a condition for graduating.

By: NIVASHNI NAIR and MHLABUNZIMA MEMELA

Article Source: The Times (South Africa)

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