Can a university transform without Africanising?

Lessons learnt and achievements in five years of the National Research Fund SarchI Chair on the Intellectualisation of African Languages, multilingualism and Education (2013-2017) sitting at Rhodes University under Professor Russell Kaschula of the School of African Languages and Literature.

The SarchI chair at Rhodes University has exceeded all expectations and requirements set out for its five-year duration. An astounding feat of thirteen PhDs instead of three, seven postdoctoral fellows instead of the required two, thirty-two honours degrees instead of twenty, eleven Masters instead of eight and eighteen book chapters instead of three. An additional eight books will be launched this year.

Professor Kaschula shared this outstanding performance during the first day of the Conference of the Languages Association of South Africa attended by scholars from universities all over South Africa and delegates from Germany, USA and Zimbabwe at Rhodes University this week.

Speaking on the last year of the Chair, he said: “the Chair’s achievements have been a direct result of collaborations from the whole university, seven other universities in the country and partners all over the world”.

Kaschula admits that the intellectualisation of language has been held up by language planning. The goal is to develop language for use in controlling domains, to ensure that African languages are used for operations in the judiciary, in governance, legislation, commerce, technology, media and education on all levels.

The Chair focused on three primary research areas that seek to intellectualise language; they are theoretical linguistics, socio-linguistics and applied study and literary studies in order to provide a holistic approach to the study of language. Senior researchers and post doctorate fellows are the key players in the planning.

The Chair is in line with the national priorities and socio-economic imperatives of the country, as language is central to the decolonisation of the curriculum. “Language is pivotal in diversity, socio-economic development, democracy and human dignity. University curricula should no longer be defined by imperialist and colonialist ideology but by African values and philosophy, at least on the African continent,” he said.

He assured that English will not disappear within teaching and learning in higher education, but rather these efforts are to make sure that we create a mutually inclusive environment for all our languages to flourish.

South African universities are encouraged to re-negotiate and create a setting of contemporary voices, create familiarity rather than identity vulnerability on campuses. Negotiating shared meanings in inter-active situations will ensure that South African universities play a positive role in promoting multilingualism in the education system to assist with Africanisation.

Kaschula cites best practices of the infusion of indigenous languages into the education system. For example, in order to qualify a Journalism degree at Rhodes University, students have to take and pass a course in isiXhosa. At the University of Cape Town, you cannot get a medical degree without doing courses in isiXhosa and Afrikaans.

Rhodes University will again apply for the SarchI chair to ensure continuity and secure funding to empower students to do more research.

Source:  Communications

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