Universities stand together to foster multilingualism

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Dr Nomakwezi Mzilikazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at Rhodes University
[PIC: Uyanda Ntloko]
Dr Nomakwezi Mzilikazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at Rhodes University [PIC: Uyanda Ntloko]

By Otsile Mabote

Rhodes University recently hosted a 5-day workshop as part of a project called 'BAQONDE' (Boosting the use of African languages in education: A Qualified Organised National DEvelopment strategy for South Africa). This was the final workshop for the project, with other partners having hosted similar workshops in which about twenty Rhodes academics participated since 2022. The project ends at the end of the year.

Academics from various departments and guest speakers gathered at the Amazwi South African Museum of Literature to share expertise and experiences on multilingual pedagogies and development of multilingual pedagogical resources. These shared experiences are geared to contribute towards  the development and implementation of institutional language policies and practices in alignment with the Language Policy Framework for Public Higher Education Institutions. NRF SARChI Chair for Intellectualisation of African Languages, Multilingualism, and Education at Rhodes University, Prof. Dion Nkomo, coordinated the workshop as the Rhodes University institutional lead for BAQONDE.

The innovative BAQONDE initiative, which translates to "understand" or "comprehend" in English, intends to transform higher education in South Africa by fostering multilingualism. In line with national legal mandates to end English monolingual practices, this programme aims to infuse and strengthen multilingualism in South African higher education. It is based on the idea that all South African students ought to have equal access to high-quality education in the language of their choosing.

Four South African universities (Rhodes University, North West University, University of KwaZulu-Natal, and University of the Western Cape) and three European universities (Salamanca University, Trinity College Dublin, and University of Groningen) make up the Baqonde partnership, which is co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme for three years since 2021.

Dr Nomakwezi Mzilikazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, Innovation and Strategic Partnerships emphasised how well this initiative fits in with the future ambitions of Rhodes University.

“This workshop is more than just a gathering. It is a testament to our commitment to change. It comes at a time when Rhodes University is embarking on a new strategic trajectory which is outlined in a beautifully packaged Institutional Development Plan. It is our compass as we move towards the year 2030,” said Dr Mzilikazi.

A representative from the University of Salamanca and overall project coordinator, Prof Pedro Mosquera said that this programme initiates unity and highlights the spirit of collaboration. He went on to say, “As we begin this journey together in Makhanda, I want to remind us about this beautiful journey that lies ahead. Unlike other forums, BAQONDE is never about ‘I’ or ‘Me’. It is about ‘Us’, it is about ‘We’. It is about applying the whole logic of Ubuntu to the world of multilingualism in higher education. We have gathered here to share ideas, learn from each other as well as strengthen our collaborations.”

According to Prof Juniours Marire, who is a member of the Economics Faculty at Rhodes University, they have been attempting to use language as a tool for comprehending Economics topics. He emphasised the social inequalities of previous and present practices where English-language learners would pay costly tutors to interpret their notes. The department began exploring how to teach and learn economics using multilingual methodologies. “We were attempting to, in a modest way, ameliorate some of the language-related inequalities in the learning process”, he said, by experimenting with various interventions. Translanguaging and multilingual orientations, according to Prof Marire, have the potential to create a more inclusive and improved learning environment at Rhodes University for all staff and students.

The BAQONDE initiative is a crucial step in advancing multilingualism in South African higher education and overcoming language obstacles that have long prevented many students from achieving academic achievement and finding jobs. South Africa should anticipate a time when language variety is valued and used as a strength in higher education as beyond the BAQONDE project.