Monday, October 26, 2009

Indian languages in South Africa

A school principal of Indian descent in South Africa is asking that his students be allowed to learn their "heritage languages" officially, instead of learning Afrikaans or an indigenous African language. In another report, students of Indian descent are saying the same thing: "We'd rather study Hindi".

The principal, Vishnu Naidoo, declares, that "Afrikaans is irrelevant to Indians in KwaZulu-Natal." Besides, recalling apartheid, he says that, "It is a crime to force Indian children to continue to learn the language of the oppressor." (See the essay "Language Policy and Oppression in South Africa" for a 1982-snapshot of language policy and politics in the country.)

The school does offer Tamil, Hindi and Urdu as additional subjects, but these are not part of the university points system.

But, as a Department of Education official points out, Afrikaans is not compulsory, and principals can apply for their pupils to learn any other of South Africa's 11 official languages. But Principal Naidoo says that his pupils avoid learning isiZulu (the most widely spoken home language) because it is "far too difficult for them".

Naidoo also asks: "Is it necessary for all pupils to do two languages at matric level?"

To which the Department responds: "We are a multi-lingual country, and therefore any two of the official languages have to be taught in all our schools."

Besides, as another report points out: "that there would be practical advantages to learning an indigenous African language rather than one of the Indian languages, which [are] rarely used in practice, even by the Indian community in the country."

But, of course, in matters of linguistic identities, "practical advantages" are never the only consideration. Here's a challenge for the Pan South African Language Board!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Skutnabb-Kangas on MTM Education

"Literacy and Oracy in Mother-Tongue Based Multi-Lingual Education" is the title of a public lecture which Tove Skutnabb-Kangas will deliver at Mahatma Gandhi Institute in Moka in Mauritius. She argues that, "The most important PEDAGOGICAL reason for the world’s ”illiteracy” is the wrong medium of teaching" (slide 37) - and proceeds to present a vast amount of evidence to show that linguistic genocide and lack of LHRs (linguistic human rights) in education is co-responsible for
  • “illiteracy”, lack of school achievement, educational waste, poor life chances;
  • disappearance of groups/nations/peoples (through forced assimilation);
  • homogenising knowledges and ideas and preventing optimal multicreativity;
  • killing of the world’s languages and linguistic diversity, and TEK (Traditional Ecological Knowledge), as prerequisites for the maintenance of biodiversity. (slide 99)

As David Hough did in his essay (about which I'd blogged this July), Skutnabb-Kangas too spends some time answering some frequently asked questions:
  • Why should children be taught mainly through the medium of their mother tongue (MT) in school for the first 6-8 years? They know their MT already? (slide 107)
  • Parents want children to learn English (and French). If children are taught mainly through their MT the first many years, how do they learn English (and French)? (slide 112)
  •  Isn’t it enough if children have the first 3 years in the MT and then the teaching can be in English? (slide 116)
  • Parents want English-medium schools. What are the likely results? (slide 121)
Her conclusion:

"Mother-tongue based MLE for the first 6-8 years, with good teaching of English as a second language and French as a foreign/second language, and possibly other languages too, with locally based materials which respect local knowledge, seems to be a good research-based recommendation for Mauritius." (slide 126)