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Critical perspectives on language as a social justice issue in post-colonial higher education institutions

Prof. Nokhanyo Mdzanga and Dr Muki Moeng

Webinar: 2 February 2021, 13:00pm SAST      Webinar Series Homepage

Nokhanyo Mdzanga is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at Nelson Mandela University, South Africa. With expertise in language education, she serves in the Community of Practice for the teaching and learning of African languages, a national group of University representatives that focus on language and multilingualism in higher education.

Muki Moeng is Executive Dean in the Faculty of Education at Nelson Mandela University, South Africa. She is Chair of the Faculty of Education Dean’s Forum and a member of the Council on Higher Education. Her research interests are in the scholarship of teaching and learning, school-based learning, social justice and humanising pedagogy.

Critical perspectives on language as a social justice issue in post-colonial higher education institutions

Abstract: Section 6 of the South African constitution gives official status to 11 languages –isiXhosa, isiZulu, isiSwati, Ndebele, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Afrikaans and English (Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996). Although this is the case, English and Afrikaans still remain the dominant languages of communication, education and so forth. We argue that proper mechanisms for implementing the use of all these languages are still in a distant future. This is problematic given the social-justice and transformation ideals of the new South Africa. Hence, the debate on language in post-colonial South Africa is essential.
Our main concern is the realisation that in higher education institutions, African languages are still not fully utilised as languages with pedagogical value in the scholarship of learning, teaching, research and engagement. For example, most of the learning materials available in institutions of higher education are presented in English and Afrikaans. Available resources in African languages are mostly translated from English. This is problematic as it assumes that learning resources cannot be usefully conceptualised and written first-hand in African languages. In our view, equity will be achieved when knowledge is accessible, and resources are available in all languages. In this presentation, we first position the discussion on language as a social-justice issue within a theoretical and historical context. We then provide a critical examination of the language politics and policies in higher-education institutions and how they have or have not shifted in the post-colonial education era. This argument links to how language is positioned in the curriculum, with a specific focus on English and isiXhosa, and the factors that hinder the shift from dominant language orthodoxies to recognising the multiplicity of languages in a post-colonial system in higher education institutions. Drawing on Freire’s (1972) views on the non-neutrality of education, we believe that the curriculum is a space of power, political contestation, caring and debate, and therefore should be taken into consideration in thinking about language as a social-justice issue. Furthermore, we highlight the dangers of reproducing inequalities through the curriculum, and the complexities surrounding the issue of language as a tool for social justice and social change. Finally, we propose that humanising pedagogy can be a meaningful and practical framework through which we can reflect on decolonial pedagogical strategies for language teaching in higher education. Moreover, through this framework, the issue of language as social justice can be addressed.

Blog entry to follow.

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Posted on 25 January 2021 09:30:00

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