Stellenbosch University (SU) has not turned its back on Afrikaans and remains committed to the use of this language together with English as languages of instruction in the context of inclusivity and multilingualism.
This was the message of SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Wim de Villiers on Tuesday evening (19 September) during a discussion with the education community in Paarl. The event took place at Klein Nederburg Secondary and was attended by schools in the region and by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED). The topic was “Transformation and Language at SU".
Prof De Villiers pointed out that there are many positive developments at SU but that these are often overshadowed by negative mentions in the media. For example, SU is well placed on world rankings of top universities and maintains some of the highest rates of student success and research output in the country. Yet, in some circles, SU is erroneously depicted as a monolingual institution – no longer Afrikaans but now completely English.
“Let me say this very clearly – this is not true," Prof De Villiers stated.
In terms of the University's new Language Policy, which was approved by Council in June 2016 with the concurrence of Senate and implemented from this year, both English and Afrikaans are used as languages of instruction – the former so that nobody is excluded and the latter because there is still a great demand for teaching in this language.
A gradual shift in demographics and language distribution is taking place among SU students. In 2015, the University for the first time had more English-speaking (44%) than Afrikaans-speaking (42%) students.
Earlier this year, a survey among undergraduate students indicated that 61% of respondents preferred knowledge transfer in English. Some of them have no command of Afrikaans at all. However, this still leaves 39% of undergraduate students who prefer instruction in either Afrikaans or both Afrikaans and English, which amounts to nearly 8 000 students, Prof Arnold Schoonwinkel, Vice-Rector for Learning and Teaching at SU, pointed out.
He explained that the new Language Policy makes provision for three language-of-instruction modes – parallel medium, double medium and single medium – and emphasised that Afrikaans is present in all three.
“We have a great appreciation for the value of language, but the focus of the University is pedagogical. We are not a language and culture organisation. For the University, language is a medium for learning and teaching," Prof Schoonwinkel said.
“The emphasis has shifted from language rights to language justice. The Constitution gives everyone the right to education in the language of their choice, as far as possible, but also requires correction of the kind of exclusion that has occurred in the past due to language of instruction. The Language Policy therefore follows an inclusive approach of multilingualism."
Members of the education community welcomed the information session.
“Any reasonable person can see that Afrikaans is not being abolished," Mr Danie van Wyk of the South African Educational Development Trust said about the SU Language Policy. “It is about accommodating everyone in the context of our shared South African identity."
“It makes a lot of sense. And I'm particularly impressed with the monitoring aspect of the policy – that there is oversight of implementation and that continuous adjustments are being made to ensure that it is applied correctly," Dr Fernholdt Galant of the WCED said.
CAPTION: From left, Mr Danie van Wyk, Western Cape Manager of the SA Education Development Trust, Mrs Mary Banda, Principal of Klein Nederburg Secondary, Prof Wim de Villiers, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Dr Fernholdt Galant and Mrs Linda Marais, Circuit Managers of the Western Cape Education Department in Wellington and Paarl respectively, and Prof Michael le Cordeur, Chair of the Departement of Curriculum Studies in SU's Faculty of Education.