North-West University enhances access by embracing language diversity

At the North-West University (NWU), language is not a barrier that impedes access to a tertiary education, but a tool that facilitates access to quality education for all university stakeholders.

The NWU subscribes to an extensive language policy that promotes inclusivity and endorses the academic status of the predominant African languages ​​in the regions where the university’s campuses are located, namely Setswana and Sesotho. This is done in addition to maintaining English and Afrikaans as current languages ​​of instruction. The NWU’s language policy is also an additive model, meaning more languages ​​of instruction can be added.

“We are very excited about the progress that has been made to get Setswana and Sesotho on the same level as Afrikaans and English as languages ​​of instruction, without diminishing the importance of the latter two languages,” says Keaobaka Seshoka, Director of the NWU’s Language Directorate.

The Language Directorate is a support structure that serves to aid faculties, departments and university bodies with counsel regarding language-related issues, and monitoring, translation and interpretation services, among a host of other responsibilities. “Our task is to make sure that there is a sound language policy that is transformative and responsive in our multilingual context,” says Seshoka.

The NWU’s ultimate purpose is to achieve improved access to the university and improved teaching and learning, which it hopes to do by welcoming whatever languages ​​students and lecturers bring to the NWU.

“Our approach is very clear. We are trying to facilitate access and inclusion. The NWU is situated in multilingual settings, therefore no language should inhibit the others, as long as they are official languages ​​of the country. What we are pushing here, what we are teaching here is tolerance for each other’s languages. We are also saying that in the development of Setswana and Sesotho as languages ​​of instruction, there are lessons to be learned from English and Afrikaans and we must use these lessons,” Seshoka explains.

She goes on to state that an “open” university, whose priority is inclusivity, takes language realities into consideration. “South Africa is a multilingual country and we must reflect that.”

The Language Directorate also has a committed community outreach program through which they visit schools in the greater Mahikeng, Potchefstroom and Vanderbijlpark communities — where the NWU’s three campuses are situated — and supply interpretation services for classes and community events. “This is one way in which we give back and create awareness of the importance of each other’s languages.”

The NWU has established itself as an example of multilingual development. It also hosts Language Awareness Week to create an awareness of linguistic diversity.

Seshoka says: “I am proud to say that the NWU has positioned itself as a trendsetter when it comes to multilingual education. Why am I saying this? Well, the language policy framework for public higher-education institutions says that there should be development and strengthening of indigenous languages ​​as languages ​​of scholarship, teaching and learning and communication at higher-education institutions. This entails that institutions of higher learning must have practical measures in place to develop previously disadvantaged languages.

“It further states that all institutions of higher learning must develop strategies, policies and implementation plans for promoting multilingualism as defined by this policy framework. Such plans must indicate at least two official languages, other than the medium of instruction or language of teaching and learning, for development for scholarly discourse as well as official communication. The NWU already has Afrikaans and English as languages ​​of teaching and learning and two indigenous languages ​​in Setswana and Sesotho, while other tertiary-education institutions remain predominantly bilingual. We are two steps ahead.”

Through its Language Policy, the NWU is committed to ensuring that it provides a fair and functionally multilingual university language environment. Bertie Jacobs

For more information, visit: http://services.nwu.ac.za/language-directorate

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