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Durban - Zulu-speaking physics students have mixed feelings about being taught in their mother tongue at university, recent research has revealed.
While most undergraduates surveyed for the study believed that having Zulu-speaking tutors translated to better grades, more than half preferred writing their exams in English.
The research, authored by University of KwaZulu-Natal academic Naven Chetty, suggests that a Zulu physics textbook be developed to provide a standard and uniform use of physics terminology, but that lectures remain in English.
The study aimed to determine the feasibility of teaching first-year physics in Zulu at UKZN which is in the process of formulating a language policy to introduce teaching and learning in Zulu.
Thirty-nine questions were put to Zulu-speaking students.
Seventy-nine percent of students said they had access to libraries and laboratories for the first time at university - leading to problems misconstrued as being language related.
The respondents explained that they battled to use equipment and follow laboratory protocols because they had not been exposed to them at school.
“The reasons for their lack of knowledge are not interrogated by (laboratory) instructors and the easier assumption is that a language barrier is the cause. Thus instructors may be motivating for teaching in Zulu under a false assumption that it will address the primary problems described above,” the study states.
Ten percent of students cited the language barrier as the primary reason why they found it difficult to cope with university-level physics.
Nearly 85 percent believed that they would better understand the work if they could ask questions in Zulu when conducting laboratory work, but have them answered in English.
Less than half (49 percent) of students agreed that being taught in Zulu would make physics easier to understand and improve their grades, while 40 percent said that it would be of no help because they had been communicating in English since primary school.
Asked if being taught in Zulu at university was necessary, half said it was not - instead saying that students who spoke English poorly should strive to become proficient in the language.