File photo: Gcina Ndwalane


Durban - The decision to make it compulsory for students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) to learn Zulu is to be welcomed, educationists said on Thursday.

From next year all undergraduates who are not proficient in Zulu will have to register for a course to develop the skill. Those who can speak Zulu will be able to apply for an exemption. Exactly how the language is going to be taught and if it is going to be examined will be up to individual faculties and depend on the language needs of the course.

UKZN would eventually work towards becoming a dual-medium institution.

Paul Colditz, the national head of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas), said the move “was the way to go” to promote multilingualism.

Tim Gordon, the national head of the Governing Body Foundation, did not believe that UKZN’s new policy would impact much on high-school pupils’ curriculum choices.

In the long term it would encourage more schools to include an indigenous language in their academic programme, although many already did, he said.

Gordon believed UKZN’s decision supported the position that language should be taught at schools as a communication tool rather than as an examinable subject.

No South African could feel it was a bad thing to enhance the status, extent or academic standing of the country’s most widely-spoken language, he said.

Professor Mbulungeni Madiba, the deputy dean at the University of Cape Town and the co-ordinator of its multilingualism education project, said UKZN’s “bold decision” deserved praise.

It addressed the educational challenges faced by many students, and promoted social interaction and transformation, he said.

However, Madiba said, the difficulty would be in the plan’s implementation. The major challenge was getting staff and students to see the value of learning the language.

Practically, it would also prove tricky.

“There is a serious shortage of teachers who can teach African languages as additional languages. Second-language courses require small classes of at most 20 students. Thus, the courses cannot be offered en masse as is often the case with other disciplines. This raises a more practical problem of resources, which has bedevilled many well-intended language planning programmes,” Madiba added.

Professor Ruksana Osman, acting dean of humanities at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), said UKZN was to be commended, and the decision showed that diversity was valued.

The challenge was in getting all staff and students on board, and a lot depended on how well the university managed the implementation, Osman concurred.

UKZN deputy vice-chancellor Professor Renuka Vithal said on Thursday that while prospective students may not be keen to have learning another language added to their workload and could choose to study elsewhere, she believed the majority would seize the opportunity.

She said UKZN wanted both English and Zulu language proficiency to be a signature attribute of UKZN graduates, and could not see why proficiency in an African language was not yet a compulsory part of primary and high-school curricula.

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The Mercury