English is the language of science

2013-05-23 00:00

WHILE I fully respect Zulu history, culture and language, I can see little advantage in science students being required to take a first-year module in Zulu unless they are to become teachers or doctors in the province. The curriculum is already full, if not overloaded, with essential components within the discipline. If students wish to learn the Zulu language, fine, but to make it compulsory, like Afrikaans in the past, makes little sense to me. Since the majority of students are Zulu speakers, can they not pass on their language and culture to non-Zulu speakers informally, when socialising or participating in sport or other extramural activities?

Indigenous languages and multiculturalism can surely be stimulated by means other than obligatory requirements. For some, learning Zulu might be seen as mental slavery rather than a ticket to an international language. The University of KwaZulu-Natal has many African staff and students from other provinces and other countries, and I wonder if they will relish being required to learn another language. Many speak two or three languages already, so they may well be inclined to pick up another one informally.

What is the practicality of the envisaged process? How will Zulu be taught to so many staff and students at UKZN? Are there sufficient people to teach Zulu or will the instruction be electronic? And the means of evaluation? Will UKZN need more staff to teach Zulu?

English is the language of science, and it is truly an international language, unlike Welsh, Afrikaans, Zulu or Buganda (the language of the province in Uganda where I once lectured at Makerere University). I know from experience that English is the language of science, having published many scientific articles and being the editor in chief of a South African journal. (Only this morning, the French Press was proposing that the French should become more fluent in English. My German colleagues already publish in English.)

According to the report in The Witness, Professor Jabulani Maphalala is quoted as saying that professors and students will pack their bags and leave the institution (UKZN), and that this is going to kill the university. However, he regards the process as a ground-breaking fairy tale. What does he mean?

During our development and growth, we are best able to learn foreign languages when we are young, therefore multi-lingualism would be best approached through primary and secondary education, rather than a module at tertiary level.

Since bilingualism at the universities of Pretoria and Stellenbosch necessitates the provision of teaching and evaluation in two languages, it requires more staff, not only in the teaching departments, but presumably in administration and other support sectors of these universities. Is UKZN sufficiently affluent to disregard such a message?

Over many years, the University of Natal/UKZN has stimulated programmes in the learning and use of English through the Science Foundation Programme and other bridging and remedial activities. This has been successful and has enabled many past graduates to teach and conduct research not only in KZN but throughout the world. A doctoral study showed that the greatest problem in achieving success in science at UKZN was proficiency in English, the current medium of instruction.

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