English-only comments distorted - Jansen

2013-10-02 13:01
Prof Jonathan Jansen (Volksblad)

Prof Jonathan Jansen (Volksblad)

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Bloemfontein - A careful argument on language in education has been distorted to create a media hype, Free State University rector Jonathan Jansen said on Wednesday.

"It still amazes me how a careful argument about language inclusivity can be seriously distorted for maximum media hype," Jansen said on his twitter account in reply to a report about a speech in September.

Afrikaans newspapers Beeld and Volksblad published front page articles on Jansen’s opinion that exclusive white Afrikaans schools and universities held a danger for race relations in South Africa.

Jansen’s comments were made while delivering the Percy Baneshik Memorial Lecture of the English Academy of South Africa on 18 September.

Mother tongue education

In his speech, Jansen said English and not Afrikaans could be the "taal van versoening" - language of reconciliation - for South Africa.

He said English could also be the one major solution for the crisis in education.

"Instruct every teacher and every child in English from the first day of school rather than add the burden of poor instruction in the mother-tongue in the foundation years to the trauma of transition to English later on."

Jansen said for many parents English was already the language of choice in schools.

The reason for this was that indigenous languages were poorly taught.

He said learning in a mother tongue was no guarantee of improved learning gains in school.

Threat to race relations

The Kovsie rector said English could be the foundation for a common language. He said he understood that the symbolism of supporting indigenous languages had a political value beyond his pragmatic reasoning.

Language differences were of themselves not contentious, but the mobilisation of languages for political purposes constituted the problem.

For this reason Afrikaans-dominant white schools and universities represented a serious threat to race relations in South Africa, he said.

"You simply cannot prepare young people for dealing with the scars of our violent past without creating optimal opportunities in the educational environment for living and learning together."

Jansen said English had levelled the playing fields in the historically Afrikaans universities for common engagement between students.

The Kovsie rector confirmed his opinion on English as a reconciliation language in a tweet on Wednesday.

"I also believe that there is no way in which young people across divisions can heal past rifts without a common language; that is English," Jansen’s tweet read.

AfriForum criticism

AfriForum on Wednesday criticised Jansen's remarks, saying his "disregard of language rights [is] a bigger danger to reconciliation than to Afrikaans".

Jansen's comments about English being used as the medium of education and the danger of so-called white, Afrikaans schools "not only raises concerns about the future of Afrikaans at the University of the Free State, but also steps into the trap of political ideology and rhetoric to the extent that he loses sight of academic and cultural rights and principles", said Alana Bailey, deputy CEO of AfriForum and deputy chair of the Afrikaans Language Board.

Mother tongue education is an internationally recognised principle, Bailey added.

"No single language can foster mutual respect and recognition by dominance. It will only be reached by the promotion of all South African languages."

- SAPA

Read more on:    ufs  |  afriforum  |  jonathan jansen  |  bloemfontein  |  culture  |  education
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