"How can you build a strong house with a broken foundation?": Our readers respond to English support at tertiary level


We recently published an article on our site about the need for comprehensive academic support for students at SA universities, particularly if English – the language most, if not all universities largely teach in – isn’t their first language.

Savo Heleta, Manager of Internationalisation at Home and Research at Nelson Mandela University, wrote about his own experiences as a non-English speaking student in the USA, and continued: “Over the years in South Africa, I have heard many accounts of similar struggles experienced by South African students whose first language isn’t English. They all speak about the inability to engage in English, to cope, follow lectures. They, too, often think that they are not good enough to be at the university.”

Heleta suggested we invest in programmes that bolster student success, referring to the importance of his own English language class which he attended in his first year at university. “We must stop expecting first-year students – many of whom come from public schools and whose first language isn’t English – to somehow figure out how to cope with the rigorous demands of any university degree without genuine, committed support.”

Our readers had quite a bit to say, some agreeing while others offered alternate solutions for students struggling at tertiary level:

“Students should learn in their home languages”

But English is "a universal language"

Francis continues, "... fluent in English. English fluency should be the goal being strived towards and not regarded as an obstacle to be avoided. That is unless you feel that participation in the global economy is not for you."

Justice W Kapiya continues, "Most people will learn to speak fluent English the day they realise that in order to catch more fish, you have to cast your net wider. What I'm saying is you don't need to only be employed in SA, but anywhere in the world."

"How can you build a strong house with a broken foundation?"

"They need the extra time just to cope with the language"

But many still came to the conclusion that without having a good understanding of the English language, things do become somewhat challenging, and support and understanding from institutions is therefore vital in helping students succeed.

Thus, Melanie Askeland continues, "...came from bantu education schools. They were given a 'catch up year' filling in gaps that would hinder them at university. After that these youngsters did as well as other students. Why not a gap year for our university students who don't have English competency at the level needed?"

She continues, "A few years ago I watched a student with what seemed like insufficient English write an international exam along with the others who had been in my class all week. The others finished well before the time allowed. He sat there working away at it slowly (extra 15 minutes for students whose home language wasn't English). At the end he had passed well, but he NEEDED the extra time just to cope with the language. He certainly wasn't in any way stupid."

Do you agree or disagree that students should be given English support at tertiary level? Tell us by commenting below or emailing chatback@parent24.com and we may publish your comments.

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