Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of African Languages remains determined to achieve more in 2022

Published On: 11 May 2022|

Universities South Africa’s Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of African Languages (CoPAL) has put together an elaborate plan of action aiming to realise tangible outcomes for 2022.

CoPAL members agreed at their first meeting for the year to steer the conversation in 2022 towards the implementation of the Language Policy Framework for Public Higher Education institutions, which was finalised in 2021 and came into effect in January 2022.

2021 Milestones

Professor Langa Khumalo (left), Chairperson of CoPAL and Executive Director at the North-West University-based South African Centre for Digital Language Resources (SADiLaR), said that in 2021 CoPAL succeeded in shifting the discourse on African Languages and multilingualism at public universities from the periphery to the core of the educational and transformative agenda. CoPAL achieved this through multiple activities which are outlined below.

Firstly, CoPAL, through its scheduled engagements and advocacy programme of 2021, shared ideas and enabled institutions to appreciate and understand the requirements of the revised Language Policy Framework, thus bringing the institutions closer to implementing it.

Secondly, in collaboration with USAf and Stellenbosch University, CoPAL successfully convened vice-chancellors and university executives, policymakers from the Department of Higher Education and Training, the Department of Science and Innovation as well as the Pan South African Languages Board, at the first VCs’ Language Colloquium which took place on the 28th and 29th of September.

“Over one and a half days, universities’ senior leadership discussed transforming the academy from monolingual/ bilingual to multilingual institutions by providing enabling language policies that articulate very clearly how we are going to outlay multilingualism in teaching and learning, in research, administration, in fact in all facets of university life,” Professor Khumalo said.

Thirdly, in October 2021 CoPAL was part of the second Higher Education Conference where Professor Khumalo chaired the Transformed University session and engaged attendees on how language and multilingualism in teaching and learning enables the transformation of a university.

Challenges

The Deputy Chairperson of CoPAL, Professor Nokhanyo Mdzanga (left), who is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at Nelson Mandela University, said not all universities actively participate in CoPAL. She also mentioned that some universities did not even know that CoPAL exists. The latter challenge was revealed during a language symposium hosted by the Durban University of Technology (DUT) where issues which were addressed at CoPAL meetings were raised again because DUT was not part of CoPAL.  She said the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Engagement at DUT had since nominated two people to represent the institution.

“We need to strengthen our network,” Professor Mdzanga said, expressing a need to attract universities of technology into this CoP. She also mentioned that some institutions that were initially active in CoPAL had stopped doing so when the individuals who had been participating actively left to join other institutions. Examples cited were the University of Cape Town, the University of the Western Cape and the University of the Witwatersrand.

Professor Mdzanga added that another glaring challenge was that some institutions which are represented in the CoPAL do not have language policies in place, yet.

Towards strengthening CoPAL in 2022

In 2022, CoPAL will prioritise engaging the universities’ senior leadership and continue impressing upon them the importance of being represented in CoPAL. The community’s physical meetings will be hosted at the institutions that are yet to finalise language policies so that parallel meetings to discuss their policies can be arranged.

The first meeting of 2022 took place on the 23rd of March and was hosted by the University of Mpumalanga (UMP). UMP’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Thoko Mayekiso, Professor Moses Mbewe, Dean of Agriculture and Natural Sciences, and Professor Calvin Gwandure, Head of the School of Social Sciences in their opening remarks said that the university is committed to multilingualism (isiNdebele, Siswati and Sepedi). Professor Mbewe said UMP was in the early days of developing their language policy with the new Language Policy Framework for Higher Education Institutions in mind.

Already offering IsiNdebele, Siswati, Sepedi, and currently introducing IsiTsonga in the curriculum, the University of Mpumalanga is committed to multilingualism – Professor Thoko Mayekiso, Vice-Chancellor and Principal (second from left, above), assured members of CoPAL as she welcomed them to her main campus in Mbombela on 23 March. To the VC’s right is Ms Janet van Rhyn, Project Manager in USAf’s Directorate: Operations and Sector Support and convenor of CoPAL and other USAf groups. To her left are the current CoPAL office bearers.
CoPAL members who attended the meeting of 23 March in person. Up to 40 other members attended online.

As part of their plans for 2022, CoPAL will seek to establish collaboration with the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), an organisation mandated to promote multilingualism, to develop the 11 official languages, and to protect language rights in South Africa.

Second Vice-Chancellors’ Language Colloquium coming up

CoPAL is currently planning the second Vice Chancellor’s Colloquium which will be hosted by the University of Pretoria from the 1st to the 2nd of September.  Professor Khumalo said CoPAL would, among other matters, use this platform to assess what language resources are available to give effect to the implementation of multilingualism across the academy. He said the Colloquium would place on record for the Department of Higher Education and Training, that commitment is in place to implement the Language Policy Framework but also underline even more emphatically, the need to resource the sector better to turn this commitment into reality.

Professor Khumalo said his institution, SADiLaR, is embarking on a language resources audit on all SA universities as decided in last year’s colloquium, and will give an update on the audit at this year’s colloquium. The audit will indicate where the gaps are, and “how we can harness these resources so that they can profit the entire academy.”

2022 year-end meeting at North-West University

The final CoPAL meeting of 2022 will be hosted by the North-West University (NWU) in October. In this meeting, CoPAL members will hear how the university is implementing the revised language policy framework. Other institutions will also have the platform to share their own successes and challenges from implementing the new language policy framework. A new chair and deputy for 2023-2024 will be nominated at this meeting.

Co-written by Gillian Anstey, a contract writer for Universities South Africa, and
‘Mateboho Green, USAf’s Manager: Corporate Communication