What follows the Joint Colloquium of Mathematicians, Linguists and Education Deans?

Published On: 30 August 2023|

The Joint Colloquium on Multilingualism in the teaching and learning of Mathematics in Higher Education –Enhancing Success achieved its intended objectives with success, says the Director: Operations and Sector Support at Universities South Africa (USAf), Mr Chief Mahlubi Mabizela (below).

His directorate, which convenes and co-ordinates all engagements of USAf’s communities of practice and strategy groups, had organised the recent first joint colloquium of the Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of African Languages (CoPAL), the Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics (TLM CoP) and the Education Deans’ Forum (EDF). The meeting was hosted from Stellenbosch University’s Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) on 17 August.

The idea was to facilitate collaboration and exchange of ideas among the three groups as part of exploring the intersection of multilingualism and mathematics education. Through this collaboration, the colloquium aimed to identify and encourage the development of innovative teaching strategies that bring out the strengths of multilingualism and interdisciplinary learning to enhance the quality of mathematics education.

By fostering this interdisciplinary dialogue, the Colloquium was seeking to advance knowledge and understanding of how multilingualism can be effectively integrated into mathematics education, and teacher education, ultimately benefiting students and educators alike.

Mabizela said the one-day meeting saw the senior academics and at least one policy maker deliberating on multilingualism from numerous perspectives, while also interrogating mathematics as a language.  “Then we spoke about policy, making history and how we should be learning from all of that, for pedagogies.

CoPAL, TLM CoP and the EDF take the process forward

“The ball is now in the court of our three participating groups. They each need to interrogate what came out of the Colloquium from their distinct perspectives and identify a plan of action to enhance mathematics teaching and teacher education in pursuit of the broad aim of the Language Policy Framework for Higher Education Institutions. Once their thoughts and plans are solidified on the way forward, they will share them and continue to collaborate where feasible. “A collaborative effort stands to generate bigger impact than actions taken in isolation,” Mabizela said.

History in the making

Speaking from the Colloquium, Professor Lolie Makhubu-Badenhorst, Associate Professor and Director of the Multilingualism Education Project (MEP) located in the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED) of the University of Cape Town, who is the Deputy Chairperson of USAf’s CoPAL and Chairperson of the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), said the Joint Colloquium was history in the making. This was the first time ever, that three CoPs had met in this fashion. She added that hosting the meeting at Stellenbosch University had given them a glimpse into how that institution had gotten it right, “when we’re all still struggling at our institutions.”

The one concern that Professor Makhubu-Badenhorst (right) voiced at the close of this Colloquium was that “we are advocating for multilingualism, yet we continue to engage unilingually at these meetings when we have institutions so well resourced in interpretation services and infrastructure.”

She nonetheless commended the speakers at the Colloquium for leading thought-provoking  deliberations, and extended her gratitude to the organising team, the sound engineer and the USAf officials for their support services.

Professor Makhubu reminded the delegates of the upcoming third and final round of Vice-Chancellors’ Colloquium scheduled for 5 to 6 December 2023. This year, the VCs’ Colloquium would be hosted from the University of KwaZulu-Nata, she added, inviting everyone to attend.

Other discussions that arose from especially the opening session of the Colloquium, that have not been reported on elsewhere, are shared in edited form below.


Professor Mbulungeni Madiba, Dean in the Faculty of Education of Stellenbosch University, and a member of both the CoPAL and the EDF said it is concerning that the Funza Lushaka Bursary Programme [of the Department of Basic Education (DBE)for students wishing to pursue B.Ed or the Postgraduate Certificate in Education] requires only a mathematics pass in students aspiring to teach technical subjects – instead of a combination of mathematics and an African Language. He said the bursary ends up benefiting mainly white students. “This is one area we need to look at.”

In the absence of representation form the DBE, no response was offered in this regard.

Professor Nobuhle Hlongwa, Chairperson of the CoP for the Teaching and Learning of African Languages and the Dean & Head of School of Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal commendedDr Marcia Socikwa, the DHETDDG, for asking what she called a very pertinent question of why Afrikaners promoted Afrikaans without monetary incentives. “Their identity was linked to the whole agenda of promoting their language; they even did it through NGOs,” she said. “Considering that we always say we need to learn from that experience, we should have gone far in the years we’ve had since 1994.  We should also have NGOs operating in this area.”

Professor Percy Sepeng (left), a full Professor of Mathematics Education from Sol Plaatje University commented: There’s an elephant in the room: the absence of political and academic leadership will to implement this [Language Policy Framework]. When I finished my Phd in 2017, CoP chairs were already speaking of these challenges. If we have a dean without a clue of an African language, how can we expect this [cause] to succeed?  As a professor I see myself as an implementor, but my hands are tied without political and academic leadership support.  In the absence of DVCs (I see only one participating here), the decision makers are not here, and that is concerning. I am also concerned that no one monitors and evaluates progress in this space. We need to be more deliberate on this issue.

Dr Tebogo Rakgogo, a Language Lecturer at the Tshwane University of Technology said he saw things differently, arguing that there wasmaximum support in the system, “but we also have a role to play. How many institutions established a language committee to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the Language Policy Framework?”

Mr Khumbulani Mngadi (right), Acting Director at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Language Planning and Development Office, also commented on the point made by  Professor Kakoma Luneta in his keynote address, onthe negative attitudes of mathematics teachers in basic schooling, on indigenous languages. Expressing concern over what he called the lack of interface between the departments of Basic and Higher Education, he said “they should be working together to advance this cause. We need a national awareness campaign to conscientise teachers and school governing bodies on multilingualism. Intentional language campaigns on public platforms should educate the nation and change mindsets.”

Professor Mogege Mosimege, a Professor of Mathematics Education and Head of the School of Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Technology Education in the Faculty of Education at the University of the Free State: “There is a serious disjuncture between what basic and higher education say on this matter. Until we contextualise mathematics in our culture, we are not going anywhere. We are our own worst enemies. Those of us who train teachers are also culprits.”

Dr Frikkie George, a Mathematics and Physics lecturer at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, directed a question at Professor Luneta who, in his keynote address, had demonstrated the value of using African cultural artefacts to illustrate and explain mathematical concepts. He asked: “Are these practices reflected in the assessment? How does South Africa compare with other countries that you’ve been involved in?”

Professor Kakoma Luneta (left) from the Faculty of Education at the University of Johannesburg, responded:  All assessment is in English. Very few countries incorporate indigenous languages in assessment except Ethiopia, which assesses in Amharic, even though that is not totally inclusive because not everyone speaks Amharic in that country. Cultural identities will always remain; we just need to deliberately structure multilingual classrooms.

Professor Winston Hendricks, Senior Lecturer in Mathematics Education at the University of Fort Hare, also channeled a question at Professor Luneta: When we say mathematics language is universal, in what context is that statement framed?

Professor Luneta: We say that because every language is mathematics inclined. We all count. We all have an innate propensity to mathematise.  Every society mathematises, including animals, when you think of how a bird will pick and carry single grains. A Venda child will understand mathematics better when taught in Venda, and so will a Zulu child in isiZulu.  Everyone knows that one is one in any language. We only differ in the number systems.

To an earlier statement by Dr Socikwa, about the joint colloquium preaching to the converted, Professor Makhubu-Badenhorst responded: “We may be preaching to the converted, but the participants grow with every exposure to this discourse because they are dynamic. Over time, the word will spread.”  Professor Makhubu-Badenhorst is also the Deputy Chairperson of USAf’s CoPAL and Chairperson of the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB).

In closing, Mabizela from USAf said having listened to all the speakers he was now convinced that, had he been taught mathematics from a cultural perspective, he probably would have ended up somewhere else – “up there in the galaxy.”

‘Mateboho Green is the Manager: Corporate Communications at Universities SA.