The need for improving vernacular languages for use in higher education – An opinion piece

“Would that make any difference”

I was expected to understand everything but the obstacle was the undisputed fact, the curriculum was in a “foreign” language.

How I wish that Pythagoras, Parabola or even the value of X were taught in my mother tongue or should I say, vernacular languages? No doubt, I could have ace’d all of my grades and surely earned the scholarship that I desperately needed. Instead, I got straight F’s and some of my colleagues got HH, and we were labelled “dommies”.

My ‘kind’ are perceived as hopeless. Without a future. I mean, a successful person should be someone with intellectual capability, someone who can converse with ease and confidence enough to inspire and motivate others. The truth of the matter is that few of my ‘kind’ could be ‘intellectual’.

This trend continued to the next generation, like an uncured disease. I remember marking a grade 10 Economics exam, for a township school of course. One question was, “What is an unprotected strike?” The confusion in the answers was overwhelming. One leaner answered, “it is when people strike (protest) and ‘the’ are no police to ‘safe’ them”. Another went on to say “you will get injured if go to the strike”. I hid behind the red pen in my hand. I am sure that the answers given by the students who were taught in their mother tongue, be it Afrikaans or English, made a lot more sense.

I reminisced about my own school days. Coming from a township school myself, I could relate to these students. We were taught everything in our language, even Afrikaans and English were also taught in our vernacular languages. How so? Ask any student from a township school, you will find out how. The sad truth was; many had problems just understanding the exam papers, especially during the matric exams. I turned, and turned, and turned the exam paper and there was no Xhosa or Zulu translations, only Afrikaans and English. The two languages that were given to represent ‘vernac’. I had no chance, it was a day from hell.

#Afrikaans must fall or #English must fall, that is not what I am saying. The moral of this article is a plea that we all should be catered for, in higher education starting from entry phase. We call ourselves a ‘rainbow nation’, we also have 11 official languages. 11 languages that have the same status and therefore must be represented equally. We need text books, notes and all educational resources available in our languages, the vernacular languages.

Would that improve the performance of our education which is in a dire state? It definitely would. For instance; which high schools have best results in our country, English/Afrikaans or vernac/township schools? Or, from which schools do students receive most merits, English/Afrikaans or vernac/township schools? To both questions the answer is; students from English/ Afrikaans schools and those model “C” students. Varsities are no exception .

If only Boyle’s Law, force of gravity or even sigma was translated into isiXhosa, I could have aced my grades and gotten that scholarship and could have been to the moon by now, but all that was given in a language I could not understand. My dreams and hopes were hindered.

Instead of #Afrikaans must fall, I say; #Xhosa, #Zulu, #Venda, #Tswana, #Tsonga, #Swati, #Sotho, #Pedi, #Ndebele must RISE and be used in higher education.

But, This is just my humble opinion nje!

Lunga Ndleleni

BANGULA Language Specialist