SADiLaR kicks off its language resources audit to support multilingualism in SA higher education

Author – Natalie Simon

“Language continues to be a barrier to access and success for many students at South African higher education institutions,” notes the the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) in their revised Language Policy Framework for Higher Education. This policy framework emphasises the importance of developing multilingual environments at South Africa’s public higher education institutions as part of an ongoing effort to remove barriers to access and success in higher education in our multilingual society. SADiLaR is pleased to be working closely with Universities South Africa (USAf), through its Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of African Languages (CoPAL), to support the higher education community in the effective implementation of the framework.

“Multilingualism in the academy has obvious potential,” says Professor Langa Khumalo, Executive Director of SADiLaR and CoPAL Chair. “Multilingualism in our higher education institutions will mean greater access to learning, student success, social cohesion, transformation and decoloniality.”

The policy framework was promulgated in 2020 for implementation in 2022, and mandates that universities and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges begin to take tangible steps to develop all South Africa’s 11 official languages as languages of scholarship, teaching and learning and administration.

While there is flexibility in how institutions achieve this, the policy is unambiguous in the statutory expectation that they work towards the goal of having all South Africa’s languages function equitably across the domains of higher education, including teaching and learning and administration.

The Language Resources Audit as a step towards implementation

SADiLaR, established as a dedicated research infrastructure under the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap, is uniquely positioned to support higher education institutions in the development of strategies  that will enable access to resources that are required to implement the policy. SADiLaR’s mandate is to stimulate and enable digital research and development of all South Africa’s 11 official languages, with a focus on those lesser resourced languages. 

“Implementation of this framework will require significant resources, these include language technologies like grammar editors and spell checkers, language terminologies for academic disciplines and special skills and expertise to support multilingualism,” says Khumalo. “Without these resources and a way for institutions to pool resources and share strategies and expertise, this framework will be a non-starter.”

For this reason it was decided at the USAf – CoPAL Vice Chancellors Colloquium on the New Language Policy Framework for Higher Education, hosted by the University of Stellenbosch in September 2021 that SADiLaR should conduct an audit across the higher education sphere to identify what resources are available to institutions in order to successfully implement the new policy framework.

This audit will begin later this month with two pilot visits, first to the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal and then to North West University, then it will be rolled out to all 26 universities of South Africa from August 2022 until March 2023.

The goal of the pilot visits is to begin to lay the groundwork for the audits. 

“At this stage,” explains Lebogang Boemo, Project Manager at SADiLAR, “we will be engaging with management, staff and students of the different universities to get a view of the progress that universities have made towards the implementation of the DHET’s New Language Policy Framework for Public higher Education Institutions.  

“The goal of the language audit is to get a sense of what is available, what is the state of the art across the academy,” says Khumalo. “Then we can begin to develop a strategy to fill in the gaps on the one hand, and ensure that we effectively use the resources available across the academy, so that no institution gets left behind.”