Contesting the monolingual practices of a bilingual to multilingual policy

September 2009
English Teaching: Practice & Critique (University of Waikato);Sep2009, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p96
Academic Journal
English has always occupied the most privileged position in the South African economy, yet legislative and material provision emphasised bilingual or trilingual education prior to political change in 1994. Educational changes since this time have been accompanied by ambiguous stances towards languages other than English in the classroom. Whilst this is not detrimental to middle-class students, it offers a chimera of access to English as the language of socio-economic goods, but it cannot facilitate epistemological access to the curriculum for 85% of students. Delays in the implementation of multilingual education policy have led to inertia across the system. However, the principal of a poor, inner-city, linguistically diverse school has sought to reinstate the use of the languages best known and used by students in the classroom. They are included in teaching and in extra- curricular activities alongside English. The innovation has been accompanied by significant changes in student positions from initial resistance to linguistically inclusive teaching, to a clarification of language rights and hence to explicit student choice of a bilingual Xhosa-English teaching and learning process. Narratives show, however, the difficulty of ensuring that written texts accompany and support languages used alongside English in the classroom in the absence of system-wide implementation. They signal, therefore, the locus for further systematic support of multilingual classrooms and also the need for longitudinal observation and data-collection for nuanced understandings of shifting positions towards the linguistic ecology, as these affect learning.


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