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The Impact of Language on Educational Access in South Africa

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:18 authored by Michel Lafon
The role of Medium of Instruction (MoI) or Language of Learning and Teaching (LoL&T) has not received sufficient attention as a factor denying meaningful access to education in South Africa. Yet the majority of under-performing learners are also children who learn in a language that is not their mother-tongue. This research aims to assess how recent language policies have changed the linguistic practices of schools and how this impacts on 'meaningful' access (understood as learners' access to the curriculum and therefore broad content knowledge). Interviews and open discussions were conducted with principals, teachers and parents from various township schools located in Mlazi (KwaZulu Natal) and in Soweto and Attridgeville (Gauteng) to illustrate the problems. The paper unpicks the different solutions - taken and proposed – to the disjuncture between MoI and meaningful access, whilst taking into account the legacy of past policies. Several proposals have been made to improve educational outcomes within the existing policy regarding medium of instruction (MoI) and language in general. Other proposals, in order to give transformation in education more immediate and concrete content, seek to exploit to its limit, or even alter, the official framework. They claim that such a move is a condition to reverse the overall poor outcome among learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. The MoI issue has sometimes been invoked in the debate on the relevance in societies of the periphery of what some see as essentially a Western educational model, a debate that the African renaissance ideology has helped rekindle in South Africa.


Publication status

  • Published


Sussex University Press



Place of publication

Brighton, UK

Department affiliated with

  • Education Publications


University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

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