The word baqonde means ‘(let them) understand’ in the Nguni languages of South Africa. It is also the acronym of a new and international collaborative capacity-building project which sets out to promote the use of indigenous African languages in higher education in South Africa. Baqonde is a rallying cry for all to join hands in responding to inequalities in the educational system which frequently see students who are home-language speakers of African languages being left behind.
The University of Groningen has teamed up with other European and South African partners to find ways to help improve access to the use of African languages in HE, thus enabling all university students to reach their full potential. The Groningen team is responsible for the quality control of the overall project and participates in disseminating its aims, activities and results. The baqonde project is a collaboration with six other European and South African Higher Education Institutions: University of Salamanca (Spain), Trinity College Dublin (Ireland), North West University, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Rhodes University, and University of Western Cape (South Africa).
More generally speaking, what is at stake in this project is the further encouragement of educational best practice through intercontinental exchange, as well as the promotion of equality and inclusion of minorities in South Africa. In the South African context, students in the primary, secondary and tertiary education system are home-language speakers of languages other than English. Yet, apart from Afrikaans, indigenous African languages are still not widely used as mediums of instruction, which has a negative impact on students’ performance. South Africa’s national education authorities wish to encourage the development and use of African languages as mediums of education, but this goal has been set back by concerns of staffing, training, infrastructure, among others. The project is timely in that recent approval of the Language Policy Framework for Public Higher Education Institutions in South Africa now requires the development of indigenous African languages as medium of instruction and as languages of higher academic discourse, and highlights the critical role of universities in developing indigenous African languages. Within this policy context, baqonde provides an effective response to these priorities, by means of teacher training, developing materials and contributing to benchmarks and standards for multilingual teaching in higher education.
Mr. M. Mabizela, Chief Director, University Education Policy and Support at South Africa’s National Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) comments: “undoubtedly, the baqonde project with its aim to facilitate and promote the use of indigenous African languages as mediums of instruction at HE institutions in South Africa advances the objectives of the Language Policy Framework for Public Higher Education Institutions. The baqonde project is leading us on the path towards the restoration of dignity and parity of esteem for our indigenous languages, and that is commendable indeed. This is very encouraging indeed and is the kind of enthusiastic response we hope can be emulated by other institutions.”
Tom Koole [Professor at the University of Groningen and visiting professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa] notes that “it is good to see a project in the spirit of South African academic and activist Neville Alexander, working towards the inclusion of students with different mother tongues."
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