Language matters in a rural commercial farm community : exploring language use and implementation of the language-in-education policy.
The release of the Language-in-Education Policy (LiEP) in July 1997 marked a fundamental and almost radical break from the state-driven language policy of the apartheid government, to one that recognizes cultural diversity as a national asset, the development and promotion of eleven official languages and gave individuals the right to choose the language of learning and teaching (DoE, 1997: 2-3). The LiEP aimed at providing a framework to enable schools to formulate appropriate school language policies that align with the intentions of the new policy, namely, to maintain home language(s) while providing access to the effective acquisition of additional language(s) and to promote multilingualism. This research explores language use and implementation of the LiEP in a rural commercial farm community. The study is guided by three research questions, namely: 1. What is the language use and preference of a selected rural commercial farm community? 2. How do teachers on rural commercial farm schools respond to the LiEP and its implementation? 3. What are the implications of the language preference and use of a selected rural commercial farm community and teachers’ responses to the LiEP and its implementation for language practice at rural commercial farm schools? After reviewing literature on rurality and language policy implementation in South Africa, the study articulated a broader contextual framework which is titled Rurality as a sense of place. This perspective captures the uniqueness of the context and facilitates a deep understanding of how rurality as a sense of place influences language preference and use. A further theoretical framework, namely the combined models of Stern (1983) and Sookrajh (1999), facilitate an understanding of rural community language preference and the implications for practice in the school environment. xiv To achieve the aims of the study, both quantitative and qualitative methods were used to collect data. A language preference and use survey questionnaire was conducted with respondents comprising parents, teachers and learners. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with selected teachers and principals and school governing body chairpersons. The findings were inter-related at the policy, community and school levels. The study identified patterns and problems of language use at different levels. At a community level, it focused on language profiles of parents teachers and learners; language use in private and public situations; attitudes towards public language policy and language choices in the language of teaching and learning as well as the use of mother-tongue and additional languages as subjects. At the school level, it focused on teacher and principals’ beliefs and understandings of the LiEP and implementation challenges being faced. The study found that while most respondents come from multilingual backgrounds, the use of African languages is confined to “home and hearth.” English and to a diminished extent, Afrikaans is still widely used in public interactions. At school level, there has been no significant change to school language policy developments. The subtractive model of language teaching where mother-tongue is used in the early grades and an abrupt transfer to English as the language of learning and teaching from grade four onwards continues to exist in three of the four schools. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that English is not widely used in the rural community and learners have no exposure to quality English language interactions. This study recommends a market-oriented approach to promoting African languages which effectively involves all stakeholders participating in concert to implement the multilingual policy. Since English remains the dominant language in South Africa and is viewed as the language of opportunity, the language of international communication, the language of economic power, and the language of science and technology, schools should promote education that uses learners’ home languages for learning, while at the same time providing access to quality English language teaching and learning.