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Academic Paper

Title: Multilingual Education Policy in South Africa Constrained by Theoretical and Historical Disconnections
Author: Kathleen Heugh
Linguistic Field: Applied Linguistics; Sociolinguistics
Subject Language: English
Abstract: Multilingual education policy has been a controversial affair in South Africa, especially over the last 60 years. Recent research conducted by government-led and independent agencies shows declining student achievement within an education system that employs 11 home languages for education in the first three grades of primary school, followed by a transition to English medium for the majority (approximately 80%) of speakers of African languages. Research that focuses on the linguistic practices of students in urban settings suggests that there is a disjuncture between the construction of multilingualism within contemporary education policy and the multilingual reality of students (e.g., Heugh, 2003; Makoni, 2003; Makoni & Pennycook, 2012; Plüddemann, 2013; Probyn, 2009; Stroud & Heugh, 2011). There is also a disjunction between constitutional and other government policies that advance, on paper, a multilingual policy, yet are implemented through an assimilatory drive towards English (Alexander & Heugh, 1999). As predicted nearly two decades ago, the ideological framing of multilingualism during the negotiations in the early 1990s was to have consequences for the way in which language policy would unfold in the education sector over the next 20 to 30 years (Heugh, 1995, 1999). While poor student achievement in school may be ascribed to a range of socioeconomic indicators, this article draws attention to contributory factors that relate to language(s) in education. These include different constructions of multilingualism in education in relation to sociolinguistic and educational linguistic considerations, contradictory interpretations of multilingual education in a series of education policy documents, pedagogical weaknesses, and recent attempts to strengthen the provision of African languages education alongside English in the first 10 years of school (Grades R and 0–9; e.g., Department of Basic Education (DBE), 2013a, 2013b).


This article appears IN Annual Review of Applied Linguistics Vol. 33, Issue 1, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .

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