Change the world


In grappling with the decolonisation of teacher education, Professor Nokhanyo Nomakhwezi Mayaba’s concern is whether or not curriculum developers invest issues of language – which she believes to be at the heart of the curriculum – with thought and ingenuity.

She says, “What I think we continue to get wrong is to imagine that we can talk about a curriculum without paying attention to issues of language and their political and economic dimensions.” She believes that colonial constructs are still at the heart of teacher education curricula because they are institutionalised at universities. In relation to language, for instance, English is the language of learning and teaching (LOLT) at most universities in South Africa. As such, a student whose African language is marginalised in primary education enters a university system that perpetuates the same process.

Quoting a paper in the South African Journal of Childhood Education titled “Mama doesn’t speak that (language) to me: indigenous languages, educational opportunity and black African pre-schoolers”, by Professor Vuyisile Msila, of the

University of South Africa, Prof Mayaba says: “Black parents have expressed a desire for their children to learn English, as it is viewed as a language of opportunity, yet they are not aware of the cultural, cognitive and pedagogical implications of learning in an additional language.” She continues, “if decolonial imperatives are efforts to address the ‘parity   of esteem’ of languages and to identify discourses and structures that undergird social injustices, then the historical legacies associated with university language policies need to be addressed. These factors have implications for teacher education and how we educate student teachers.”

In preparing student teachers, she asks the following questions:

  • How do faculties of education capacitate student teachers to engage with the language realities of   classroom contexts in which they are going to teach?
  • How can teacher education empower student teachers to question and disrupt the                constructions of language ideologies and assumptions which perpetuate social injustice and marginalisation of African languages in particular?

Her interest in this field of study emerged as a result of teaching an isiXhosa conversational module to non-mother tongue speakers of the language, and from observing these student teachers in multilingual Foundation Phase classrooms.

In South African schools, learners in the Foundation Phase are taught in their home languages. In private and former white schools, the LOLT is English: a language many young learners have not yet acquired. “During teaching practice I observed that learners in the Foundation Phase often respond to  teachers’  questions in their home language, either Afrikaans or isiXhosa”. This poses challenges to English- and Afrikaans- speaking student teachers who are not competent in African languages – in this case, isiXhosa.

Prof Mayaba continues, “Currently English- and Afrikaans- speaking students register for an isiXhosa conversational module to assist them to engage with isiXhosa- speaking learners during teaching practice. However, I noticed that my students are not able to ‘border crosses between their own language repertoires and learners’ home languages, especially isiXhosa, despite taking a course which is supposed to enable them to use isiXhosa whenever the need arises.”

The student teachers have expressed their concern about their unpreparedness in using isiXhosa whilst teaching in multilingual contexts. This needs to be addressed, as research on classroom discourse indicates that the quality of communication between teachers and learners is essential in knowledge construction.

“There is a reasonable argument for English being the preferred LOLT in most South African schools, but, as the University of Cape Town’s Dr Carolyn McKinney, in her 2017 book Language and Power in Postcolonial Schooling: ideologies in practice, says, ‘the real language problem in schooling is that monolingual ideologies teach children to devalue the non-English languages they bring with them to schools and continue to use on daily basis’.”

At the 4th International Conference on Language and Literacy Education at Wits University in 2017, Prof Mayaba presented a paper on the redesign of the isiXhosa teaching module for non-

IsiXhosa speakers, in which she reflected, “My research strongly indicates that the teaching approach needs to be far more practically conversational, and that the current one-year isiXhosa course in the four-year Foundation Phase student degree is completely insufficient. Far more time is needed for non- mother tongue isiXhosa speakers to become more comfortable with speaking and understanding the language.”

As a result of these findings, Prof Mayaba and the Faculty of Education took action. From 2019, the redesigned isiXhosa module will be taught over the full four years of the Foundation Phase teaching degree.

“This will significantly benefit both the learners and the teachers,” she says. “Not to do so, would be to deny Foundation Phase learners in multilingual classrooms the opportunity of getting learning support through their mother tongue.  If education in general is to embrace a decolonised, humanising pedagogy, we are compelled to foreground African languages in the Foundation Phase teacher preparation curriculum, in order to develop a new generation of teachers who use African languages in the classroom.” She adds, “This is all the more critical given the growing number of English- and/or Afrikaans-speaking student teachers who will eventually teach in multilingual classrooms”.

Contact information
Prof Nokhanyo Mdzanga
Associate Professor
Tel: 041 504 4564