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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


BORNMAN, Elirea; PAUW, J C  and  POTGIETER, Petrus H. Attitudes and opinions regarding mother-tongue education and the choice of a university: Afrikaans-speaking students at Unisa. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2014, vol.54, n.4, pp.596-609. ISSN 2224-7912.

In this article we analyse responses from Afrikaans-speaking students at the University of South Africa (Unisa) to an Internet questionnaire, in order to gain knowledge regarding their views on mother-tongue education in higher education and factors that influenced them to make Unisa their university of choice. The questions we analyse yield information with regard to a total of2 749 respondents. We compare two groups, namely those who chose to receive instruction in their mother tongue, i.e. Afrikaans (1 393 repondents, or 50,7%), and those whose chose English as medium ofinstruction (1 314 respondents, or 47,8%). A total of 42 respondents, or 1,5%, did not respond to the question regarding their choice of language for tuition purposes. Respondents who studied in English were asked if, and to what extent, they had made use of the study material in Afrikaans. Students were also asked to respond to statements dealing with opinions on the benefits of mother-tongue education, English as language of tuition and the reasons why they chose to study at Unisa. They did this by selecting one of the options in a number offive-point Likert scale items. We discuss the social and theoretical background of the relevant phenomena. Despite the fact that the letter of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (Act No. 108 of 1996), provides for equality of languages, the status of Afrikaans as language of tuition - especially in higher education - has strongly declined since the start of the 21st century, due to various sociopolitical influences. However, whether a language will wax or wane in a particular context also depends upon the opinions, attitudes and language behaviour of the speakers of that language. Information regarding such opinions and attitudes therefore becomes pertinent. The literature points to various probable academic and personal advantages of mother-tongue instruction. In addition, mother-tongue tuition is important for the wellbeing of groups, the advancement of human rights and fostering feelings of identity and belonging. In the context of this research, the development of the academic language capabilities of individuals is of central importance. We refer to Webb (2006) who maintains that advanced skills in the mother tongue will contribute to general academic development. Likewise, Bühman and Trudell (2008) are cited, writing that mother-tongue education even contributes to a comparatively better achievement by learners in Mathematics. Although most of the research reported in the literature investigated the positive effects of mother-tongue education at school level, evidence exists that point to the fact that one may extrapolate this to university education. The question therefore arises how the opinions of Afrikaans-speaking students at Unisa support the literature findings and whether they are aware of the advantages of mother-tongue tuition. The first interesting finding was that a noteworthy number ofstudents who had chosen English as medium of tuition, nonetheless used Afrikaans study material often (27,9%) or sometimes (38,4%). Their mother tongue thus still played a part in acquiring knowledge. Secondly, the two groups (Afrikaans medium vs. English medium options) differed significantly in their views on the academic advantages of mother-tongue education at university. Students who had chosen to study in Afrikaans were significantly more sanguine about the advantages of mother-tongue education than their peers who had chosen English. This may stem from positive experiences with regard to mother-tongue education at school and university. It also makes their decision to study in Afrikaans a rational decision. Students who had chosen English as medium of instruction were evidently influenced by their views on English as a global language and the perceived advantages of English in the current South African situation. Their mean scores were higher than those of the group studying in Afrikaans in the items which state that it is better to study in English, because English is a global language, and that English provides a person with better prospects. Thirdly, for the English medium group, the choice to study at Unisa seemed to be influenced more by considerations relating to distance education and the quality of tuition than by language as a medium. However, the fact that Unisa offered tuition in Afrikaans was of comparatively high importance to the group studying in Afrikaans. Their average for this item on the five-point Likert Scale was 4,47, compared to an average of 3,86 for the English-medium respondents. We conclude by stating that the dissemination of information on the advantages of mother-tongue education is important for sustaining Afrikaans as a language of tuition in higher education.

Keywords : Mother-tongue education; Afrikaans; Language choices; Language opinions; Higher Education; Medium of instruction; Choice of a university; Unisa.

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