Mtshali, Khondlo (2017). 'Language of instruction, poverty, capabilities, and development: The South African case study' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


In 2015 and 2016 South Africa experienced several students’ protests some of which were centered on the language of instruction. In at least two South African universities, the issue of contestation is whether these universities should have one medium of instruction, namely English, or more than one media of instruction. These struggles re-ignite the debate of the role of language in development. Relying on primary and secondary data sources, this essay will commence with the discussion of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s articulation of language as a means of communication and a bearer of culture. This paper will then discuss the role of language of instruction as a conversion mechanism, that is, a mechanism that facilitates the conversion of educational instructions into expertise. The paper will argue that in post-colonial countries such as South Africa, the languages of former colonizing countries play an obstructive role as they hinder the acquisition of skills. This paper will further argue that the use of the languages of former colonizing countries exacerbates inequalities and consequently contribute to deprivation of capabilities and increased poverty. As an antidote, this essay will advocate for the adoption of mother tongue as the language of instruction. I will argue that this measure will facilitate the acquisition of knowledge and expertise, reduce inequalities and poverty, and expand capabilities and development. 

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