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Language and Racism in Schools

Posted: 07-12-2015

Alison Papenfus
Nov 2015

Language and Racism in SchoolsA few months ago a Principal phoned me in a temper. The policy of his school is to actively encourage all learners to speak English on school property, a policy endorsed by the parents. He had called the Afrikaans Educators into his office to politely ask them to speak English in the staffroom, as there had been some grumbles that they were being given special treatment. Two of the Afrikaans teachers understood and complied. The third (who is totally bilingual) sulked and resigned. Clearly, what applied to the rest of the school did not apply to her.

Earlier this year, one of the Curro Schools hit the headlines when it appeared that they were separating black and white children into different classes. The school said that the separation was on the basis of language - but unfortunately the evidence showed that, whatever their intent, in practise it led to racial segregation.

So back to teachers. What if there were a blog where the posts were all in Afrikaans? Where Heads of Schools could advertise for teachers - but only in Afrikaans. Who would visit the blog? Would the profile be purely language driven - or might it have a racial slant? No prizes for the answer. The point is this - would recruitment conducted in this manner lead to fair opportunities for all South African Educators? No prizes for that answer either.

Placements in Education was founded on the principle that the quality of work presented by a learner has nothing to do with the race of the educator, or the language of instruction, and everything to do with the quality of work that the educator will accept. Our first indication of the quality of work the educator will accept is the educator’s CV - if it is scruffy, with poor grammar and spelling we know the educator accepts poor work, and that is not the sort of educator we are looking for. If the educator answers their phone with "Elloh?" we have some questions about their skill as a communicator, an excellent teacher has to be an excellent communicator. After all the screening we have excellent educators on our Database from every South African race group. So I would hate to think that quality, qualified educators who are qualified to work in English speaking schools are being discriminated against because they don’t feel comfortable in an Afrikaans blog.

Discrimination takes many forms, it is an unwise Principal who subscribes to any of them.

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