How Language Policy and Practice Sustains Inequality in Education

  • Nompumelelo L. MohohlwaneEmail author
Part of the Policy Implications of Research in Education book series (PIRE, volume 10)


Language in education policy is understood as an important tool of public policy to shape language practices in the education system and in society. It is also an important component of identity and power. South Africa has demonstrated an understanding of this historically throughout the various stages of the development of Afrikaans. This chapter examines the relationship between language and literacy by reviewing empirical data measuring the language disadvantage for more than 70% of South African learners receiving their education in their Home Language. Why this is a disadvantage and how it may be remedied is a contentious question. What is clear in the findings from the empirical data is that language is a factor with an impact on literacy. However, the quality of instruction in all languages, including African languages is inadequate. The roles and responsibilities of education stakeholders in shaping the language and literacy landscape is examined through the discussion of five language in education policies, namely the Constitution of South Africa, the National Education Policy Act, the South African Schools Act, the Norms and Standards for language policy in public schools, and the Language Compensation policy in the National School Certificate. A critique of these policies is provided with specific areas of improvement identified. Finally, the language and literacy inequality is examined through a lens of language and power in an attempt to make meaning of the persisting inequalities. The main conclusions are that firstly there is a clear language disadvantage for learners receiving their education in African languages in the Foundation Phase. Secondly, there is a literacy disadvantage resulting from poor schooling quality for the majority of African language speaking learners. Thirdly, there has been insufficient effort made in the last 20 years to leverage African languages for educational success.

keywords*Language policy, Language inequality, Language practice


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Basic EducationPretoriaSouth Africa

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