Accepted paper:

African intellect - key to development


Bert van Pinxteren (Leiden University)

Paper short abstract:

Current African educational systems fail in developing African talent. The use of colonial languages is a major factor in this. The paper shows that requiring these languages as currently done will become unsustainable. It proposes rational choices for developing and using African languages more.

Paper long abstract:

Average enrolment in tertiary education in Sub-Saharan Africa is one-eighth that of Europe and less than a third of that in Southeast Asia. It means that in Africa, talent is wasted - blocking development. The paper will show that as enrolment rates increase, the current requirements for foreign language mastery will become an unsustainable burden on education systems. Sooner or later, changing to African languages in major parts of the educational systems will become inevitable, something that Prah and others have consistently called for. However, as De Swaan (2001) and others have shown, there are real obstacles to such a change. In other parts of the world, knowledge of mathematics is seen as key to success. In Africa, foreign language knowledge is key to gaining status. Current elites have a vested interest in keeping it that way. African languages have a low status in society, being branded as good only for the poor and backward. Using African languages more is seen as a threat to national unity. Increased usage of African languages meets with both silent and vocal resistance on much of the continent. Yet, as the paper argues, most of these obstacles are unsustainable and can be overcome. Rational language choices and rational policies are both necessary and possible. The paper will suggest one possible way for arriving at such choices.

panel Lang01
Connections and disruptions: a sociolinguistic perspective