"It's that they participate intellectually mostly in Tshivenḓa" : indigenous multilingual education in Vhembe, South Africa : a thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of International Development, Department of People, Environment & Planning at Te Kunenga Ki Pūrehuroa – Massey University, Aotearoa New Zealand
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #4 for Quality Education is challenged by estimates that up to 40% of the world’s children do not have the capability to learn in their own language (UNESCO 2016). South Africa is addressing this by raising nine of its Indigenous languages, including Tshivenḓa, to official status and incorporating them in formal education (S.A. Const. 1996: ch.1 §6). This research aims to investigate educators’ perceptions on the role of Tshivenḓa language education in developing the capabilities of Primary School learners in Vhembe, South Africa. This builds on a large body of evidence in linguistics and multilingual education shows that children learn in a language they are familiar with and home language proficiency lays the foundation for children’s learning capabilities (Probyn 2019; Heugh et al 2019:163; Makalela 2016; Ball 2010:122; Cummins 1984; 2001:17) Ngũgĩ (1986) describes how African languages, as expressed through orature and literature, articulates the ethical, moral, and spiritual concepts of people’s evolving world-view. However, Ruiz (2010) argues that English has dominated economic justifications for language learning. This research contributes an understanding of Indigenous multilingual education from a human development perspective. A capabilities framework allows for a diverse range of ends and means to well-being rather than economic means alone. The research found that when teachers were free to respond to the diversity of their learners there was a strong role for Tshivenḓa in quality, inclusive education. Learners’ home language connected strongly with capabilities for understanding their origins and culture; connecting with family; and understanding in the classroom; learning thonifho, respect; u tshina, to dance; and in learning lungano folktales. Tshivenḓa also played a small but positive role in participation; emotions; working together and active learning in the classroom. Teachers strengthened these capabilities by code-switching through English language curriculum but only reluctantly due to DBE policy. This study finds strong capacity among teachers to develop more advanced Indigenous language education aligned with an ubuntu Translanguaging approach (Makalela 2016).