obuesa aim project-portfolio

Overcoming Barriers to University Education in South Africa (AH/P009433/1)(8 months) (1/11/16 – extended to 31/3/18) (PI Creese, CI Blackledge, Madiba, McKinney)

This research promoted an equitable language policy and practice in university education in South Africa. ‘Overcoming Barriers to University Education in South Africa’ was a collaboration between researchers at the University of Cape Town, University of Birmingham, and Universities South Africa, a non-profit organisation representing South Africa’s public universities. The research project, funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of the Global Challenges Research Fund, generated new knowledge to inform the implementation of multilingual policy for teaching and learning in universities in South Africa. Benefits of the project were increased access to, and success in, higher education for currently disenfranchised sections of society in South Africa. The project built on and extended existing research by project researchers into translanguaging as pedagogy and multilingualism in society.

Aim: The project aimed to inform the implementation of language policy to provide wider access to, and extended success in, higher education in South Africa for currently under-represented sections of society

Objectives:  This aim was achieved by meeting the following objectives:

  1. Enhancing knowledge and understanding of translanguaging as pedagogy in higher education in South Africa.
  2. Extending lecturers’ and tutors’ knowledge and expertise in implementing translanguaging as pedagogy in higher education in South Africa.
  3. Developing policy makers’ knowledge and expertise in the development of translanguaging as pedagogy in higher education in South Africa.
  4. Developing the research capacity and international networks of ten early-career South African researchers on translanguaging.


In order to meet these objectives, several different activities were put in place.  First, the South African team (Madiba and McKinney) evaluated 3 existing ethnographically informed case studies: the mathematics white board project; the teacher education project; and, academic support in occupation therapy project.  Second, the full project team (Blackledge, Creese, Madiba, McKinney, Ngwendu) organised and ran a series of workshops at four South African universities to work with lecturers and doctoral researchers on translanguaging pedagogy as theory and practice.  Third, the project team co-convened a round table event with project partner Universities South Africa (USAf) to work with policy stakeholders and senior university management to influence language policy in South African universities. Fourth, an international summer school was held at University of Birmingham for early career researchers including 10 scholarship recipients from South Africa. Fifth, we produced two films.  The first film focused on the workshops and round table in South Africa in relation to language policy, while the second film captured the development of early career researchers at the summer school in relation to translanguaging as practice and theory.

Below we summarize the findings and point to the project’s impact:

  1. Case Study Research


Case Study One was to investigate the use of ‘natural translanguaging’ in Mathematics White Board tutorials. Maths was selected for this project because it is one of the courses that impede graduation at UCT, due to high remission. The reasons for the high failure rate range from students’ poor academic background to teaching methodology and language problems. The ‘Maths White Board project’ was initiated to address these challenges. Translanguaging was found to develop conceptual understanding of maths and deepen students’ knowledge of the subject. Translanguaging was used by proficient multilinguals who intentionally integrated local and academic discourse which enabled them to develop their own voice and to engage critically with academic concepts rather than learning definitions by rote.


Impact: Following the research, the University of Cape Town accepted the findings that translanguaging had a positive effect on the learning of mathematics.  The Maths White Board sessions were extended by UCT and further resourced. Such sessions are now integrated into the academic timetable, where they are offered daily to students rather than on Saturday mornings only.  Pass rates on the module will need to be monitored further.


Impact: UCT is reconsidering its language policy in the light of the research. Madiba and McKinney continue to work with senior university management to develop a new multilingual language policy.


Impact: The research has resulted in the development of Maths multilingual glossaries and a multilingual Maths textbook that is being compiled by a team of Maths teachers/tutors and language experts.


Case Study Two focused on a class of 25 student teachers of year 1-3 children in a course on multilingualism and multiliteracies. The course is part of a year-long Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) programme. This case study was designed as an intervention in which the multilingual lecturer (Xolisa Guzula) planned to challenge Anglonormative (McKinney, 2017) monolingual language ideologies through modelling translanguaging practices, requiring students to collaborate in order to produce work in isiXhosa, Afrikaans and English, enabling them to use their full linguistic repertoires in learning to teach.  Educational practices in South Africa which privilege English disadvantage the majority who do not speak English as a home language. Where the dominant language of instruction in South African universities continues to be English, working-class and poor black students have limited access to, and success in, higher education. An approach which offers instruction in all the official languages of South Africa opens up university education to currently disenfranchised sections of society.


Impact: Research found that through changing the normative language practices of the classroom from English to a translanguaging approach, power relations were shifted and previously marginalised students were more active in class.


Impact:  The findings have resulted in an extension to other modules in the teacher education programme. A translanguaging approach is now being adopted throughout the academic year across all modules in the Language and Literacy pedagogy course.  This exposes greater numbers of students to the theory and practice of translanguaging and means that monolingual trainee teachers are learning about the value of multilingualism as an academic resource.


Case Study Three investigated academic support tutorials in the Occupational Therapy programme.  This case study showcased the implementation of innovative pedagogic strategies in which a multilingual lecturer facilitated multilingual discussions to support teaching and learning among these students. The participants were encouraged to draw from their multilingual and other semiotic resources in discussion of occupational therapy concepts, and of the requirements for practice learning.


Impact: Linguistic resources from African languages such as isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho and Tsonga were recruited in the process of learning occupational therapy.  Initial findings show translanguaging allowed students to join in classroom discussions more confidently, and they were more able to self-confidently approach assignments.  The lecturer has disseminated this information to colleagues in Health Sciences and Education.


Impact: Translanguaging pedagogy is addressing issues of social justice pertaining to vocational training and skills-based education.


  1. Workshops


Four workshops on translanguaging as pedagogy were held for university lecturers at four universities, across a wide range of subject disciplines. McKinney, Madiba, Blackledge and Creese led the workshops, each of which attracted over 30 participants, including lecturers engaged in teacher education and training, and in teaching African languages. The workshops also included postgraduate and undergraduate students.


  • University of Cape Town: 4 May 2017 (37 participants)
  • Rhodes University: 11 May 2017 (33 participants)
  • University of Wits: 16 May 2017 (35 participants)
  • University of Limpopo: 17 May 2017 (62 participants)


Impact: Lecturers and students enhanced their expertise and knowledge in translanguaging as pedagogy. The opportunity to debate in-depth the issues around language policy in South Africa was provided.


  1. Round table


The roundtable was entitled ‘Implementing Language Policy in Higher Education’. The event was hosted by Universities South Africa (USAF) and education policy-makers in South Africa. The OBUESA team were invited to USAF’s regional meeting on 26 May 2017 at the River Club, Cape Town. Blackledge and Creese spoke to delegates about their ongoing research on translanguaging. The round table event also heard from the four different South African university scenarios.

50 senior academics and policy leaders from Universities across South Africa attended the round-table and debated translanguaging and multilingualism as a viable language policy in their own universities.


Impact: The aim of USAf is to promote an inclusive, responsive and equitable national system of higher education. USAf investigates ways in which African languages can be used in a multilingual framework to promote teaching and learning in higher education. This collaborative research project was directly and primarily relevant to current educational needs in South Africa. The project brought new research into interaction with current practice. It enabled evaluation of current practice to inform policy-making, and thereby extended teaching and learning in universities in South Africa beyond existing constituencies. Project co-investigator Madiba chairs USAF’s Community of Practice on African Languages (CoPAL) and therefore holds a persuasive and influential position to influence policy direction at USAf.


  1. International Summer School


A week-long intensive residential summer school programme, Researching Translanguaging, was held in Birmingham June 2017. The summer school developed research skills and knowledge for national and international researchers in multilingual settings. The programme was taught by scholars from the TLANG team in UK and from UCT in SA (McKinney, Madiba). Ten scholarships were provided for South African doctoral and early career researchers which covered travel and accommodation costs for a week visit to Birmingham. Forty five early career researchers from 21 countries attened.


Impact: The summer school developed an international network of researchers in translanguaging as pedagogy. The summer school sessions were filmed, and are now available on the TLANG website which provides a sustainable online resource. The outstanding evaluations of the Summer School were exceptional. Participants spoke of new knowledge, new practice and confidence to shape policy in their own national contexts. All participants including the 10 scholarship students from South Africa developed new networks, new research knowledge and expertise in translanguaging.


  1. Project Research Films


The project produced two research based films. The first film ‘Room for Maneovre: Translanguaging in South African Education’ was viewed and discussed at the USAF CoPAL meeting 13th March, 2018. It was used for tutor training workshops at the University of Cape Town. It was viewed and enthusiastically received by project team members including all the early career scholars (12 people) at the final project workshop. Participants were extremely positive about the film and committed to using it in teaching at their own institutions (University of Cape Town, University of Limpopo and Rhodes University). In 2018, the film will be shown as a catalyst for discussions on the use of translanguaging in teaching and learning at the three university sites. It will also be made available on the UCT Open Resources Website. It is too early to report on its impact.


The second film ‘Researching Translanguaging Summer School’ was made to capture the involvement of the 40 international doctoral and early career researchers taking part in a jointly coordinated TLANG and OBUESA run Summer School held at the University of Birmingham in June 2017. Blackledge, Creese, Madiba, and McKinney all contributed to teaching sessions on the Summer School.


Both films have been available on the digital stories section of the TLANG website since early 2018, where they have been viewed 216 times.



Overall the primary beneficiaries of the research programme are existing students in higher education in South Africa, students planning to enter higher education, and future generations of students in higher education. Secondary beneficiaries are children and young people in schools, as school-teachers graduated from teacher education programmes with new knowledge and skills. This programme was and continues to be timely in that it develops the knowledge and expertise of university lecturers and policy-makers in South Africa in a period of change in language policy in higher education.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: