Jan 9, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

A recent court ruling in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria is being celebrated as a victory for advocates of mother tongue education in rural areas of South Africa, as recently reported by GroundUp. Here’s a closer look at this development, along with why insiders say it’s important.

A Controversial Case

According to GroundUp, the Fundza Lushaka bursary scheme offered by the Department of Basic Education provides scholarship funding covering tuition, housing, and living expenses to graduate and postgraduate students pursuing education degrees and certificates. Its aim? To support students specializing in priority areas including mathematics, technology, and the natural sciences.

With preference for funding given to students who intend to specialize in teaching indigenous languages in rural areas and are willing to commit to teaching at any Department of Education-appointed public school, the scheme was challenged as unconstitutional “on the basis that it infringes the rights to further education and equality of white students,” reports GroundUp.

The Department of Basic Education, meanwhile, countered that the scheme was justifiable for several reasons, including the detrimental impact of the current shortage of qualified teachers on African language learners; research indicating that applicants from rural areas are more likely to return to teach in rural regions than their urban counterparts; and the scheme’s role in promoting a culture of multilingualism within the school system.

The Court Weighs In

Explains GroundUp, “In finding for the Department, the Court pointed out that under the Constitution everyone has a right to basic education. Unlike the right to further education, this right is “immediately realizable” and not contingent on available state resources. Furthermore, everyone has a right to receive education in the language of one’s choice. The Court therefore found that the bursary scheme was not only consistent with these two rights, but aimed to give effect to them.”

In other words, the case was ultimately not about the rights of white applicants to education, but instead about children’s rights to basic education.

Concludes GroundUp, “This judgment is important for at least two reasons. First, it re-affirms the importance of a learner receiving mother tongue education at the foundation phase…..Second, the judgment is a reminder that at times transformation will require inconvenience to certain communities, in order to address the enduring legacy of apartheid and inequality in our school system.”

Read more about studying law in South Africa.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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