Tuesday, 3 July 2012

South Sudan students fight over outlawed language

This first appeared in the EL Gazette of April 2012

A FIGHT broke out in February over whether higher education should continue in ‘Arabic pattern’ (Arabic medium) or English at Bahr El Ghazal University in the newly independent east African nation of South Sudan, with two students ending up in hospital.

South Sudan’s first constitution last year outlawed Arabic and introduced English as the only language of education. Bahr El Ghazal was one of several South Sudanese universities exiled to the Arabic-speaking North during the conflict that resulted in South Sudan’s independence. It recently relocated to South Sudan, bringing with it many students who had started their degrees in Arabic. In practice, some Bahr El Ghazal faculties still offer Arabic-medium courses.

NGO the Gurtong Trust Peace and Media Project reported that leaflets said to be produced by the university started circulating in February urging students from other universities to transfer to Bahr El Ghazal to continue their studies in Arabic.

Then a lecturer told his Arabic-medium social sciences class he’d henceforth be teaching in English, asking Arabic-speaking students to ‘seek assistance’ in following his lectures. When some students ‘stormed out’, students from the English-medium course came to see what was happening. To everyone’s surprise, a fight broke out between Arabic-medium and English-medium social sciences year-two students, which ended with two students treated for serious injuries in the nearby Wau teaching hospital.

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