LabXchange is a Harvard initiative that aims to help the world discover science. Our digital platform makes high-quality science education accessible, connects learning to careers, and gives everyone, everywhere, the opportunity to chart a path in science—for free. One of our core goals at LabXchange is to make every person feel like they belong in science. We recognize the role language plays in cultivating this feeling of belonging and ownership, as well as assisting with subject understanding. Our recent translation of Foundational Concepts and Techniques in Biotechnology into isiZulu, South Africa’s largest language group, is one way we’re contributing to that feeling of belonging—recognizing that every language is equally worthy of discourse in science.
The project was initiated by our direct connection to South Africa through our Cape Town-based team, Learning Sandbox, and driven by a broader need for representation of African languages in science. The initial phase of the project has seen a collection of our key content translated into isiZulu, along with three shorter learning pathways aligned to the South African curriculum.
We’re proud to contribute towards science literacy in African languages by making a substantial amount of our biotechnology content available in isiZulu for the first time. Our hope is that this translation is the start of something that will offer individuals, educators, institutions, and even governments the means to empower one of South Africa’s vernacular languages. We also aim to encourage intergenerational learning; empowering mentors to link with younger students who will benefit from a bilingual resource.
We believe that by driving inclusion in science—in this case, through language—the scientific field is made stronger and richer through different lived experiences, localized knowledge and the cultural subtleties of language. We welcome feedback and invite collaboration from native language speakers, to ensure our content continues to speak to people in a way that feels familiar to them.
We’re holding the door open to the world’s science classroom, and we’re excited for the isZulu community to join us.
“Without literacy in the languages of the masses, science and technology cannot be culturally-owned by Africans.” - Prof. Kwesi Kwaa Prah Founder of the Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society (CASAS)
How did this isiZulu translation project come about? Although LabXchange is based at Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, it has close connections to South Africa through its Cape Town-based education partner, Learning Sandbox. The project is a show of support for local education efforts, and an extension of LabXchange’s purpose to help the world discover science.
Why isiZulu? isiZulu is the most widely spoken language in South Africa (25% in 2018), and yet local science literature is still dominated by English and Afrikaans. While this is primarily due to the fact that English is mostly the language of examination at high school and university level, making science content available in isiZulu will extend its reach to a broader audience. This widespread language usage, combined with LabXchange’s connection to South Africa, made it the obvious translation choice for an indigenous African language.
Why was this specific learning cluster chosen? While this is LabXchange’s first step for the translation of science content into African languages, Foundational Concepts and Techniques in Biotechnology was identified as an important group of content to start with because of its relevance in bridging the gap between varied levels of education. It is a globally relevant subject that LabXchange has already translated into 12 other languages besides English. Three additional pathways (Coronavirus: From Bats to Humans to Pandemic, Scientific Method, DNA Replication and Central Dogma) were also translated to provide final-year high school learners with supportive science resources they can use to re-engage with core concepts and bridge the gap to university.
Who is this content for? An isiZulu-speaking high school student transitioning into university will find this cluster a useful supporting resource to prepare for the higher expectations of university learning. While they’re likely to have studied science in English throughout school, this content is an opportunity to reinforce their understanding by engaging with concepts in their home language. An entry-level lab technician or related medical/science professional might use the cluster as a reference point to brush up on concepts and techniques used in the workplace. Science educators can also integrate the content into their curriculum, specifically for students who they believe would benefit from exposure to the concepts in their home language.
What level is the content pitched at? Foundational Concepts and Techniques in Biotechnology aims to support science students in a first year university setting. The three shorter pathways are more relevant as supportive content for the final year of high school in South Africa (Matric), as they touch on core concepts included in the syllabus. However, both the cluster and the pathways can act as a supporting resource for university learners who want to re-engage with topics, in order to help bridge the gap between high school and university. To increase relevance, an educator could clone a pathway and tailor it to align more closely with the CAPS curriculum by including their own content or content from outside LabXchange into their cloned pathway.
Broadly speaking, why is it important for science education resources to be available in indigenous languages? By the time a student is in their final year of high school, they’ve spent approximately 8 years learning in English (from Grade 4, aged 10). However, with such a large portion of the South African population not speaking English as their home language, it’s important to increase the availability of resources in indigenous languages—not just to support proper understanding of science (as shown by research), but to cultivate feelings of ownership and belonging in science.
How did the translation process work? Learning Sandbox, LabXchange’s local education partner, had the project management capabilities and contacts to support accurate translation into isiZulu. Learning Sandbox readied the relevant content, and employed the services of specialists in educational translation, Afrolingo, to translate into isiZulu. The translated content was then shared with the relevant teams in order for it to be uploaded to the LabXchange website. This process involved multiple layers of QA.
What other languages is Foundational Concepts and Techniques in Biotechnology available in? The Cluster is available in Arabic, Chinese (Simplified), Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Brazilian Portuguese, Latin American Spanish and Turkish.