Language of instruction in Tanzanian schools continue to draw debate

Students in class. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • For decades Kiswahili has been used as the language of instruction from the pre-school to primary level education, with English being the language of instruction from secondary level education (O-Level) to tertiary level.

Dar es Salaam. Education stakeholders yet again engaged in a heated debate yesterday over which language (Kiswahili or English) should be used for instruction in schools at a time when collection of views to improve education quality is ongoing.

For decades Kiswahili has been used as the language of instruction from the pre-school to primary level education, with English being the language of instruction from secondary level education (O-Level) to tertiary level.

This situation, according to education stakeholders, has been causing confusion among students who start primary school in Kiswahili as a language of instruction but are forced to get used to English as the language of instruction once they join secondary education.

Experts are currently debating in arguments that will lead to a lasting decision for which of the two languages should be used in teaching across all levels of education, and yesterday’s conference became colourful on this aspect.

While a group led by Mwalimu Richard Mabala, Prof Martha Qorro, Prof Humphrey Moshi and Prof Aldin Mutembei emphasized the use of Kiswahili for teaching, the view was hotly countered by Ubungo MP Prof Kitila Mkumbo, who advocated the use of English in teaching, emphasizing that it was the largest language used in the world.

Prof Mkumbo demanded that English language should not be used to conceal existing educational challenges, including poor performance which many analysts, according to him, have been focusing on the use of English language for instruction from secondary to university as the reason.

Defending his argument during a debate on: ‘How can the use of Kiswahili as a language of instruction in secondary schools enhance critical thinking, innovation and African identity’, Prof Mkumbo said the use of both English and Kiswahili was better due to the language importance than denigrating one. “There is no scientific evidence that the use of your (Kiswahili) for instruction is the catalyst for economic growth in a particular country,” he said.

In his argument, he suggested that out of top 10 economies in Africa, five use English as the language of instruction in schools.

He said English has spread around the world, noting that in 1980, 20 countries used it as a language of instruction and now 47 nations do so and of the number, two use it as their mother tongue.

According to Prof Mkumbo, 143 countries around the world have made English a compulsory subject in their education policies.

He emphasized that it was important for both Kiswahili and English to be used in teaching in order to provide opportunities for understanding among students.

“In the current situation we are fortunate to have Kiswahili and English. The important thing is that knowledge is available in both languages,” he noted.

Mwalimu Mabala, who has been a Kiswahili ambassador for many years, said that due to students being forced to use English, most secondary schools have created a harsh environment instead of empowering children.

“In secondary schools there is no enabling environment but it is a punishment where a student is laughed at if he cannot speak English and is forced to wear a certain disk in his neck for failing to speak English,” he argued.

For Mwalimu Mabala, students should first understand what they are being taught and he believed that Kiswahili was the most widely used language in the country and would lead Tanzanian children to gain knowledge instead of memorizing a foreign language.

“All countries use a certain language due to their environment and the most understandable language. Here in Tanzania Kiswahili is the most understandable and students will be able to gain knowledge that will help them,” he said.

He emphasized that English should be taught as a subject but Kiswahili is the language of instruction. “The world needs three skills which are creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. To have all these you must be taught and learn in a language that you understand.”

Retired Professor of Kiswahili in the University of Dar es Salaam, Prof Martha Qorro said the use of Kiswahili as a language of instruction would not necessarily kill English use in the country.

“Teaching English and using English as a language of instruction are two different things, teaching it as a subject will expand the scope of communication and needs,” she said.

She believes that because it will still be taught as a language, English will continue to exist and be understood especially when it is provided with a good teaching environment. “Let us focus on making our students understand and not just memorize.”