Africa: First Instruction in Mother tongue

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The Kenyan Govt through the Ministry of Education recently passed a policy that requires the language of instruction for students under class 4 to be the locally spoken dialect of every concerned public primary school. I assume any pre-primary institutions have to follow the same directive.

Primary school students. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Photo credit: GlobalPartnership for Education)

This is to mirror I assume what our parents went through with their first foray into school being guided by vernacular languages. It is not very clear what problem the prescribed solution is solving but there we have it. Note that Vernacular will be the language of instruction not an additional subject to be learnt.

Strangely this is a photocopy of the Zambian policy  that seems to predate our own revolutionary stance. I wonder if there was any consultation or kind of collaboration involved or we are now adopting any policy so long as it sounds African. I am against this policy for several reasons.

For starters, there is no clear direction as to how this will be implemented in an urban setting. There is no clear ‘Traditional’ language in a bustling town or city since they tend to attract all manner of tribes/nationalities. I doubt Sheng (Kenya’s version of slang) will be sanctioned for use as it is the closest most urban youth get to traditional languages. So this automatically discriminates a section of young learners from the benefits of knowing their traditional language by virtue of geographic location. The argument that they can easily learn the same at home surely applies to the rural dwellers no?

Secondly, the rural dwellers are by default disadvantaged in the race to higher education. It will take them 4 years to start learning in English or Swahili by which time their urban counterparts will be comfortable with it. The uphill task will lead to more dropouts and those who make it will resent growing up upcountry and will shun it and avoid raising their kids there.

I do not understand the rationale behind the move and our resourceful govt gives zero evidence or even a fleeting explanation of what inspired this. All we rely on are our mostly hopeless media that believes walking around asking passers-by their opinion entails covering the story.

On another note, there has been an upswell in vernacular radio and TV stations which have become rapidly popular for obvious reasons. The same media houses have been blamed for fanning ethnic division and balkanisation but I find such claims rather disingenuous. This can be compared with our neighbour Tanzania that has no vernacular stations as far as I know and  somehow managed to escape the ethnicity curse.

Or this may be a veneer that I cannot see through, I don’t know.

Speaking your mother tongue or consuming content in the same or even preferring content to be in your local language does not amount to hostility to other tribes. If anything a better understanding of your heritage will allow a richer appreciation of other cultures. I believe vernacular media would be more attractive or useful to Africans in the diaspora especially for the benefit of their children in touching base with home.

I thus think it is better to allow or encourage the development of vernacular media and let this be the source of language teaching as opposed to making it the language of instruction for all school going children.

I have heard some people claim that linguists have it that learning your mother tongue first makes learning english easier in future. I see no evidence of this and I think it is mostly hogwash and an attempt at sanitizing discrimination.

I hope this policy goes back to the dusty cabinet from where it was probably pulled from.

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