Following up from yesterday’s blog on Google introducing Kiswahili, I have seen two blogs this morning from colleagues commenting on separate and somewhat contradictory news stories on language and education.
In For better or for worse… Matt Wisbey comments on a story from East Africa on “harmonisation” ie making everyone learn in English.
With harmonization of the education curriculum in the EAC, there might be the possibility of Tanzania which uses Kiswahili as medium of Instruction in Primary schools and Burundi and Rwanda which use French to switch to English.
Matt is less than impressed.
As if access to primary education wasn’t hard enough through one alternative language (Swahili in Tanzania, French in Burundi and Rwanda), they now talk about the possibility of changing the language of instruction to a language two steps removed from everyday life… English! Here this discussion is held in the context of ‘harmonisation’, with the default answer being that harmony must mean everyone doing the same thing, using the same language. This is a false economy. True harmony, I would argue, will only come when everyone is able to engage fully with the learning that is ahead of them. When everyone has the same access to education and opportunity to learn. This is only possible when people are provided the opportunity to learn in the language that they understand the best, their mother tongue if you like.
Meanwhile Eddie Arthur focuses on Local Languages in Education with this quote:
Brazzaville, Congo – A United Nations education expert on Thursday told a conference of top African education officials in Brazzaville that countries on the continent need to switch from foreign to local languages as a medium of instruction in elementary school to stimulate learning interest in first-time learners and to enable them to easily grasp concepts being taught.
Yao Ydo, a UNESCO regional adviser on literacy and non-formal education, told a conference of African education ministers that the predominant use of foreign languages, particularly in early school stages, was the first faultline of the education systems on the continent.
He said not only did this intimidate and confuse children entering school for the first time, but also made it difficult for them to understand, or grasp new concepts being introduced to them at their early learning stages.
Dramatising the importance of language, and its impact on education, the UNESCO official said he once gave an address at a conference on education in Europe in his mother language, leaving all the participants bewildered.
“That is the same bewilderment that confronts African children every year when they enter school for the first time, and in subsequent years of learning,” Ydo told the conference.
Read the whole article here
For many of us, the reaction may be so what’s the problem? Eddie’s comments help us to empathise with the educational plight of millions of children across rural Africa.
To try and imagine what is going on here, picture yourself going to school and finding that everything is done in French rather than English. Everything from being told to go into the classroom and sit at your seats, to the first lessons all take place in a language that you don’t understand. Just imagine the confusion that this would bring on a daily basis.
This debate sets the local NI education debate into perspective… but that’s another story
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