This debate come and go every year when the dismal pass rates of our secondary and primary school students are announced. This year, this same debate came with a twist. The guardian newspaper reported recently that the Deputy Minister for Education and Vocational Training Philipo Mulugo and the government of Tanzania are in the process of drafting a new policy to make Kiswahili the language of instruction in both primary and secondary schools in Tanzania.
It is indeed true that the current system is not working. Everyone agrees with this premise. To make this situation worse, there is no ideal solution to the problem. This problem is so complex and multi-faceted.
While I see the value of a Kiswahili only model in improving students’ scores and comprehension for all the subjects matter, I fear that this new system will only perpetuate the already existing stratified education system in Tanzania between the very few “ the haves” and the majority of the “have-nots”. The “haves” will continue to send their children to English Medium Schools while the poor will be stuck with the Swahili only schools, creating a country of masters and slaves in the not too far future. If we are not already there?
Is this what we really want?
the path to improving the system relies on a strengthened bilingual education system model. A strengthened bilingual education system model will put enough resources to colleges to be able to teach teachers the current research based teaching methods which will not only benefit educators but, students as well. To provide professional development opportunities for teachers by improving their working conditions, to pay them a livable wage, and to attract more people to become teachers. Furthermore, to encintivise the good teachers to stay in the profession for a long enough time for them to become competent and efficient educators. Without those kinds of incentives, the change of language of instruction alone will not yield anything worthwhile.
The argument that changing just the language of instruction will yield the desired results is flawed. Don’t we already have English teachers in these schools? Why then are the students not learning English proficiently?The problem impacting the education system in Tanzania is not largely due to the language of instruction. If that was the case, we would see a huge pass rate in primary schools where mostly everything is taught in Kiswahili. The TWAWEZA report on this matter last year point to the contrary. Kids are not learning anything worthwhile in primary school either.
Resources needs to be improved, from teacher quality, the teaching environment, and to teaching tools.
I realize that there is a huge difference between learning English and being taught in English. Switching just the language of instruction will not be the solution to the massive failure rates in both primary and secondary schools. The problem is deeper than that. Huge systematic and policy changes need to happen before we see a real and meaningful uptick in the pass rates. Maybe pairing our existing teachers with teachers from abroad over a long time “ten years” could be something to be explored. The East Asian countries used this model and they are doing very well. Maybe we can learn from them this time around.