Swahili To Be The Language of Instruction in Tanzania.

Not so fast!!!

This debate comes and goes. The debate normally arise whenever secondary schools results comes out. And, it is especially true when students achievement scores are terrible. Educationists in Tanzania will normally and easily point their fingers to English as the culprit. The argument always goes like, “see, I told you so, we can’t test them in English. It is unfair to them. They don’t know English. Let us switch to Swahili alone as the medium of instruction.”

The argument above is flawed in several ways. One way of debunking this argument is by looking at primary school results. The pass rate there is not great either. In 2011 the numbers were 30% passing to 70% effective failures. In primary schools Swahili is the only medium of instruction for all subjects. If English is the only reason for all these massive failures at the secondary level, then, why are the primary school students failing miserably despite the fact that all subjects are taught in Swahili?

This shows  that it isn’t the language of instruction alone that is causing these massive failures.

As an educationalist myself, I knew all along that there are many variables that co-vary with the language of instruction. These may include: 1) teacher absenteeism, 2) a disconnect between the test and material taught, 3) lower pay, 4) instructional strategies used, 5) language of instruction, and the list doesn’t end there. Watch my Factors Affecting the Education System in Tanzania video on you tube under Kibogoji Conversations and read my other articles on the state of the education system in Tanzania here. In some of these articles I attempted to explain in detail the solutions to this year in and year out problem in exam achievement.

Here is a blog post with more information on the same subject. Click here to read the post.

To add salt to a wound, here are this year’s standard seven results as broken down by the IPP MEDIAs’ newspaper. Of-course, standard seven students are all taught in Swahili except for the subject of English. Below are the numbers showing how they did in the examination.

Total number of students who took the exam: 456,082.

Breakdown by gender: girls (52.68 per cent) and 409,745 boys (47.32 per cent).

Of those who passed: 3,087 candidates scored grade A, 40,683 grade B, 222,103 grade C.

Total pass rate: 265,873 (30%).

Of those who failed: 526,397 grade D, 73, 264 grade E.

Total failure rate: 599,661 (70%).

From all this data, one can conclude that the evidence is overwhelming. The evidence clearly indicate that English is not the only variable that is ailing the Tanzanian education system. Maybe it is the right time to say that Swahili is the cause of all these massive failures. I believe it is high time to ask ourselves what are the causes (a variety of them) of the under-performance rather than looking for a single cause. When we ask ourselves the right questions, we normally come up with the right answers to complex problems such as this one.



6 thoughts on “Swahili To Be The Language of Instruction in Tanzania.

  1. I am looking for a free copy of the Swahili Braille code, in order to work a paper on it and upload it in my Braille writing Didactics Webpage. i HAVE CREATED ADAPTATION PAPERS FOR 30 OTHER LANGUAGES. If you can send me a free copy of the Swahili Braille code, please SEND IT AS AN ATTACHMENT IN MY EMAIL: korilakt@gmail.com


  2. Christina

    You can also add to the list
    – Government provided text books are inaccurate
    – Students are taught to memorize, not to use critical thinking.


  3. By the way…what do you mean by analysis? is it peer reviewed data or statistical conclusions from empirical data supporting my argument? To that effect, very little data exists on the topic in Tanzania. Therefore, calls for language of instruction change in the absence of empirical data suggesting otherwise are unwarranted.


  4. Thanks for the comments Mr. Nyanda. I realize that many factors are indeed playing a role in the failure rates at both the secondary and primary school levels in Tanzania. My argument for this article was that language of instruction is not the sole source of all these failures. And changing just the language of instruction alone will not fix the problem as evidenced by the primary school scores. If language is the main problem we would see huge pass rates in primary schools where all the subjects are taught in Swahili….however, that is not the case.

    Perhaps, more research is needed to pinpoint which of the factors i mentioned in my article is the leading cause? in my views…these factors confound eachother. Unless they are all addressed together, we will continue to see the pass rate going down year after year.

    I hope my two cents make sense to you. I don’t think it would be wise to change the langauge of instruction alone and hopping for all the other variables to go away. It would be foolishness to be exact.


  5. Reading your article i find a gud flow of argument, but analysis is missing. Ok. Language is one of the reasons that students fail at secondary school level. Give us more meat: to what extent does it contribute to the students failure? What if you compare other hindrances and the language factor, what do you see? This is it. If all challenges are addressed except the language puzzle, would it guarantee good performance? I understand that one can learn in any language, but the bottom line is: YOU SHOULD HAVE AT LEAST A BASIC ABILITY TO USE THE LANGUAGE. We can stick to English if we want to, but we need to prepare our children and the teachers use the language appropriately in teaching and learning; or else we opt for the call of nature: SWAHILI. Unfortunately I didnt put analysis either.


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