Joshua is a graduate student in the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research interests include language and literacy in Tanzania, and the privileging of colonial languages and culture at the expense of indigenous languages and culture.
Language of Instruction in Tanzania: A Call for Bilingual Education
From the late 60’s to mid-80’s Tanzania was renowned for her strong ideals built upon the Ujamaa policy that emphasized Pan Africanism, self-reliance, and national unity. The Arusha Declaration (the blue print of the Ujamaa policy) unequivocally warned that reliance on foreign aid would undermine Tanzania’s ability to make independent policy decisions. Unfortunately, subsequent governments chose to ignore this warning. Today, Tanzania is one of the world's largest foreign aid recipients. Furthermore, foreign aid is the government's largest source of finance. The implications of Tanzania’s reliance on foreign aid are evident in the detrimental policy positions she has adopted. The use of English as the sole language of Instruction in Secondary and Tertiary education is one such example.
During the Ujamaa period (1967-1985), there were attempts to make Kiswahili the language of instruction in all levels of education. However, since then, the Tanzanian government in “collaboration” with the West has implemented English as the sole language of instruction in Secondary and Tertiary education. The implementation of English as the language of instruction has staggering implications for the future of Tanzania’s social, political, and economic growth. The purpose of this post is to problematize the lack of multiple languages of instruction in secondary schools in Tanzania, which hinders learning and contradicts the purposes of secondary education as determined by the language policy implemented by the Ministry of Education. I argue that there is a crucial need to critically asses the use of English as the language of instruction in Tanzanian schools and a need to develop and implement a bilingual educational policy.
Over 95 percent of Tanzanian’s speak Kiswahili and it serves as the country’s national language. Fewer than five percent of Tanzanian’s speak English at home. Despite this, English is used the language of instruction in Secondary and Tertiary education regardless of its limited use in other social and economic sectors. The use of English as the language of instruction in Secondary and Tertiary education is perhaps the most significant and detrimental consequence of Tanzanian government’s collusion with the West.
Alistair Pennycook (2001) raises relevant questions on the subject of the globalization of the English language and I believe it is worth quoting him at length.
We need always to consider the larger context of what we are doing, the cultural, political, social and economic implications of language programs. What might language development in English mean for other languages? What might it mean for the representation of culture? What forms of culture and knowledge may it privilege and what may it deny? What world is opened up by an education through English? How might English be a language that allows us to be more rather than just to have more?These are significant questions in the discourse of the use of English as the language of instruction in Tanzania. The use of English is marginalizing the use of Kiswahili and the national identity that is associated with it.
The lack of significant discussion, action, and the insistence that English remain as the language of instruction by the Tanzanian government, Western governments, and institutions such as the World Bank and IMF suggests that language of instruction is an insignificant pedagogical and social issue. The use of English as the language of instruction in Tanzania is tantamount to Nyambe and Shipena’s (1998) argument concerning the “Self-Centered and exploitative Interdependence of nations.” They argue that the push for the use of colonial languages as the medium of instruction is evidence that the global North is more concerned with perpetuating neo-liberal interests and educating Tanzanians in a western context, thus ignoring the needs and culture of Tanzanian students.
According to Mehrotra (1988) various studies show that students learn best when they are instructed in their native languages. Tanzania needs an educational system that challenges the Eurocentric language policies adopted by the Tanzanian government. The sole use of English in Tanzanian secondary schools recreates the colonial education system that favored and elevated those with the ability to speak the colonialist’s language while marginalizing those who did not. Rizvi and Lingard (2010) Refer to the pressure placed on underdeveloped nations by the west to maintain colonial languages as the language of instruction as the “colonial present.” This lack of emphasis on the cultural capital and significance of indigenous languages significantly undermines efforts by underdeveloped countries to expand and enhance their cultures.
The use of English as the language of instruction in secondary schools in Tanzania particularly affects students from poor rural and urban settings a majority of whom are not proficient in English. On the other hand, for students from affluent backgrounds English is quickly becoming a first or second language as they have the resources and environment to speak and read English outside of school. This is why I argue that the language of instruction in Tanzania is not only a pedagogical issue but a social class issue as well. Policy makers and educators need to demand the introduction of Kiswahili as a language of instruction in secondary schools in order to create a learning environment that can provide students with the most conducive learning environment regardless of their socioeconomic position.
It is essential in this discussion of social class and mobility to include the parents of students who are marginalized by the language of instruction in schools. Parents, especially those from poor rural and urban areas prefer that their children be taught in English, so that they can have access to opportunities that were denied to them. However, the use of English as the language of instruction not only ignores the culture, experience, and language of certain groups, it deems them irrelevant and inferior. Blommaert (1999) argues that culture directly relates to educational outcomes. Therefore, if the classroom is only representative of one culture and language, it negatively affects the educational outcomes of the children whose culture and language are ignored within the curriculum. It also causes these students view themselves as inferior, further marginalizing them. This marginalization of certain students because of the use of English as the language of instruction contradicts the second purpose of secondary education. Which is “to enhance further development and appreciation of national unity, identity and ethic, personal Integrity, respect for and readiness to work, human rights, cultural and moral values, customs, traditions, and civic responsibilities and obligations”( MoEC, 1995;5). The use of English as the language of instruction in secondary schools creates social cleavages, which are a threat to human rights, cultural and moral values, customs, traditions, and civic responsibilities and obligations. Qorro (2006; 12) argues,
If learners are forbidden to, or even punished for speaking the language of their community, what are the psychological implications? It means that their (or their parents’) language is inadequate, and what follows then, is the spontaneous realization that their culture, its images and symbolic representation are of reduced value and significance. All that informs the learner and gives meaning and purpose out of school ceases to be valid.The importance of culture and the implications of marginalizing certain cultures and languages as discussed by Qorro (2007) are another reason I argue that Tanzania needs Bilingual education. The use of both Kiswahili and English in schools would enhance the educational experience of students. Classrooms should be classless safe zones where inequality and bigotry are challenged, not perpetuated. The Language policies that govern how classrooms function, must take into consideration the culture and experiences of all students in order to promote social justice, equality, and equity within the classroom.
The best way forward for Tanzania would be to introduce Kiswahili as another language of instruction. Nieto (2002) argues that students learn more effectively in an intercultural bilingual environment. These environments accept and cater to the learner’s cultural and linguistic diversity. Her research further argues that learning a dominant language should not be prioritized over students learning their own languages; bilingual education will give a voice to marginalized students and communities in Tanzania.
I have argued that English as the language of instruction by itself in Tanzanian Secondary schools is insufficient, oppressive, and contradictory to the goals of secondary education as determined by the ministry of education. Tanzania needs to implement a bilingual educational policy in order to benefit all students.
In conclusion, I would like to see Tanzania emerge from the oppressive language policies that are a threat to the future of her children and national unity. Tanzania needs bilingual education in order to meet the needs of her population and give all her students a chance to fulfill their potential. If all students are given a chance to learn in an equal and critical environment, they will be in a better position to contribute positively to the development of our nation and continent. The implementation of Kiswahili as another language of instruction will be the first step towards self-reliance.