[EDLING:1615] Universities accused of killing African languages
Francis M. Hult
fmhult at DOLPHIN.UPENN.EDU
Wed May 24 00:58:41 UTC 2006
Universities accused of killing African languages
By Stephen Korir
UNIVERSITIES obsession with foreign languagess, as well as inadequate
reference materials on African mother tongues has undermined the development
of African languages.
The investment, use and promotion of international languages in tertiary
institutions as well as the universities has been overemphasised at the
expense of Africas diverse mother tongues.
Schools, middle level training colleges and universities , particularly in
East and Central Africa, have also contributed to the dismal performance by
students in languages during examinations.
The practice has also limited a large proportion of learners to a few
international languages by failing to mount courses in a wider scope of
These sentiments were expressed at a regional conference on language policy
and education held recently at a city hotel.
Many publishers are said to shy away from printing mother tongue publications
due to perceived limited readership, an issue that is compounded by urban
societies averseness to their children speaking their first languages.
Universities and tertiary institutions, it was noted, have failed to pioneer
centres for teaching and promotion of the use of Africas multiple languages
in the international fora. Maseno University which recently launched a faculty
of African language studies was hailed as the only one attempting to inculcate
a culture of promoting african languages.
Participants at the Regional conference were consistent in their calls for the
need to strengthen teaching of first languages long neglected history hence
joining the books of the least developed or rather less used in the process
rendering them useless for many professionals.
The participants further stressed the need for nurturing more courses on
foreign languages such as Italian, Chinese, Japanese and Spanish among other
widely spoken languages of the developed countries to enable local people
compete with their counterparts at the same level for the various
opportunities in this era of globalization.
Mother tongue was seen as the appropriate medium of communication by the
children at early stages of development and lower primary classes in
particular as it was the only language they may express themselves in freely
since thinking as a process is expressed through language and the more the
communication skills, the more likely that the child will be empowered to
think and express opinions and experiences.
Use of mother tongue not only enables the children to start embracing their
culture and values, but also facilitates smooth transition from home to school
environment ensuring that child develops a sense of self confidence to
participate freely in all activities
Local languages should also no longer be seen as useless as they are also are
also becoming resourceful owing to the outside worlds growing interests in
the fields of theology, history, singing and literature of the particular
communities as explained by one of the speakers.
Those proficient in spoken and written versions of these languages can land
jobs as translators, writers and even mass communications industry especially
in this advent of vernacular stations.
The increasing rural to urban migration too provides another opportunity for
those who have mastered first or mother tongue languages to utilise them for
gain by way of tuition to the children whose parents feel they risk losing
touch with their communities a programme pioneered by some parents in the
According to Education PS Prof. Karega Mutahi, the government is focused more
on development of these languages through the production of quality learning
materials. According to the PS all mother tongues are recognised as unique and
with roles to play in the development and the adult life of the children.
He regretted that teachers handling mother tongue classes (1-3) did not
benefit from any formal training in the teaching of such languages during
their training adding that the situation was compounded the poor reading
culture amongst pupils in upper primary classes, secondary and even teachers
apathy to literature in mother tongue.
As a way forward, the conference resolved that publishing of reference
materials on all the languages be encouraged and self study reading culture be
promoted amongst all learners was further felt that there is need for a
regional language policy on Kiswahili as one of the widely spoken languages in
East and Central Africa. .
Kenyas language policy on education stipulates that the particular catchment
language be used as the medium of instruction at the Early Childhood
Development Centre and the lower primary level . It is also recommended that
English be taught during a pupils formative stages so as to lay a sound
foundation for pursuing future prospects in various spheres of life.
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