[EDLING:1615] Universities accused of killing African languages

Francis M. Hult fmhult at DOLPHIN.UPENN.EDU
Wed May 24 00:58:41 UTC 2006

Kenya Times


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 Africa’s 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 
foreign languages. 

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 Africa’s 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 world’s 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. . 

Kenya’s 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 pupil’s formative stages so as to lay a sound 
foundation for pursuing future prospects in various spheres of life. 

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