Book review: Bridges and Barriers

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Dec 13 16:19:28 UTC 2006

Bridges and Barriers
Language in African Education and Development
2006 St. Jerome Publishing Ltd.

Author: Eddie Williams

Recent decades have seen sub-Saharan Africa decline in both economic and
human terms. The rich North has responded with a barrage of
well-publicized initiatives, from pop concerts to international
commitments on debt relief, aid, trade and good governance. Among the
complex of factors necessary to sustain economic and human development,
education receives little media coverage, although it is crucial. However,
education must be effective.

This book argues that in 'Anglophone' Africa, education is not effective
because of the use of English, rather than children's first languages,
both as the medium of instruction, and also as the language in which
children are first taught to read. Research is presented from Malawi and
Zambia, countries with contrasting language policies, using evidence from
tests in English and African languages, small-group discussions and
classroom observation. The findings show that English-medium policies in
Africa do not give students any advantage in English over first-language
policies, while the use of English discriminates against girls and rural

The book concludes that much education in Africa is a barrier rather than
a bridge to learning because of the prevailing language ideology, which
has resulted in massive over-estimation of the value of English. While
appropriate language policies alone will not solve education and
development difficulties in Africa, they do have a positive contribution
to make. The evidence presented here suggests they are failing to make
that contribution.


N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal.


More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list