Uganda: Language policy hinders [African] unity

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon Jan 28 15:08:59 UTC 2008

Language policy hinders unity
Sunday, 27th January, 2008

Anslem Wandega

IN a meeting with the Libyan President's special envoy, Muktar al
Cannas, last week, President Yoweri Museveni said having a single
African government would be difficult to achieve partly because there
are unresolved issues, prime among which is a common language. At the
beginning of the first school term last year, the Ministry of
Education and Sports imposed the teaching of vernacular in all primary
schools, starting with P1.  This policy will continue to be
implemented when schools open this year, with all the pupils taught in
the languages of their respective locations until they complete P3.

Uganda is one of the few African countries without a national
language. When one travels a few kilometres away from their home
district, they find it difficult to communicate conveniently. English
becomes the only alternative if they have gone to school.
Ugandans will find themselves with other Ugandans with whom they
cannot communicate verbally thus making them strangers in their own
country. This problem can be solved through the school system so that
a village woman in Sironko can interact with a herdsman in Moroto or a
baker in Arua.

Many pupils are dropping out of primary schools at an alarming rate.
They will have been subjected to their vernacular languages during
their short spell in school. As a result, they find themselves
secluded from the rest of the society yet education should liberate
people from their tribal units and give them a national outlook. Thus,
teaching in vernacular limit pupils' mobility within the nation.
Citizens should be able to migrate without difficulty from one region
to another for business, employment or settlement.

But if one was to move with a P2 child from Kiruhura to Abim, it would
be hard to secure the child's admission to a new school.
Teaching in vernacular compels our children to think in terms of
tribes before they can think in terms of the nation. Are we building a
nation or ethnic cocoons?  A country's educational system should
reflect its objectives and ensure that at every level, schooling opens
more opportunities for its beneficiaries. Short of this, the
President's dream of having a united Africa will not be realised.

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