[lg policy] Botswana: Centralising English through weakening Setswana

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Feb 5 15:00:32 UTC 2010

Centralising English through weakening Setswana
by The Linguist Chair
04.02.2010 2:31:35 P

Sixteen years following the first commission on education which
reported in 1977, a second one is appointed in April 1992 and sworn in
by Sir Ketumile Masire on May 15th, 1992. It is chaired by the Hon PHK
Kedikilwe, the Minister of Commerce and Industry. It is double the
size of the 1977 commission. Amongst its members are such heavy
weights as Prof S.S. Kupe and Prof. F. Youngman. Their work is
thorough and broad. Their report is huge: 463 pages compared with the
296 pages of the 1977 report. They call it Report of the National
Commission on Education 1993. For short we will refer to it as RNCE,

>>From their report it is clear that things have changed since
independence, as well as since 1977. As in my previous column, I will
quote copiously from the report’s pages to illustrate that central to
this commission’s work was its “vision of a society in the 21st
century” with education contributing to “economic growth and social
progress, within the context of national development”(RNCE, 1993:vi).
To succeed in achieving this English must be central. But the argument
needs to be long-winded.

While the 1977 assumed much about the importance and need for English
and Setswana, the 1993 commission devoted an entire section on
language policy which questioned this assumption. Language was
identified as critical to the curriculum since ‘“mastery of languages
as tools for effective communication, thinking and work” is a key
curriculum goal set by the commission’ (p.40). However, as the
commission noted, their work was “hampered by the lack of a
comprehensive language policy which would provide guidance for the
education system” (p.40). The commission endorsed the activities of
the National Setswana Language Council (NSLC) “to promote the use and
understanding of the national language through the development of an
appropriate orthography and encouragement of Setswana writing.”

However, it felt that NSLC’s scope was “too narrow... It must be
enabled to diversify its activities to cover all the languages spoken
in Botswana. It should therefore address not only Setswana but also
other local languages and English” (p.40). The commission’s
recommendations had hit a nail on the head. There was a need “for a
language policy that will embrace the role and development of
Setswana, other local languages and English in the life of the nation.

Such a policy would encompass issues such as language status and
development, culture, literature promotion, research and an
institutional framework as well as education” (p.41). Botswana’s
multilingualism demands a focus on all of the languages spoken in the
country and not just two. A clear Official Language Policy (OLP), a
National Language Policy (NLP) as well as Local Language Policy (LLP)
(p.455) or better still Minorities Language Policy (MLP) are still yet
to be articulated.
Amongst its findings, the results of the pre-school education research
indicated that “most people interviewed prefer the use of both
Setswana and English, whilst only a small proportion of respondents
advocated the use of mother tongue” (p.78).

They also recommended that “The language to be used in pre-primary
education should be considered in terms of context, namely that
children will enter with inadequate developed language skills. If the
language they encounter at school is different from what they
experience at home, the new language becomes a barrier in the child’s
effort to comprehend instructions and information given by the
teacher” (p.78). There are however obvious problems with using the
mother tongue as a medium of instruction in non-Setswana areas noted
by the commission. First is the non-availability of teachers fluent in
the various minority languages. Second is the requirement that
children should be taught in Setswana in their early years at primary

The third is the possibility of admitting children who have multiple
language backgrounds. At primary school therefore argued that “all
children [should] use their first language in the first years to
master the concepts, and then make a transition into English. The
advantage of this policy is that it brings equity of educational
opportunity, eliminates the barriers created by the present policy and
might possibly improve learning achievement of non-Setswana speakers.
However the adoption of such a policy would have problems. Firstly,
there are several languages in the country, some which are spoken by a
small group of people.
It may not be economically feasible to develop the instructional
materials needed to enable all these language to be used as a medium
of instruction....

The second problem is the availability of teachers.... The third
problem is the translation of instructional materials into the various
mother tongues. This will certainly be a difficult exercise. At
present many of these languages have not been developed to a point
where they can be written” (p.112) I hope you have followed the
argument so far. The argument flow is simple. Start with the demand
for language equity – this removes a national local language from its
elevated position to be like any other local language. Then, move to
the undeveloped minority languages – point at their inability to
function as mediums of instruction because of lack of orthographies
and terminologies.
Once this has been done successfully, shift the focus elsewhere: the
answer becomes English as the only legitimate lingua franca! “The
eventual aim should be to use English as the medium of instruction
from Standard 1” (p.113).


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.
(H. Schiffman, Moderator)

For more information about the lgpolicy-list, go to

This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format: https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list