[lg policy] Zimbabwe: Mother Language Education Crucial

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 4 16:46:27 UTC 2011

Zimbabwe: Mother Language Education Crucial

2 March 2011

In his speech, at the silver jubilee of 21st February Movement which
also marked his 87 birthday in Harare on 26th February, the President
of Zimbabwe, Cde Robert Mugabe declared that languages of Zimbabwe
must be taught in Zimbabwean schools. This position is in many
respects an important policy statement that has implications not only
on the teaching of Zimbabwean languages but also on the value and use
of these languages.

The President made this statement when making reference to what he saw
as the prevalence of colonial mentality that negates all the
indigenisation and empowerment efforts as well as the tendency to
ignore the fact that mother languages are vital in expressing a
people's identity. The 21st February is also the International Mother
Language Day. The day was proclaimed in 1999 by the Unesco General
Conference and has been observed since 2000 "to promote linguistic,
cultural diversity and multilingualism."

The day was chosen by Unesco to represent the 21st February 1952 when
students "demonstrating for the recognition of their mother language,
Bangla to be taken as one of the two national languages of the then
Pakistan were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, the then capital of
what is now Bangladesh." This year the theme of day is "The
information and communication technology for the safeguarding and
promotion of languages and linguistic diversity." In her message to
mark the day, the Director-General of Unesco, Irina Bokova stated:
"All languages are linked through their origins and borrowing but each
is a unique source of meaning for understanding, writing and
expressing reality.

"Information and communication technologies can be especially useful
in promoting mother languages. We must harness the power of progress
to protect diverse visions of the world and to promote all sources of
knowledge and forms of expression. These are threads that weave the
tapestry of humanity's story." The director-general highlights the
following as special characteristics of mother languages:

l Mother languages are special in providing the material with which
the world is first voiced, the lens through which it is first

l Mother languages along with linguistic diversity matter for the
identity of individuals.

l Mother language instruction is a powerful way of fighting
discrimination and of reaching out to marginalised populations.

l Mother language live harmoniously with the acquisition of other languages.

Also stressed in the Unesco publicity material on the day is that "all
moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not
only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but
also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions
through out the world to inspire solidarity based on understanding,
tolerance and dialogue."

Equally important to note when taking cognisance of the importance of
commemorating the International Mother Language Day is the United
Nations General Assembly resolution A/RES/6/266 of 16th May 2009 which
called upon all member states to "promote the preservation and
protection of all languages used by the peoples of the world."

Chipawo, with the support of Unesco, will commemorate the
International Mother Language Day on Saturday at the Zimbabwe College
of Music in Harare, with a presentation of a play in Shona - "Mutambo
Wepanyika" by New Horizon Theatre Company. The play is an adaptation
of a play in Spanish written by Pedro Calderon de la Barca called
"Life is a drama".

The play was translated in Shona in 1959 by teachers and students of
Gokomere School and was published by Mambo Press. New Horizon Theatre
Company's production of the play in December 2010 was made possible by
the financial support of the Embassy of Spain. Apart from the play,
the International Message by the Unesco Director-General will be read
and discussed and many youths will present poems in different mother

President Mugabe's sentiments about the status of Zimbabwean languages
should cause several policy actions to emerge. These should include
the question of whether there exists a national language policy that
is known and understood and has been disseminated to all those
concerned with language education, language use, and language

Does the national language policy, if it exists on its own or as part
of national cultural and education policies, embrace all the values of
language, the value of culture and cultural diversity? Are important
language policy facets embedded into other national development
agendas and policies?

Has there been a review of the national language policy to take on
board current developments such as those emerging from the use of
information and communication technologies and the demands for
education for sustainable development?

It is important to stress that critical policies for development
should be explained in the people's own languages incorporating
indigenous knowledge systems to enhance relevance and to tap on local

Language is developed through practical use. Zimbabwe's broadcasting
policy for example shows clearly some of the serious challenges faced
in promoting the value and use of mother languages.

These challenges are amplified by ZBC's Power FM and Spot FM radio
stations, which dominantly broadcast in English.

One of the radio channels, Power FM targets all its content to the
youth of Zimbabwe. A youth of Zimbabwe who listens to the radio
station will hear indigenous languages of Zimbabwe only in the songs
and the names of the broadcasters.
Relevant Links

    * Southern Africa
    * Zimbabwe
    * Education

It is therefore possible for a Zimbabwean youth who is constantly
locked only onto this radio station to develop an impression that
one's mother tongue is not important and is in fact a bother.

The absence of indigenous languages on these two radio stations that
appeal to Zimbabwean youths become a contradiction to the national
broadcaster's mission of informing, educating and entertaining.

What stops the broadcasters on these radio stations who are fluent in
Shona, Ndebele and English using all these languages especially when
there are two broadcasters on one programme?

Challenges to the national language policy are also dominant in many
urban area schools, where it is forbidden for children to speak their
mother languages on school grounds. This is based on the erroneous
notion that mother language interfere with children's competent
acquisition of English.


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