[lg policy] Namibia: Rescue indigenous languages

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Aug 7 14:55:30 UTC 2013

 Rescue indigenous languages
 *06 Aug 2013 *

By Scholastika Hausiku

BEING an ardent reader and a follower of the “Speak English” column in this
newspaper, I have decided to weigh in and participate in the academic
discourse on the subject of indigenous languages in Namibia. From my
personal observation as an inspector of education, it seems many people in
Namibia disregard indigenous languages as part of quality education.
Interestingly, the hegemony of English is being promoted by the speakers of
indigenous languages, who are supposed to protect their very native
languages that are being trampled upon by English. The wrong perception we
have as a nation is that many of us think it is ONLY the English language
that provides learners with quality education. This kind of mentality is
barely supported by linguists and language practitioners, as Heugh: 2000,
Bloch: 2002, Skuttnabb-Kangas: 2000, Tötemeyer: 2010, Cummins: 1979 and
Brock-Utre et al, 2003 have observed. Moreover, the disregard for
indigenous languages can be observed among many educators, including
teachers in most schools throughout Namibia. I was completely surprised by
what I heard during the admission period of learners for the 2014 academic
year and during a teacher-parent meeting. Despite the clear Language Policy
for Schools and Colleges in Namibia that suggests that the medium of
instruction at foundation phase (Grade 1-3) should be a child’s mother
tongue or a predominant local language of the particular school community
and to have English as a second language, yet many parents during a
teacher-parent meeting requested officials from the regional education
office or the head office for permission to go for English as the preferred
medium of instruction instead. This indicates that even some teachers do
not have faith in indigenous languages to serve as medium of instruction in
schools. In many cases the use of indigenous language as the medium of
instruction is being unnecessarily blamed for learners’ poor performance in
schools. Some parents hardly use English at home, yet they prefer their
children to opt for English as the preferred medium of instruction.
Linguistically, such parents are doing harm to their children. In other
words these children are likely to grow up lacking the competency of a
native speaker in their own languages. From a linguistic point of view,
being fluent in English does not necessarily represent quality education.
Quality education means when the receiver, in this case a learner,
understands what is being taught and is able to apply or put the knowledge
received to good use.  I say this because I believe that not all good
English speakers are scientifically knowledgeable.

In conclusion my concerns are: how long can Namibians sit and watch
indigenous languages vanish and continue being swallowed by western
languages? What strategy does the Namibian government have in place to
promote the use of indigenous languages in schools? Can we afford to lose
our jokes and our nice meaningful songs in our indigenous languages? Can we
rely on translations? Is it possible for English translations to
accommodate all our idioms and phrases? If there is anyone out there who is
willing to respond to some of my concerns, I would appreciate it. I call
upon all the educational stakeholders to join me in sounding the trumpet of
indigenous languages in order to sensitise our people about the
significance of learning in one’s mother tongue

For comment, contact me at hscholastika at mighty.co.za

Scholastika Hausiku is an Education Inspector in the Kavango Region. She is
the holder of MA and BA Honours degrees and a Diploma in Multilingual
Education and Literacy Studies in African Linguistics. University of Cape
Town, South Africa.


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