By Mayimuna Nabagereka

The fallacy in the thesis that students learn best in their own tounge and their own surroundings is quickly exposed by the high failure rates in Tanzania’s Std VII “exams” and the equally poor results by Form IV students in the subject called Kiswahili, much worse than in another subject called physics, how do you explain that?

I dont know what prompted Nyerere to do such a disservice to Tanzanians.Nyerere was very comfortable speaking classics (in fact, he translated 6 of them from Shakespeare and the Septuagint o Kiswahili); Slaa (before he changed calls) was quite at home in English and, though he prays in Latin or Kimang’ati, he preferred in his Homilies to refer to the Greek version of the Bible rather than the King James version. And yet nobody doubts Nyerere’s or Slaa’s intellect and their “presentation” skills.

In short, I keep falling back inexorably to the same conclusion: those who are asking us to invent new wheels and pulleys by adopting our local languages as a medium of instruction are people with some sort of failings – human failings, to be sure, but failings all the same – for which they are looking for a scapegoat. They think the scapegoat is English but they are wrong.

A smaller group (I call them pseudo-patriots) think that it is a fight against colonialism and imperialism, citing the French and the Japanese and the Germans as people who use their “own” language. This is also wrong: the Japanese boy speaks Japanese and leaves with Japanese from the day he is born.

I have met many professionals who were educated in the sixties and in the seventies that always left me impressed and deeply respectful of their expertise. If we want to improve our education standards, stop these damned experiments and use the money to pay our teachers well.For each shilling spent on this doomed experiment, let us give salary increments to our teachers.Our education needs to improve, no question about that.



One Comment so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Bwagu,

    Thanks Nabagereka for your contribution on a topic at my heart. I beg to disagree with your conclusions drawn from your Tanzania anecdote. I don’t know why you conclude that the failure is due to language used. Thorough research is needed before your conclusion can be accepted. In Western countries, students are failing English, not to mention math, terribly. They study in their mother tongue English. Now, based on your conclusion, they should drop their mother tongue and adopt some foreign language. Correct?

    Can you mention to me(us) any civilized society from the Greeks, Romans to the present, may be Americans, Jews, etc. who achieved their civilization through a non-mother tongue? The English had to ‘englishize’ Latin. I am not implying every society that uses a mother tongue gets civilized e.g. Ethiopians. I am not putting down Ethiopians by any means, they are relatively more civilized than other Africans(I am a Ugandan who work with Ethiopians). They have foreign influences but they have never left their script.

    I think we can have an European(for historical reasons) language as a second language but keep mass education in a language the masses understand. This is why whenever Europeans wanted the masses to understand something, they translated it to the local language. Why do you think they translated the bible immediately but no science books were ever translated? They never wanted African masses to be scientifically literate. I hope you are aware that there is documented evidence that they officially banned African blacksmiths from inventing anything? Lest they recreated guns.

    Why would my cattle keeper (mularo) have to learn English to know how to inseminate a cow. All 3 week insemination courses are taught in English. This happened to me last May 2015 when I sent a veterinary to train my cattle keepers. He had to translate the manuals for them to Luganda!!!

    I have a lot to write but I will stop here, but KNOW THIS. If anyone ever takes away your language (or name), and they ‘force’ you to speak their language, then they will always be your point of reference for everything else. In other words, everything else will be on their terms. It will be like a virus injecting its DNA in your cells, your cells will change to the terms of the virus! The Europeans injected their languages and left. That’s is all they needed. They became our standard. Many of us are dying physically, intellectually, etc. in the Mediterraneans or other oceans to meet the ‘standard’ i.e. ‘batuuse’. In other words, we can’t or don’t see anything beyond Europeans.

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