Tayebwa Morris Compromising development: The Language of Instruction dilemma in Tanzania. Introduction Following release of the Tanzania 2012 Form IV results by the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training on February 18, the media and the general public have been frantically discussing the fact that up to 60 % of the students who sat last years’ ‘O’ level final failed the exam. i This has once again raised a lot of concern in and around Tanzania from educators, parents and policy makers.
Among many reasons given for the failure, that has in fact been increasing every year are factors like; shortage of quality teachers, poor infrastructure and study tools. The reason that stands out however, is the poor proficiency of secondary school students in English, the language of instruction. In fact studies have shown that the same students do much better in primary school where they are taught and examined in Kiswahili, the national language.
The Tanzanian Dilemma Inspite of incessant advice by policy makers and educators for a complete adoption of Kiswahili as the only medium of instruction at all levels, the Tanzanian government has upheld the bilingual education system and English is continually used as a language of instruction for all post-primary school education. In fact early research agrees with the promotion of Kiswahili as the appropriate choice as a language of instruction.
However, going by the advances of education worldwide where especially tertiary education is becoming more globalised, wouldn’t it be regressive to adopt a language of instruction that is limited to just one country? Unless we of course consider that the returns from quality secondary education would be sufficient for Tanzania without regarding the effect on tertiary education. Or maybe higher education would also have to adopt Kiswahili as a language of instruction.
This is before we consider the feasibility of such a transformation most importantly in terms of presence and quality of secondary school and higher education tools such as curricula, textbooks, teaching guides and manuals and obviously teachers trained to instruct post – primary levels. Or maybe the country should take the bitter pill and adopt English as a language of instruction on all levels. In this paper, I will try to delve into previous research on this matter and find a relation etween the language of instruction and effect on developmental outcomes of Tanzania both in terms of human capital growth and general wellbeing of citizens. Does the language of instruction really matter? From the human capital rationale, language does matter. “Human capital” refers to the set of skills a person acquires mainly through education and training to aid his/her productivity and attain greater compensation in the labour market (Becker 1964).
Proficiency in a language of instruction (reading, writing, oral expression) is a skill vital to the development of human capital. As explained by Chiswick and Miller (1995), the language skill “satisfies the three criteria that define human capital,” that is, the costs involved in the creation of language skills, the skills that serve a productive purpose relevant to economic activity in the labour market; and the fact that all that is embodied in a person. As demonstrated by Samuel O.
Ortiz (2004) in his assessment of culturally and linguistically diverse students, language of instruction also determines the competence of students in relation to the improvement of their cognitive skills, a means and end to the means of quality education. By discussing cognitive skills and quality education, we get closer to the effect of language of instruction on the development of individuals and societies, both socio-economic and general well-being. According to Hanushek and Kim (1995) and Hanushek and Woessmann (2007), quality of education is a measure of labour force quality based on the cognitive skills attained.
Therefore, such big failure rates, and reports that most students failed to write anything in last year’s exam, and either resorted to cheating, writing funny verses and abuses spells a bad image for the Tanzanian education system and leaves us to wonder what kind skills are the students getting anyway. Undeniably, research over the years has shown that standards of English education are inadequate thus affecting the general performance of most post-primary students (Mlama and Matteru 1977, Criper and Dodd 1984, Roy-Campbell 1997, Martha Quorro (2013).
In fact it was found that students perform much better under the medium of Swahili and that nearly 75 percent of teaching, especially in the early stages of secondary education, was being done in Swahili rather than English or sometimes with massive code switching involved (Rugemalira et al 1990). ii Students therefore receive a large part of their education in the local language yet assignments, tests and even national exams are written in English. This, as a result handicaps students with low proficiency and leads such to high failure rates.
This goes on to not only affect the education system but the students as well. For example, after such failure, most students drop out of schools even without qualifications, girls are married off at an early age by parents who are not seeing direct returns from the education, boys resort to lower income jobs for survival and this ultimately also affects the motivation of other students to join secondary school. As a result, Tanzania has the lowest secondary school enrolment in the region (World Bank, 2009).
The government has however ignored research findings and the sociolinguistic reality by maintaining a weak bilingual instruction format. It makes no sense teaching in a language that children are not understanding. In fact the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training has in the past proposed starting English as Language of Instruction from nursery school all through to tertiary education (MoEVT, 2009). Tangled in this predicament, there is also an inequality dimension.
Studies have shown that many wealthy Tanzanian parents send their children to better performing private schools, as well as to schools in the neighbouring countries, in order to have their children exposed to English-medium education in primary school (Mazrui 1997, Cox and Jimenez 1991). In a country where there are better opportunities for the English proficient workforce, the foreign trained students consequently have more valuable capital and better potential to get better paying jobs and thus opportunities are still in the hands of the already privileged. The uncertain future
From the aforementioned studies, it is clear that adoption of Swahili as the language of instruction in secondary schools, will lead to better outcomes in terms of effective transfer of information, legibility, improved education and a more productive population. On the other hand, emphasis on English, just like in other neighbouring countries will likewise improve the skills needed to compete globally especially in tourism and other export-oriented investments, broaden other labour- market opportunities, and close the socioeconomic classes’ gap that exists between the English currently proficient labour force and the general public.
In my opinion and as discussed by Batibo (1990) a bilingual system can still be maintained but the government will need to invest more in promoting the learning of English at pre- primary level to better prepare the students to the reality of an English post primary education. However as this paper has shown, even with a plethora of research on this matter, the Tanzanian government is faced with the dilemma of choosing a curriculum policy that should emphasize a well understood and better performing language or one that is used widely around the world especially in economic, scientific and technological circles.
NOTES i The breakdowns by divisions are as follows: division 1-1,641; division 2-6,453; division 3- 15,426; division 4103,327, and division 0-240,903. By gender for those who passed i. e. received divisions 1-3: girls =7, 178 and boys = 16, 342. That means 5. 6% of those who sat for this exam passed (divisions 1-3), it only when division 4 (the worst possible grade) is included that failure rate reduces to 60% otherwise with division 4 included, failure rate is actually 94. 4%. ii Code switching is the practice of alternating between two languages to ease communication.
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