Indigenous Languages For A Population Education Essay

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The phrase language planning seems to be first employed in the breaking of Norway from Denmark. However language planning is most staunchly associated in its early years with decolonisation and the language problems of the new emergent states (Ferguson 2006). Fishman (1974 as quoted in Ferguson 2006:1) defines language planning as "the organised pursuit of solutions to language problems, typically at the national level" furnishing us with a concise but relatively conclusive definition. However a little more precision can be given by stating that language planning can be depicted as the premeditated and explicit interventions of politicians, linguists and others who yield power, usually under the auspices of state agencies, in language function and form at national or regional levels (Ferguson 2006, Gupta & Ferguson 1977, Singh 2000). Language function and form constitute the two intertwined categories of language planning. Status planning focuses on the functions of a language or languages in society whereas corpus planning tackles the code of the language itself (Ferguson 2006).

On the basis of these definitions do individual and family decisions on language constitute language planning? Does language planning comprehensively account for the occurrence documented in the language situation? Are language planning decisions affected and influenced by political considerations? Are the designs of language planning always implemented? Considering our area of study is situated in an African environment we need to ask to what extent language planning is based on European foundations and whether this has affected language planning efforts in Tanzania? What hinders the main processes of language planning?

Tanzania boasts an abundance of indigenous languages for a population of approximately 37 million (Sa 2007, Wikipedia 2008). Estimates range anywhere from 120 to over 135 indigenous languages (Gadelli 1999, Johnson & Johnson 1998, Sa 2007). Amongst these languages is Swahili, which has been the pivotal language around which language planning has revolved since at least colonial times. Swahili is a Bantu language in structure and vocabulary related to the first language of the majority of citizens, but it also derives a great deal of its vocabulary from Arabic due to the influences of coastal trade (Gadelli 1999, Johnson & Johnson 1998, Sa 2007). Swahili is a well established lingua franca with comparatively few native speakers, about 10% of the Tanzanian population, consisting of the Swahili people living along the coast and in Zanzibar, as well as of the younger generation of the city (Ferguson 2006, Johnson & Johnson 1998, Rubagumya 1990, Sa 2007). Over 90% of Tanzanians speak Swahili as a second language alongside their local native language (Mansour 1993, Rubagumya 1990, Sa 2007). Only 15% of Tanzanians are estimated to speak English (Rubagumya 1990).

Swahili was used before the tenth century in East Africa as a lingua franca and was spread due to the various vested interests of foreign stimuli such as missionaries and Arab traders (Kiango 2005). Although German missionaries believed the gospel was better spread by using indigenous languages the Holy Ghost Fathers of France and UMCA missionaries of England saw Swahili, the local lingua franca, as the best vehicle to win converts (Kiango 2005). These foreign stimuli, although possibly difficult to fit into our definition of language planning, helped spread Swahili in East Africa, particularly in Tanzania where the language spread easier in the interior than Kenya, and therefore enabled Swahili to be in such a powerful position by colonial times that no language planners could ignore it (Kiango 2005).

The advent of colonial rule and German occupation demonstrated the real strength of Swahili. The German colonial government decided to use the colonial language in schools and was fearful of the strength of Swahili and it's connection with Islam. Just as the colonial powers were afraid of Swahili's connection with Islam parents and children mistrusted German schools and perceived them to be propagators of Christianity (Kiango 2005). The Germans eventually backed down and Swahili was used as the medium of education in schools, and generally endorsed and promoted (Kiango 2005, Sa 2007). Seemingly powerless individuals did appear to some extent to be able to influence the decisions of the colonial German language planners. Even if individual and family decisions of colonial subjects, as well as the decisions of various foreign stimuli such as traders and missionaries on language do not constitute language planning what becomes apparent is that language planning does not exhaustively account for the developments documented in the language situation, and others "not in power" can influence the language situation (Ferguson 2006, Gupta & Ferguson 1977).

The goals of the German schools were to prepare for colonial bureaucracy, so was this apparent back down by the German colonial powers simply a combination of yielding to the wishes of the local people and achieving the goals of the schools? Or was there a more sinister motive? It is possible the German colonial powers didn't want the Tanzanians to feel a sense of equality with the occupiers by learning the colonial language and therefore using Swahili for education would keep the colonial subjects in their place (Sa 2007). Whether the decision of the Germans was made to keep Tanzanians in their place, or stemmed from giving in to the peoples' wishes it is clear that it was a heavily politicised decision. Language planning is often a political as well as a social phenomenon and often takes place as a component of wider socio-political matters, enthused by political ideology (Roy-Campbell 1990, Singh 2000).

The politics of language planning didn't vanish with the departure of the Germans. British occupation commenced after the end of the First World War. (Kiango 2005, Sa 2007). The British retained Swahili as the medium of education in primary schools and introduced English in secondary schools (Kiango 2005, Sa 2007). Colonial administration was undertaken in English with Swahili being utilized in local courts (Kiango 2005). There was a definite and specific plan by the British to prepare a small minority of Tanzanians for colonial administration. A ten year development plan was formulated that aimed to have a 100% enrolment in primary schools where Swahili was the medium of instruction, but only 4% in secondary schools where English was the medium of instruction. (Sa 2007). The same situation persists today with Tanzania having lower rates for secondary enrolment than all of its geographic neighbours (Sa 2007). A political influenced decision that gave the British what they needed for their colonial administration with seemingly little regard to what was best for the educational needs of Tanzanians and the long-term development of the country. The policy seemed also to strikingly resemble the attitude of the previous colonial power by greatly restricting the number of Tanzanians who would learn English and therefore feel on a somewhat equal level with their colonial masters.

In a tidal wave of anti-colonial sentiment that was beginning to sweep through the continent the indigenous population of Tanzania formed in 1954 a political party to fight for independence, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) (Kiango 2005). TANU made great use of Swahili in the independence movement to unite and amalgamate the various ethnic groups as the vast majority of Tanzanians used the lingua franca and it was understood throughout the country (Antea 2000, Kiango 2005, Rubagumya 1990, Sa 2007). In the process of the independence movement there was seldom a need for interpreters during the various campaigns (Rubagumya 1990). This was unlike in other African countries where various ethnic languages existed but no one ethnic language was present that was understood universally and no indigenous lingua franca that could be used (Kiango 2005). In the independence movement in Tanzania Swahili itself emerged as a very important symbol of African unity and was a powerful political tool for the independence movement. It seemed one country with one unifying language that was very much African could really make a true break from colonial ties. A Tanzanian dream was born.

The dream seemed to be turning into reality with Tanzania (Tanganyika until 1964 when after union with Zanzibar it was renamed Tanzania) achieving independence in 1961 (Ferguson 2006, Kiango 2005, Sa 2007). In other African countries that were also gaining independence a lack of preparation to allocate an indigenous language as a replacement for the colonial predecessor coupled with fears of stirring accusations of ethnic favouritism, which would jeopardize the national unity the new political leaders were dedicated to cultivating, resulted in the retention of the colonial language as both official language and language of wider communication (Ferguson 2006). However the presence of Swahili in Tanzania meant the option of the colonial language was not an inescapable conclusion (Sa 2007). Swahili was indigenous, widely accepted, ethnically neutral, without colonial supremacy and symbolized unlike English an African custom and tradition (Cooper 1989, Ferguson 2006, Johnson & Johnson 1998, Sa 2007). Just as the independence movement used Swahili as a unifying influence, Swahili now seemingly offered an opportunity for an indigenous language to be both the national and official language and fulfil the desire to break away from the colonial past (Ferguson 2006, Roy-Campbell 1990).

Founder of TANU and independent Tanzania's first leader Julius Nyerere's vision was of a Tanzania united under "ujamaa" (family hood), a mixture of socialism and self-reliance (Sa 2007). Swahili was promoted as the language of public life and was an integral ingredient of the entire progression to self-reliance (Kiango 2005, Sa 2007). The Republic day speech after independence was made in Swahili (Antea 2000). 1962 witnessed Swahili become the language of parliament (Kiango 2005). A declaration was made in 1967 naming Swahili as the national official language (Antea 2000, Ferguson 2006). Various bodies and institutes were set up to advocate, promote and develop Swahili by primarily codifying the language by commissioning assignments such as producing a dictionary of the language. Publication and elaboration of vocabulary as well as translating textbooks were also embarked upon (Ferguson 2006, Kiango 2005). The National Swahili Council (BAKITA) was the body that principally cultivated the language, took responsibility for research and coordinated the other bodies and institutes involved (Antea 2000, Ferguson 2006, Gadelli 1999).

However, what was this development and promotion of Swahili founded upon? Tanzania similarly to the other new emerging states in Africa inherited artificial, arbitrary borders imposed and enforced by the colonisers and encompassed a diversity of ethnic and linguistic groups (Ferguson 2006). This linguistic diversity in Africa is not in general experienced as a substantial predicament or problem at the grassroots level. Most Africans tend to be socialised into multilingual habits and practices from an early age. Multilingualism is in reality the African lingua franca (Ferguson 2006). Although language planning often takes place in multilingual societies such as Tanzania and makes verdicts as to what language will serve what function, much of language planning originates in Europe and is based on European ideals, principles, and standards, aspiring to establish states with one and the same national and official language (Ferguson 2006, Singh 2000). Endeavouring to unify Tanzania and break free from colonial ties on the basis of these European ideals, language planners in Tanzania had seemingly taken a very European blue print and imposed it on African society (Ferguson 2006).

The arena in which the wish to impose these European ideals has caused the most concern, controversy, and taken up the efforts of the Tanzanian government is the same arena that is probably the most crucial to all involved in the domain of language planning, namely education (Ferguson 2006, Sa 2007). A sector that is in most countries sponsored and under the control of the state, education by means of schools affords the state the capacity to mold and manipulate the attitudes, mind-sets, and behaviours of the subsequent generation and is often a key element in the process of national transformation (Ferguson 2006). The crucial issue and dilemma in the newly emergent independent multilingual states of Africa was the choice of the medium of instruction that would be employed in schools (Ferguson 2006, Sa 2007). The same barriers to choosing an ethnic indigenous language to be used in the wider society applied to the sphere of education and for the most part left the default as the old colonial language except in a country like Tanzania (Sa 2007).

Although Swahili seemed like the ideal candidate the newly independent state was fragile and an abrupt and radical change would mean considerable preparation, such as making up for the short fall in textbooks and teaching materials. This would not be an easy or inexpensive task (Ferguson 2006, Roy-Campbell 1990, Sa 2007). However the English language infrastructure had already been laid and hence retaining the colonial language for education seemed the only sensible option (Ferguson 2006, Roy-Campbell 1990). The plan was for Swahili to be kept in primary schools to enable pupils to be connected with their cultural roots. English would still be used as the medium of education in secondary schools to keep in touch with the outside world, and eventually at a later date the medium of instruction at secondary level would move to Swahili (Roy-Campbell 1990, Sa 2007).

This was the official policy. However the reality was more complex (Ferguson 2006). There were in fact severe problems in the move from Swahili in primary to English in secondary. These problems stemmed from the materials, teachers and linguistic differences between Swahili and English (Hill 1965). The textbooks utilized in class at changeover were all in English, which was far too difficult for the children's level of English. Using books with plenty of illustrations, which often had a European focus and were unfamiliar to the children didn't help and in fact reduced the effectiveness of the textbooks (Hill 1965). Teachers often found difficulty and impediments in making the change over from Swahili to English a gradual one, and problems such as teachers with better English imparting more knowledge than needed and complicating the learning process for the pupils added to the severity of the situation (Hill 1965). Transferring from Swahili to English pupils found problems in matters of pronunciation, often due to variants in teachers' pronunciation. Added to this were predicaments and problems in the areas of the structure of the language, especially in sentences of great length, and vocabulary (Hill 1965). The utmost danger and peril in all of this is verbalism. The children resemble parrots, making the correct sounds without any real understanding (Hill 1965). An ad hoc solution was found to these problems. Teachers and students in secondary school use a de facto bilingual medium, code switching, which is generally looked down upon by the educational authorities (Ferguson 2006, Roy-Campbell 1990, Sa 2007). With students' lack of preparation for instruction by way of English in secondary schools, a combination of English and Swahili is used to aid understanding (Sa 2007). This moving away from the use of the officially sanctioned medium of instruction demonstrates a lack of implementation of what was planned in the sphere of language in Tanzania, which is quite a regular occurrence for language planners (Singh 2000).

With all these severe problems the question was when and if the change to Swahili in secondary education was going to happen? By the early to mid 1970's there was an expectation in Tanzania of a switch over to Swahili (Lwaitama & Rugemalira 1990). In 1982 the Presidential Commission on Education (PCE) proposed a switch over from English to Swahili in secondary education in concordance with government policy to start in 1985 (Kiango 2005, Lwaitama & Rugemalira 1990, Mwansoko 1994, Sa 2007). Drastically in 1983 Mr. Makweta the former chair of the PCE and the current minister of education announced the switch over was not going to take place (Mwansoko 1994). In 1984 the president confirmed English had to be retained, especially because of international ties (Ferguson 2006, Lwaitama & Rugemalira 1990). Despite the dreams of using an African language throughout the education system the power of English, a global language, still held sway over Tanzania.

English undoubtedly still has a prestige value against Swahili and is associated with economic power, social advancement in education and is the means Tanzanians feel enables science and learning in Tanzania to keep in touch with worldwide developments (Ferguson 2006, Hill 1965, Johnson & Johnson 1998, Sa 2007). It may well be that linguistic development and enhanced prestige is a consequent of rather than a necessary condition for the adoption of a language as the medium of education (Ferguson 2006).

With the western world being globally dominant and English being a global language a country such as Tanzania has a need for political and economic links to the outside world, which are achieved through English (Mansour 1993, Roy-Campbell 1990). Economic success, especially in areas such as tourism relies heavily on English (Sa 2007). Currently due to a high demand and a low supply for English speakers in the Tanzanian economy, Tanzanians often find themselves at a disadvantage to immigrants from Kenya, Uganda and Zambia who find it easier to obtain higher paid jobs in Tanzania because they were exposed to English at a younger age (Sa 2007). An English speaking population is more likely to be a magnet for foreign direct investment, which has been a crucial dynamic in the rapid development of many economies, particularly in East Asia (Sa 2007). However language is not the most essential variety of human capital and effects may be nominal compared to the effect of increased secondary school enrolment, which hopefully would be achieved through switching to Swahili at secondary level (Sa 2007).

It is quite possible the same newly independent government who were the champions of Africanizing Tanzania actually turned back on the switch to Swahili at secondary level out of fear that the resulting increase in demand for secondary places would put the government in a position where they would not be able to manage such a task (Ferguson 2006, Lwaitama & Rugemalira 1990). Just as the colonizers had put political considerations ahead of Tanzanians best interests with regards to their education, so too had the independent government apparently fallen in the same trap. Maintaining the status quo is inexpensive and politically straightforward, and this may well have been more appealing to the government than the goal of providing a sound and thorough education (Sa 2007). Would enrolment surge up if Swahili became the medium of education at secondary level? As much as this may have been a concern of the government coupled with the attractiveness and power of English, the cold reality is that the single most important factor preventing Tanzanians entering secondary education is the school fees (Sa 2007). Currently secondary school enrolment is a privilege only a small section of Tanzanians can afford (Sa 2007).

As well as the government being hesitant with Swahili at secondary level, many Tanzanians were also skeptical or even avidly opposed. Amongst the middle class in Tanzania there is a strong aversion to the removal of English from education. Wealthier Tanzanians enter their children into the private medium English schools that are booming in Tanzania, and even dispatch them off to private and government schools in neighbouring countries to get their primary education in English (Ferguson 2006, Sa 2007). In fact English holds such a strong position that parents and pupils would prefer to be unsuccessful in English than be deprived of it all together and local language education is seen as dead end education (Ferguson 2006). Many Tanzanians in fact reject that English is unsuitable for an African environment and see the notion that an African language in education is indispensable as something imposed from above by African and western academics alike (Sa 2007). Tanzanians interviewed felt the use of Swahili in primary schools was a severe and grave mistake (Sa 2007). The attitudes of ordinary people to a language is one of the main hindrances to the processes of language planning (Singh 2000). By improving English education it does seem the poor would be more prepared for secondary school and this would consequently lead to an improvement in social equality (Sa 2007). However the former colonial language, although ethnically neutral, is not neutral socio-economically and the current system often places valuable human capital in those already privileged (Ferguson 2006, Sa 2007).

There is quite widespread academic agreement that the mother tongue or a widely known local language is best for the medium of education, cognitive development and subject learning especially in the early years of education (Ferguson 2006). A transfer to Swahili in secondary schools would improve the transfer of information and hence improve the quality of education, leading to a more productive population and ultimately to economic growth (Sa 2007). Therefore if the quality of education is higher in Swahili, then education should be in Swahili (Sa 2007). Many Tanzanians are missing out on education because of a language barrier at secondary school (Lwaitama & Rugemalira 1990). Even if some pupils benefit in their understanding by way of code switching, exit exams are still in English and bad English equates to bad results (Sa 2007). For most Tanzanians English is not and never will be a functional skill and therefore the requirement to have English as the medium of education is being put ahead of Tanzanians' education (Sa 2007). In fact English in Tanzania is becoming less widely accepted, teachable, and used in day to day communication, and more restricted to communication with foreigners and as a result lacks what a language needs to be a medium of instruction (Batibo 1990, Mwansoko 1994).

Any efforts to solve the educational problems due to the change over from Swahili in primary to English in secondary needs to look first and foremost at which language will ultimately be used at secondary level. If Swahili becomes the medium in secondary there are two possible approaches. The first approach is to provide basic English as a subject to all pupils at primary. However the cost of this approach maybe unjustifiable (Sa 2007). The alternative approach is to delay English to secondary school where it is provided as an intensive course only for those who use it professionally (Sa 2007).

If English is going to be kept as the medium of instruction at secondary level then it could be commenced earlier and extended over several years, which would result in greater exposure to English enabling a cognitive advantage. However the cost of teachers, materials, and the shortage of qualified teachers in addition to the problem of rural children still often being slower in developing writing skills would disadvantage this approach (Sa 2007). The alternative is an intensive approach where English is concentrated into fewer years of total exposure, resulting in a financial saving in terms of teachers and materials and providing students the time to have already mastered reading and writing in Swahili. However this approach would put time pressure on other subjects and is less cognitively desirable (Sa 2007). The question with moving to English at secondary by whichever approach is can immersion work? Certainly studies from Canada show immersion can work (Sa 2007). The core second language learning of English in primary schools may well be failing in Tanzania. There may well be a need for special preparatory courses one or two years before the switch over (Ferguson 2006, Sa 2007). There is a good educational case for delaying the switch over to a foreign language for one or two years, as if the change over occurs too early the danger is parrot learning, but the longer English is used for something real rather than just artificially learnt as a subject the better would be pupils' knowledge (Hill 1965).

No doubt the debate as to what is the optimal amount of English to be used in Tanzanian education will be a long and ongoing debate (Sa 2007). However does it have to be a choice between using the old colonial language in secondary which provides Tanzania with important links to the international community and using an African language that ties Tanzanians to their cultural roots but doesn't help them participate in an ever competitive world economy? Why not teach in Tanzanian and in English according to which language is most suitable to the particular subject being taught, and therefore carry out examinations in the appropriate language. The much frowned upon code-switching which actually helps children understand a subject they are learning in a language they are not yet competent in could surely be developed to provide Tanzanians with an education that is very much rooted in Africa but at the same time links them to the outside world (Sa 2007). If Tanzania can get away from the politics, and European outlook of language planning and overcome the obstacles in the path to implementation surely a successful language policy can be adopted especially in the area of education (Ferguson 2006, Roy-Campbell 1990, Singh 2000). A language policy that uses the language that is beneficial to Tanzanians in the appropriate sphere.

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