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Why Kiswahili teaching remains difficult

“Give a dog a bad name and hang him,” goes an old English adage.

True, the idea to implement the teaching and promotion of Kiswahili in Ugandan schools has met with stiff resistance from some educationists and citizens, especially from the central region.

This is attributed to the fact that Kiswahili used to be a means of communication associated with the brutal armed forces of former dictatorial regimes of Idi Amin and Milton Obote during the time when many Ugandans lost lives and property at the hands of such forces.

But some believe it’s now time to forget the past and live on with the language spoken by the largest number of people in the region.

Several years ago, government ordered the ministry of Education and Sports to prepare to introduce compulsory Kiswahili teaching in all lower and higher school levels in the country in order to promote it ahead of the East African integration.

The ministry’s spokesman Aggrey Kibenge attributes the delay to a shortage of Kiswahili teachers and books in the country, among other reasons.

“The teaching and strengthening of Kiswahili language will promote rapid and solid regional cooperation between Uganda and neighbouring East African countries especially as far as the integration of the region is concerned,” Kibenge said.

The 1992 government white paper on education policy review commission report titled ‘Education For National Integration and Development’ recommended that both Kiswahili and English be compulsory subjects throughout the primary cycle in both rural and urban areas.

“Emphasis in terms of allocation of time and in the provision of instructional materials, facilities and teachers will, however, be gradually placed on Kiswahili as the language possessing greater capacity for uniting Ugandans and for assisting rapid social development,” the report said.

The report remarked that Kiswahili, spoken and used by a fairly large proportion of the people in Africa and internationally recognised and used for broadcasting news and educational programmes by international agencies like BBC, VOA, RFI and Deutsche Welle, its development would promote tourism, communication with other countries in the wider world and Uganda’s greater participation in international affairs.

Overly hasted

Despite the advantages, some Ugandans hold a totally different view. Veteran educationist and director of St Catherine High School Bujuuko, Charles Kasozi, thinks the compulsory teaching and learning of Kiswahili in Ugandan schools could at the moment be unjustified.

“The ministry of Education and Sports shouldn’t put the cart before the horse. Let them plan ahead by first introducing Kiswahili teaching in national teachers’ colleges (NTCs) so as to produce enough teachers to teach it at lower education levels. You see, the problem here is that the ministry has, over the years, proved to have bad planners.”

Kasozi remarked that the country has over the years been struggling to get enough good English teachers, yet the language has been taught here for over a century and wonders what will happen to Kiswahili.

“At the moment, most of us can’t afford acquiring Kiswahili teachers who, being very few in numbers, are obviously expensive to recruit.

“A language like Luganda can easily be taught nationally simply because people from most regions of the country, even those from the north and east, always take an effort to speak it,” Kasozi said.

The head teacher at Gayaza Cambridge school, Vincent Zziwa, told The Observer that the teaching of Kiswahili has proved a total failure in his school.

“We once introduced it but most students shunned it and others were discouraged from offering it by their parents who categorically referred to it as a language associated with thieves and robbers,” he noted.

Gayaza Cambridge school at one time offered Kiswahili when about 50 Tanzanian students joined but it has since been abandoned when they left.

According to Zziwa, it was found expensive and unreasonable to continue teaching Kiswahili in a class of only three or five students.

In Zziwa’s opinion, another indigenous local language rather than Kiswahili should be strengthened and promoted as Uganda’s main language alongside English.

Dr John Baptist Okech recently wrote in a national newspaper saying he was perturbed that since Uganda gained independence in 1962 the government has done very little to promote Kiswahili and wondered whether those regarding it as a language of robbers believe that countries like Tanzania and Kenya are societies of lawless people.

Meanwhile, across the border in Kenya, one of the most fundamental gains derived from the newly voted and launched Constitution was the opening up of a new chapter in linguistic and cultural revival.

The Constitution declares Kiswahili both as the national and official language, but also recognises all other Kenyan languages and compels the State to promote the development and use of these languages.

Just like Ngugi wa Thiong’o proposes in Decolonizing The Mind, Kenyans will now start speaking to one another in their mother tongues.


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